DC Smithsonian mall gardens pack a powerful punch

I’ve all but forgotten about the heat and the humidity and the bad hair, but I’ll never forget the 15 delightful little Smithsonian gardens along Washington D.C, Mall.

I had a quite a few favorites, so come along on the virtual Mall tour with me. I’m afraid I was so busy photographing that I didn’t link the gardens with their buildings or even their themes, so you won’t be getting a history lesson.  But, honestly, it’s all about the plants, right?

Ya gotta have a picture with the Washington Memorial coming out of someone’s head, right?

Laura, of Wills Family Acres in Austin, gets the honor in this multi-selfie photograph.


I’ll start with my favorite vignette.  I do remember this garden – it was Mary Livingston Ripley Garden

Full of familiar plants and creative combinations, I also spent the most time photographing this garden.

I may have to find this Yucca desmetiana ‘blue boy’ when I get home.

It seems strange to travel to Washington D.C. to find a new-to-me variety of yucca that I haven’t seen at our local Central Texas nurseries.

That’s the beauty of the Garden Bloggers Flings – we learn so much about plants in other Zones of the country.  And, we sometimes go home with fantasies of growing Zone 3 plants in Zone 8b.  (No names will be mentioned but her initials might be D.K.)

These delicate hydrangea flowers prove a lovely contrast to the sculpture of the tree they surround.

Living walls like this are growing popularity across the country.

The vibrant and varied composition of this wall is a virtual rainbow of color.  This ‘garden art’ with its hues of grey and green would be a stunning addition to any indoor or outdoor room.

Bridging two distinct styles, this formal fountain and globe are filled with a variety of  succulents and draped with silver ponyfoot.

It certainly fits the bill of container gardening rules with its collection of ‘thrillers, fillers and spillers.’


This garden flanks the Smithsonian Institution Building, also known as The Castle.

We did pay some attention to the museums and buildings along the mall, though I have to admit, our focus was primarily on the gardens.






These beds were full of plants I recognized – phormium, Japanese aralia, daisies, irises and lilies, to name a few.

Here, Mexican feathergrass, phormium and the ever-popular potato vine make a luscious lime combo.

Yucca rostrada and a grey agave (not sure about that one) are the focal points in this hot garden.

It was so evident that this garden was carefully curated for our enjoyment.

The building acts as a backdrop of these collections of coneflowers. The urn helps to give this part of the garden an English Cottage feel.

I’ll leave you with one last vignette — another colorful and contrasting combo of color and texture and form.

They grey/green of this yucca rostrata, paired with the delicate lavender blooms of, well, lavender make a lovely picture together.

The razor-thin straps of the yucca offer a completely different structure than the long, thin, wispy stalks of the lavender blooms.

This conifer is from another garden, although I forget which one. I fell in love with conifers in Chicago at the second fling.  One of our stops was a conifer farm with dozens and dozens of different varieties.  The texture and form often hold a surprise, with their almost rubber-like, thick leaves or long, fine needles.  My garden has a perfect spot for this one; sadly, it would fry in Austin.

These chives look like perky lollipops in the garden.

In spite of the sauna, we powered through it like heat-tolerant Texans, willing to do most anything to see beautiful gardens.

Delightful garden tour on a challenging slope …

It’s a treat to get together once a month with other Austin garden bloggers to share stories, enjoy each others’ gardens, eat, drink and pass along plants at our plant swap.

On Saturday, we were treated to double the fun.  In addition to our monthly gathering at the stunning garden of David and Jenny of Rock Rose, we also ventured nearby to their neighbors and were given a guided tour of another beautiful garden.

Located on approximately one and one third acre, this garden’s hills and vales are interwoven with ribbons of rock and drainage solutions that blend into the landscape. 

As we walked into the back yard, I was immediately drawn to this line of dramatic whale’s tongue agaves.  They sit perched atop a river rock berm, surrounded by softer foliage that draws the eye far out into the garden.

Here’s a longer shot of how they are incorporated into this first layer of the overall landscape.

A closer look at the other plants reveals a cottage-like aesthetic, complete with a bird bath, gazing ball and obelisk to serve as focal points throughout the space.

The blend of sun-loving plants crosses traditional garden style boundaries in some areas, making the garden more intriguing.

Then the path evolved into a more desert-like garden, filled with sculptural cacti and agaves and garden art.

As dry as the garden appeared, it was hard to imagine the torrential rains that must have swept through these beds only days before.

As you keep meandering through the back of the garden, you wind your way through a shadier, wooded pathway.

Just as the garden becomes sunnier again, so does the garden decor.  Brilliant pops of orange and cobalt blue are sprinkled throughout this section of the landscape.

Hot garden plants fill the brightly colored planters.

A single orange slice of wall acts as a backdrop for this dramatic planter, home to either a sago palm or a dioon edule.

More beautiful tropicals.

This is a view from the garden back to the house and a covered patio area. 

Another painted wall houses this creative trellis displaying an array of cacti in terra cotta pots.

Just past the driveway, this colorful rooster seems to be peering through the salvia to spy on our group of gardeners.

This chocolate mimosa makes a striking statement against this dark wooden gate the the bright limestone.

This Asian-style bench welcomes visitors as they near the front door — and just beyond — this imposing soldier seems to be guarding the entry area as well.

The garden was spectacular — I loved not only the collection of plants, but also the fascinating garden sculpting to address drainage issues.

Special thanks to the homeowners for inviting us to share in their beautiful space.

Spring spruce up from a wide angle lens

One of the rites of spring (even though it has already been 94 degrees here in Austin, Texas), after the whining about winter, pruning, planting and mulching, is taking photos of the garden as it grows.

I recently bought a wide angle lens, primarily for use in photographing our landscaping jobs and getting a good overview.  But, I haven’t put it to use here at home. 

When I finished the recent spring planting and mulching work on the back garden (which is technically outside of our property line in the neighborhood easement), I decided to try out the new lens. 

If you’re wondering WHY I am gardening and watering outside of our property, it’s because the back is bordered by hideous cedar trees. 

Several years ago I decided to remedy the ugly cedar problem.  I  started a deer-resistant, drought-tolerant “trial bed” — all things that are tough as nails and can survive with next-to-no water.  In the heat of summer I would drag the hose all the way back there and water with a oscillating sprinkler head only once a month if we hadn’t had rain.

But then came the barn.  The neighbor on the country road far behind us decided he needed to build a barn — a RED barn — right on the back edge of our easement.  Which you can see through the trees — see the silver metal roof — and below the little bit of red peeking through?   Well, I can see it.  So, I expanded the bed, planted soon-to-be large, screening plants, shrubs and trees and added an actual sprinkler head to make it easier to get the plants established at least, though I still don’t water often back there. 

My goal is to eventually remove the cedars when the nicer plants have gotten large enough to provide some screen.  On this end you’ll find a sharkskin agave, some quadricolor agaves, some creeping germander, two Kentucky coffee trees, given to me by my father, (thanks, Daddy!), a green goblet agave passalong from Pam of Digging , some newly planted Yaupon holly trees, and far in the back, a Mexican olive tree. Oh, and two hot pink oleander to coordinate with the desert willow and salvia on the other end.

I’ve added things slowly — some passalongs, some things that didn’t behave elsewhere in the garden and some things I just had to have.  The goal is for this bed to be low maintenance.  So, toward this end of the bed, you’ll find my beautiful whale’s tongue agave, a desert willow tree, some salvia, Jerusalem sage, zexmenia, euphorbia, dyckia, a few muhly grasses, indigo spires salvia, bright edge yucca, and some recently transplanted large native yuccas that came from a client’s overcrowded natural area. There are also two yaupon hollies on this end, hidden behind the other plantings.

This bed is mostly out of sight from the back deck, unless you walk down the steps leading to the back of the pool.  The aerial shots (well, high as I could get them — me on the back pool sheer wall) give you a sense of the breath of the bed.

We’ve started pruning out some of the dead wood on the cedars and hope to start taking some of them out entirely in a few years. I have babies from my loquat tree in the front, so I think there will be a few loquats back there soon, as well.  I will have to fence them until they get tall, since the deer have free reign back there and will think I finally served up something that they like to eat!

It’s nice when things come together in the garden, isn’t it?

Hill country garden charm in the heart of San Antonio…

The last stop on our visit to San Antonio gardens was another xeric garden, filled with drought-tolerant plants, both soft and sculptural. You can come along on the first two gardens of tour with me to see Melody’s and Heather’s gardens here.

Then we toured the garden of Shirley, who blogs at  Rock, Oak, Deer.  I ‘d seen Shirley’s garden through her camera lens many times, yet when we arrived, I was surprised to find that she wasn’t gardening in the country, but in a suburban neighborhood.  Her style and plant choices created an oasis that made the rest of the world seem far away.

Well-placed plants serve to let the grasses and yuccas and perennials all shine.

Shirley uses repetition in her garden to create a dramatic effect.

Definition draws the eye through the space.

In the back yard, the focus is on perennials and grasses.  Her rustic shed with its cedar posts and porch make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.  The arbor on the right is the entry for a deer-proof fence, protecting delicate plants and vegetables from the curious and hungry deer.

Leading to the shed, this circle garden is filled to the brim with flowing perennials and grasses.

Her unique rock garden design is home to a lovely collection of yuccas, cacti and agaves.

Rustic art and pots are scattered about to add interest throughout the garden.

The river rock path guides you around the plant-filled stock tank and circle garden to the shed.

Garden art on a rustic table is tucked away in the shade.

Whimsical elements make true garden art from a simple grapevine.

A collection of sweet somethings brighten up the front of the shed.

Because deer are frequent guests to the back yard, extra protection for new or special plants is a must. This rough cedar fence fits right into the landscape.

Up on the the large, shady deck, succulent planters adorn the windowsills.

All around the deck, pots and paraphernalia bring color to the shady spots.

Even the outdoor fireplace boasts a collection of perky little pots.

Since we’ve toured Austin gardens often with Shirley, it was a special treat to wander through her garden with her.  The entire garden was intentional and peaceful.  She’s clearly mastered the art of gardening with the rocks, oaks and deer that she writes about.  Special thanks to Shirley and her husband for hosting us in your garden.

Another beautiful San Antonio garden to share…

The second stop on our recent visit to San Antonio was Heather’s garden from Xeric style.  Her style is certainly xeric, yet with many soft grasses, draping perennials and ground cover, it has a delicate feel. You can see my post about the first garden here.

 Purple fountain grass frames a collection of other grasses and yuccas.

The sun was blazing hot that day, so taking photos was a real  challenge.  These yuccas were enveloped in a blanket of pretty purple trailing lantana, but it’s hard to see that here.

In this his view of the front of the house you can see that her landscape is well matched to her contemporary style house.

The pots scattered around were also full of drought tolerant native and adapted plants like this cactus, grass and silver ponyfoot.

Another special touch greets visitors at the front door.  The sleek orange planter echoes the color of  the front door.

 This beautiful grass and its inflorescence shine against a backdrop of cacti paddles.

Retro/modern chairs next to the orange door and planted on the front porch complete the look as you enter the house.

Another beautiful agave, a grey weberi, I think, softened by a fuchsia salvia.  Two plants that can really handle the heat.

In the shade of the back yard, we were treated to a show by her chickens, who were intrigued by the visitors to the garden.

Also nestled under the tree – a wonderful hammock for lazing about and pondering garden projects.

I was taken with this bed that included drought tolerant plants like the bulbine, with a lovely cairn painstakingly placed in the middle.

Don’t forget the whimsy.  This bright seating area was decorated with several plants in unique pots — plastic tub trugs!

I always celebrate Dia de los Muertos since I worked once a week for a year in my company’s Mexico city office.  I learned to understand and came to love this unique celebration of the lives of lost loved ones.  Needless to say, these beautiful ceramic plates caught my eye.

 And yet another special touch — cacti planted in a pipe suspended on the fence.

Okay, so you’ve seen these in gardens, right?  These are made from bamboo given to Heather by her neighbor and she spray painted them orange, her theme color.  How clever. Now if only I knew someone with extra bamboo!

I was taken with this simple, elegant pot in front of the garage.  I don’t know which I liked more — the beautiful pot or the cascading firecracker fern.

 And here’s our friend, Lori, of Gardener of Good and Evil, who has found the perfect spot from which to survey the garden.

Heather professes that she’s stingy with water and is always on the lookout for plants and methods that conserve our precious water.  Her garden was the perfect example of the beauty of a truly xeric garden.

Thanks, Heather, for sharing your beautiful garden with us!

Old-world patina of New Orleans style captured in inviting Houston tour garden…

Last weekend,  my friend and fellow blogger, Pam Penick, traveled to Houston for the Garden Conservancy’s Open Day’s Tour.   This was probably my favorite house on the tour.

Located in the posh River Oaks, the New Orleans-style theme of the home was carried throughout the multi-layered gardens surrounding it.  The old brick, wrought iron and garden charm of plants typically found in old gardens really appealed to me.

 Not only was the wisteria cascading down the front balcony beautiful, its heady scent helped to set the mood for the tour visitors.

This garden incorporated many different garden elements of style.  There were several areas with cottage-style layering like this front bed.

Houston gets much more rain than we do here in Austin.  While tour volunteers told us that they’d had temperatures down to 20* this winter, the gardens sure didn’t show it.  Most of them were filled with stunning azaleas, one of the hallmarks of the tour, but we also saw gorgeous delphiniums in many of the gardens.  Tall and majestic, and blue — they stood tall and proud — like exclamation points.

As ubiquitous as the azaleas, the sweet smell of citrus greeted us in almost every garden.  Lush with blooms or fruit, they made me long for a more tropical climate — and an orange or a lime or a kumquat!

An amazing pool was the centerpiece of the back yard.  With its palms, negative edge and geometric shape, it provided a different aesthetic in this part of the garden.

Several interesting statues and works of art were nestled around the grounds, like this camel carrying an obelisk.

This rhino was tucked into a far corner of the garden, down a long, winding path.  He seemed oddly out of place to me, but perhaps he represents something special to the owners.  That’s one of the joys of gardening – creating a space that reflects your personality and style, but also creating a space that is intentional and has meaning.  So, I decided to embrace the rhino.

And then across the grounds, another area with that French quarter feel – the foliage covered brick wall and the dark iron fountain as a focal point from afar.

There weren’t as many people on the tour when we started – we’re always tour-eager early birds.  These two volunteers had finished their work at another tour site and sat down to chat when they arrived to see this garden.  It certainly was the kind of peaceful garden that invited you to sit and admire it.

On the side lawn, another vine-laden fence — this one serving as the backdrop for a piece of sculpture.  The garden was so inviting, even the sculpture felt welcome to lounge on the grass.

 Another view of the fountain – beautifully crafted space with layers of color, texture and contrast.

This is the view from the sculpture side of the garden across the pool – looking into an enclosed pavillion-like space for entertaining.

The garden was also filled with several lush, plant-lined paths, leading mysteriously to another garden nook.

 Behind the wall and fountain is another treat — a more elaborately-designed space.

This aged king of the jungle was guarding the area – his mossy patina as inviting and interesting as the walls he was protecting.

 A closer look at the fountain on the other side and its little orange occupants, who all seemed to be very happy with their home in this beautiful garden.

Back through another secret pathway, lined again with a mix of plants — including this striking and sculptural agave.  It seemed to lure visitors in, while at the same time warning them not to get too close.

 This bucking horse seemed to be ready to romp around the garden.

 I love the look for old New Orleans gardens, with their old, mossy brick courtyards, fountains and wrought iron.  Although this estate was huge, it was designed with inviting spaces and elements that gave it a more personal and intimate feel.