Gardening trends in my landscape

I’m always fascinated about the transformations in the garden each year.  From month to month and season to season, small adjustments often result in big changes.

Here are some of the new plants and hardscape changes in my landscape this year.

January:  We enjoy watching the animals that wander, fly and hop into our garden.  My husband keeps about 10 bird feeders full.  We regularly see cardinals, titmice, sparrows, scrub jays and blue jays, wrens, mockingbirds, road runners, woodpeckers, finches, doves, cliff swallows, and every couple of years, a painted bunting.  Several birdbaths and birdbath fountains provide water for sipping and bathing.

February:  Last year, spring came very early, and the nurseries were full of beautiful plants at least a month ahead of schedule.  If they are selling them, we should be buying them, right?

I didn’t count how many trips I made to our independent nurseries in Austin.  Several times a year, I make all the rounds and come home with the SUV full of flowering friends.


Orders I placed over the winter also begin to arrive, ready to join the garden.  The slew of catalogs, full of vibrant photos of unique plant specimens give us visions of plants as we settle in for our long winters naps

They provide promise as gardeners experiment with new colors, sizes and varieties.

March:  I was delighted with the spread of my ground orchids this spring.  The Bletilla striata finally began to naturalize in the woodland garden, making the shady path pop with brilliant fuchsia blooms.

April:  When writing about Central Texas gardening, lush is a rarely used adjective.  But, it was the perfect description for our beds after a unseasonably warm spring and much-needed rains.

May:  This month marked the return of the Rio Grande Leopard frogs to the garden.  We often find them resting in plants in the morning, showering in our accessible fountains during heat of the day, and skinny dipping in the pool at night.  Fletcher runs around the pool in the dark, flushing them out from the neighboring plants so they jump into the pool.  He whines and paces around the perimeter, frustrated that he can’t get to them.  No worries, they can jump back out of the on their own.

June: With most of the garden filling nicely by the onset of the heat, I often shift my focus to decor, pots and creative elements in the landscape.  This piece of aged cedar inspired me to place a few bromeliads in the shade bed.  They had to come in later in the summer, but they added a nice touch for a while.

 July:  By now, the veggie garden provides us with an ongoing  variety of great fruits and vegetables.  Sadly, it is also the time for stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs to attack the tomatoes.  Almost impossible to eliminate, I get depressed about the impending demise of my tomato crop. They multiply so quickly, it’s impossible to control them by hand squishing or spraying them with the hose.



August:  The dog days of summer are also prime time for many of our native and adapted tropicals.  Pride of Barbados, Caesalpinia pulcherrima, is bursting with blooms by now, like electric orange fireworks all over town — and along the sides of our pool.

September:  This month marked the beginning of my major landscaping project for 2017.  The removal of the playscape paved the way for a new garden.  Eager to create something different, I settled on a pie-shaped parterre garden.  Using the same Oklahoma flagstone in the existing garden path, I had my crew create a rough-edged set of symmetrical beds.  To save money and recycle, I kept some of the pea gravel from the playscape area to build the pathway.

October:  More progress on the parterre.  We revised the existing left path to the vegetable garden, taking out the decomposed granite, flagstone steps and river rock.  This path was a continual source of frustration and weeds.  In spring, it brought forth a profusion of bluebonnets and winecup that were stunning.  But the remaining 10 months of back-breaking proved too much.  We then created a mortared flagstone path, leaving a few periodical spaces for plants — a guarantee that they wouldn’t be able to spread.  I added another path to reach the new parterre.

November:  Fall also brought forth blooms from the newly planted Phillipine Violet, Barleria polytricha.  My first experience growing this plant, it was awelcome addition to the tropical garden.




Finally, we finished the parterre and paths.  Well, almost.  I still need to add one more rose bush and all the accompanying border plants in the beds.  I filled the planting holes in the pathways with purslane. You can be sure I will post after pictures in the spring when the beds are full and blooming. To complete the focal points, I added a center birdbath, a wooden framed mirror on the back fence to provide interest and give the space more dimension, and a floral-themed bench to sit on and enjoy the growing garden.  If you look closely, you can see my taking this photo in the mirror. Once those elements were in place, I sat on the bench and marveled that I have never really looked at my garden from that vantage point.  It’s a wonderful and reflective place to sit and I’m so pleased to see my vision come to life.

December:  This month shocked all Central Texas gardeners with a surprise snowfall.  Not the dusting and melting immediately variety of snow we occasionally see, but a solid inch of sticking snow.  It turned the garden into a southwestern version of a winter wonderland.

Luckily, the blanket of snow insulated the plants and we were spared the worst possible damage of the unseasonably early freeze.

Winter has officially settled in and January feels like January, just colder than normal.  Seed catalogs sit by my chair as I cozy up to the fire with my hot tea, dreaming of garden plans to come in 2018.

What were your favorite garden additions in 2017?  New plants, new beds, new hardscape — what rocked your garden last year?





Winter is time to plan spring hardscape projects…

Now that winter is keeping us out of the garden, what’s a gardener to do?   That’s easy — plan.  Plan for all the big ideas you’d like to turn into reality once spring planting fever hits.  It’s the perfect time to start planning structural hardscape changes in your landscape. 
Today, our landscapes are becoming extensions of our homes.  They bring us outdoors, in rooms and areas that provide entertaining space, room for kids and pets to play, or maybe a quiet reading nook. 
Where to start?   Ask yourself — was your patio too small for entertaining last year?  Did you, or your dogs, wear a dirty path in the grass to get from area to area?   Or do you just want to remove some grass, water a little less or solve a drainage problem with a dry creek?
Now what?
Ask yourself some preliminary questions.  First, consider your personal style – are you traditional, natural or contemporary?  Think about the existing area – do you want to use the same material as your house or other structures, or do you want something different? Identify whether you’d prefer creating a color contrast color or seamless hues of a single color.
Consider the type of material best suited to your project.  Stone is sold by the ton — decomposed granite by the yard — your local landscape supply yards can help you determine how much you’ll need based on your measurements.  Here are some of the choices that are commonly used for hardscape projects.
Flagstone – Can be used for a variety of landscaping projects, from paths to patios and walls.  It can be mortared into place or simply set in decomposed granite or gravel so it remains permeable.  Wondering what to do with the sidewalk strip in front of your house where the grass is perpetually dying?  Consider some attractive flagstone set in decomposed granite.  If you want a softer look, add a few Mexican feather grasses or a few small agaves or a boulder or two for interest. 
River Rock – Available in a variety of size ranges, river rock is smooth and comes in a blend of colors.  It can be used to create a meandering dry stream through your landscape or to solve drainage issues.  You can also simply replace grass with an attractive contrast of natural material in your yard.  It can be used to puddle below a water feature or a birdbath.  Always be sure to vary the size of the rock in a dry creek, scattering in the larger rocks before you put down the smaller size for a more natural look.
Pavers – Man-made pavers come in very imaginable color and size.  The most commonly used are made of concrete and can be used for patios and porches, paths and even walls.  They can be laid on a bed of sand, placed close together for a more manicured look, or can be laid with spacing to allow for either grass or pretty little ground covers to grow between.  Pavers create a more manicured, formal style in outdoor rooms.
Decomposed or crushed granite – Weathered granite that has broken down into small pieces and particles of silt, DG is commonly used in patios, paths and even beds with arid plants.  It’s versatile as a filler for many different projects – just be careful not to use it on a steep hill – our periodic gully washers can wreak havoc with it.  You’ll want to make sure to use some sort of edging – metal or stone – to keep the granite in place and separated from grass or beds adjacent to it.
Gravel – Available in many different colors and sizes, gravel is a great material.  It can work wonders to help with small drainage issues and it adds texture and contrast to the garden.  Because it is larger, when used in a path, it is less likely to wash away than decomposed granite. 
Chopped block – Most stone can be purchased as a rough-hewn brick-like shape that is more natural in form.  These are used to build retaining walls, benches, planting beds or pathway borders. 
River rock, flagstone, chopped block and other stones come in specific palettes of color – Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado or New Mexico – are some of the choices you can find around Austin.  From golds to browns and reds or grays and pinks, the right hues in your garden can be like a fresh coat of paint in your house. 
If you are creating paths or dry streams, remember to use long, sweeping curves to provide flow and make your garden more natural and inviting.

Adding different types of material to you landscape can make it interesting and inviting – creating contrast and texture that enhance your garden.  
These are all landscape design projects I created.  For more ideas and information, go to Diana’s Designs and see other projects.


Stunning L.A. garden’s lovely vignettes delight at every turn…

We discovered a rustic paradise among the gardens we visited in L.A. last weekend (you can see the other garden I’ve already blogged about here).  We drove around and around to the top of a steep hill with spectacular views of the mountains, where our generous hosts, Joy and Roland, welcomed us.

A large, sleek kitchen, entertaining and living area became part of the outdoor experience, with huge floor-to-ceiling glass doors that opened entirely. As the inside intermingled with the outdoors, multiple seating and viewing vignettes were scattered around the fully cleared top of the hill.

After some wine and appetizers, we headed to the path to make our way down the hill.

 Sumptuous succulents filled containers, nooks, and crannies at every turn.

 A whole host of focal points shine at strategic places winding down the hill.

 These succulents spill off of the hill as you approach the house from the driveway.

The Joy and Roland have added layers and pathways over many years, creating mini beds and spots to sit and appreciate the view different vantage points.

 This is a collector’s garden – filled with a wide variety of succulents and other plants, adding interesting contrast, color and texure.

Carefully crafted stonework with unique designs defines the slope — a artful masterpiece in itself.

The attention to detail is so striking.

 More nooks and crannies flank the entrance to the spectacular wine cellar.

 Cut into the side of the earth, the cellar was mercifully cool on a 100+ degree day.  I felt as if I had stepped back in time – with cool stone and rows of bottles inside – offering just enough room for an intimate wine party.  A long hallway will soon be connected via tunnel to just outside the house, the next major project already planned and waiting to be implemented.

This would be my favorite seat in the garden.  Close up and far away, both views equally enchanting.

 Empty on the way down, but by the time we came by again, someone had taken up residence in my spot.

Fully content and unfazed by visitors to his garden, the dog, Domino,  thinks this is a great spot, too.

In front of the bench, a delightful pond filled with koi provides entertainment as the Koi dart around under the shade of beautiful plants.

A statuesque heron stands guard over the koi, who also have many deep areas to hide for predators, just in case the heron falls asleep on the job!

Don’t forget to look up.

I could sit for hours and watch the fish and the view; electronic devices have nothing on this.

Another outdoor room awaits.

More vertical gardening — these mid-century modern hanging planters from Potted bring color and contrast to this magical hot tub oasis.  (More posts to come, as we visited both Potted and the home of the store’s owner on this fabulous trip.)

Rustic and natural, this hideaway brings outdoor living to a new dimension.

 I also saw these planters in the garden of a fellow blogger in Seattle who blogs at Danger Garden.

The echo of a subtle orange glow on the tips of these succulents is an artful planting design touch.

Another view up the hill, filled with interesting plants, containers and found garden art that Joy has collected over the years, like this sweet deer statue.

The mostly mild California climate yields big, beautiful plants like these aloes.

 The repetition of these gorgeous anemones creates a dramatic ridge along the hillside.

I’ve tried to grow these in Austin with no success.  But I’ve see them used as stunning elements in LA, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle gardens.

Nestled ear the top of the hill, this greenhouse is home to garden tools and pots now, and awaits more delicate plants as the weather cools.

By the end of our visit, Domino tired of us and went back to his own bed to take a break from the sweltering heat.

A huge thanks to Joy and Roland, for your hospitality and for opening your home and garden to us. The garden is magical, and masterfully crafted and I loved spending time in it and I’m pleased to be able to share a small part of it with others through this blog post.

Beautiful garden outshines the view on this LA hilltop home…

Last week I flew out to trendy Los Angeles with my garden travel friend, Pam Penick, of Digging, for the Garden Writers Symposium.  We started our trip to the Golden State with some visits to the gardens of fellow garden bloggers, writers and designers.

Our first stop was the garden of Kris Peterson, who blogs at Late to the Garden Party.  We were late arriving, due to a flight delay, and missed meeting several other bloggers who were gathering to have lunch with us.  We were sad to miss the other gardeners and another garden tour, and we were sad to miss lunch! (We followed my standard M.O. for travel:  eat at every opportunity – you never know when you’ll get your next meal!)

We blew in like the wind – dismayed at being late and in a hurry to get there and meet Kris in person.

We took one look outside and stopped dead in our tracks.

You were going to ask why, weren’t you?  But now there’s no need to ask, is there?

This is the backyard view from her garden.  It’s amazing.  And her garden is equally amazing.  I soon lost track of the view as she led us from one beautiful vignette to another.  Creatively composed and expertly woven, the garden is a collector’s garden that flows like the water in the distance.

Nestled in many parts of her garden, Kris has included a wide variety of containers with water-wise succulents like these.

These little lovelies caught my attention.  While the hot, unforgiving sunlight made photographing the garden difficult, I did the best I could with these Eustoma grandiflorum ‘Echo Pink’ flowers.

Through much of the side garden, hardy ground covers spread between the stones.

Entwined among the layers of the garden, these beautiful Pennisetum advena ‘rubrum’ blow in the breeze.

 I love this stunning color and texture combination.

This arbor frames the view of the harbor as the garden path transitions from the side to the back. Talk about a focal point!

Mimicking the arbor on the side (or vice versa, depending on which approach you’re taking), this is the entrance to the front door.

 Lovely wooden benches with colorful pillows and potted plants flank the entrance.

Along the street, Kris has created a wonderful succulent garden with a cornucopia of textures, colors and forms.

My garden touring pal, Pam, of Digging, stops to smile for the camera, and me, before we head out of the garden.

 This stunning and lovingly crafted garden was the perfect start to our adventures around L.A.  Thanks, again, Kris, for your hospitality.  Loved getting to share in your garden.

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.

A gardener’s wish list of styles, all in one Portland garden

Last month’s Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland offered something for everyone.  There were many different gardens, ranging from cottage style to tropical.

The Old Germantown Gardens found its way onto my favorites list because it was one-stop shopping.  (Well, not literally shopping, though we did a lot of that on the Fling, too. ) Winding paths, perennial beds, a rock garden, ponds, a dry hillside garden, tropical plants and a collection of seating areas were scattered about the 2-acre property. A mere 23 years in the making, the gardeners brought the design and their plant collections together beautifully.

 The vista from the front of the house beckons you into the garden.

 Winding paths entice you into the diverse gardens and vignettes.

In spite of the broad swaths of color and texture and form, stunning individual blooms reached out to me in many places throughout this garden.

Something new and unique waited around every corner and down each path.

Ah, a lovely place to rest and enjoy the garden.

 But I didn’t dally here – too much more to see!

The woodland garden was a treat for me – the cool, shady path provided a welcome relief from the hot sun and in Austin, Texas, a garden like this is rare.

 I’m always delighted by the conifers in the Pacific Northwest.

Another path leading to more garden goodies.

I saw these plants in the nursery in Portland and on someone’s blog post.  The color combination absolutely wowed me. 

And there were daylilies everywhere.  Tall daylilies, short daylilies, bright daylilies, pale daylilies.

Then there was a drier garden, fille with plants that I recognized.

And some tropical colors started appearing in the garden.

Doesn’t everyone need a waterfountain in the middle of the garden for a refreshing drink while you are weeding?!

Ah – Eucomis – I have one at home and bought one at the nursery the previous night.  Love them.

And another familiar sight – cacti with beautiful blooms.

 And then there were the real tropicals – love these hot, popping colors.

 And a greenhouse full of special plants.

It was a delightful garden with so much to see and enjoy.  The best kind of garden for a tour – one in which every path leads to a new garden adventure.