Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Garden Conservancy Open Days San Antonio Preview

The Garden Conservancy Open Days tour returns to San Antonio on October 14th.  Held annually in cities around the country, most cities hold Open Days every other year.  The Garden Conservancy raises funds to preserve special private gardens such as Peckerwood Garden in Hempstead, Texas.  In San Antonio we have missed a few years and it was time to bring Open Days back.

 This year Gardening Volunteers of South Texas partnered with the Garden Conservancy to present six outstanding San Antonio gardens.  A full year of planning behind us, the countdown begins for real with just two months to go.  You can read detailed information about each garden on the website so I'll present this preview with some of my own observations.

First, the Peterson's self-designed garden in Colonies North was a huge hit on the Watersaver Landscape Tour three years ago and a clear choice by the committee.  Elegant, relaxing and inviting it's always a pleasure to visit this garden.  Also featured on Central Texas Gardener and on SAWS website GardenstyleSA.  Even if you toured this garden before, you'll want to see it again to view the updates, and for those who missed it the first time, here's your chance.

The Gilliam's Terrell Hills home looks as if it has been here for decades even though it was just completed in 2016.  With architecture based on the Spanish Colonial style of our historic San Antonio Missions it's a beautiful setting for formal gardens surrounding the house.  The Gilliams have lived and traveled in many parts of the world so they looked to their travels and relied on a design by John Troy, ASLA, to pull their collection of garden objects and ideas together on a triangular shaped lot.

Even though the garden is newly planted, we thought the house and garden special enough to include on the tour.  The spectacular front door surround was inspired by historic buildings in downtown San Antonio and faces a formal courtyard.

A brick labyrinth is just one special feature of the front garden.

The back garden, with stone walls inspired by at the Alamo, is all about family with a fun ivy-covered troll and Cinderella mosaic to delight grandchildren.  Below the garden wall sports a fountain inside a half-round opening.

Also in Terrell Hills is the Fisher's garden designed by Austin based garden designer and writer Scott Ogden.  Texas native plants, especially grasses, take front and center in this small garden.  The sunny front slope contrasts with a shady back garden which features a large flagstone patio.  

Next up is the Ware's estate garden in Hill Country Village.  The Wares have also lived and traveled extensively abroad and their garden reflects their experiences.  You'll enter through gorgeous custom gates passing a wildflower meadow on your left and olive grove with table for al fresco dining on the right.  Below is the European-style parterre featuring a beautiful faux bois table set.

On the pool terrace you'll find "Cow Tex" from the cow parade some years ago grounding this garden firmly in the Texas Hill Country.

When Bob Coopman built his house in the popular suburban neighborhood of Deerfield just over 30 years ago he spent an extra $300 to have the developer site the house to save as many trees as possible.  That extra effort paid off many times over the years with these Texas Live Oaks surrounding the house.  Low groundcover ensures those oaks stand out in the landscape.  We loved the wrap-around stone wall and flagstone steps on the corner lot.  Designed by Brian Hough, flagstone pathways guide us through those magnificent oaks both front and back.

Pristinely maintained with almost no lawn, beautiful specimen plants including a mature Japanese Maple (nearly impossible to grow in San Antonio) and a variety of seating areas to enjoy it all had us wanting to move right in.  It's not all green so you'll find colorful perennials accenting the green throughout and especially along the driveway.

The Tupper Beinhorn home in historic Monte Vista features an artistic garden.  Holly Tupper is on the board at Artpace (a contemporary arts foundation) and her wonderful style shows throughout the gardens surrounding their 1929 home built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style.  Originally from New York, Holly wanted to enjoy every bit of outdoor space surrounding their home.  The sunken seating area shown below is in the front garden and they found a way to bring privacy with hedges along the street while still conforming to the historic restrictions of their neighborhood.

In the back garden vines surround original hand painted tile work.  The wall was concrete block which they had stuccoed and wattle fencing added to the top of the wall for privacy.

This resort style pool surrounded by lush tropical plantings is so inviting.  Don't miss the cut-brick "rug" around the pool which is based on one Holly and husband Will Beinhorn, a native San Antonian, saw at a hotel when they lived in Singapore.

The tour is set for October 14th from 10am-4pm, tickets are $35 for six gardens or $7 each and may be purchased at each home on tour day.  You may also purchase advance tickets and find all the addresses online at The Garden Conservancy Open Days San Antonio.

San Antonio Water System (SAWS) has also signed on to sponsor specific gardens with watersaving features so if you're in the bonus point program you'll get points for visiting those gardens.

See you there!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Wildlife Wednesday August 2017

Wildlife Wednesday is hosted the first Wednesday of each month by Tina at "My gardener says..." Let's take a look at wildlife visitors during July.

We've had the pleasure of hosting a Crested Caracara or "Mexican Eagle" again this summer.  Caracara is an onomatopoetic name if ever there was one with "Cara-cara" cries coming from the treetops along the wooded creek behind our house.  As members of the Falcon family they are raptors which feed on snakes and lizards.  Caracaras are mostly found in Mexico, Central, and northern South America.  They are also observed as year-round residents in Central and South Texas, Southern Arizona, and Central Florida.  We only see them in summer so they must head south when it gets cold here.


A Red Paper Wasp on Painted Poinsettia (Euphorbia cyathophora).  Our native poinsettia is a cousin to the more famous holiday poinsettia native to the tropics.

Not exactly in the garden and I probably should be embarrassed to show this but I'm not because it is
so pretty.  After spotting this web glistening in the sunshine I left it for a day before removing it.  The spinner never returned and nothing was snared in the web.  Spiders are generally ushered out and most bugs that make it inside aren't as lucky.

While watering potted plants one morning I was startled to see the eye of a newborn fawn stashed here by a protective mom.  Fawns have no scent and are safer from predators if mom leaves them for hours at a time.

She may have been trying to push the little one through the fence.  We've had that happen before.  Spots are obviously for camouflage and work quite well.

Mom was nearby and intervened when the fawn had enough of my attention.

Scampering off to safety.  You have only to look at their tails when they run to see why they are called White-tailed deer.  You'll also notice that this is a suburban neighborhood and not out in the country.

The next day they were back.

Watchful mom resting in the shade.

Water in the birdbath must have been the draw.  With almost no rain since May, water for wildlife is important.

Oh so cute!

If you noticed all the wire cages and upturned baskets, those are attempts to protect plants.  Yes, she has been eating my plants!

We've put a tub with water out behind the back fence for the rest of the herd.  A huge 10-point still in velvet stage for antlers.  Eventually the velvet will itch and bucks will rub trees to remove it.


There were several bucks back there in July.  They know to stay in the trees to camouflage their antlers.  They'll be fighting soon as mating season starts up again in fall.

For more wildlife in the garden check out Tina's post on her blog.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Exploring a Rain Garden from the experts

We San Antonio gardeners have by necessity sought out drought tolerant plants to use less water and lose fewer plants to the intense summer heat.  But what happens when there is too much rain all at once, when runoff becomes an issue?  Recent buzz about rain gardens, which serve to slow down and filter storm runoff, motivated me to visit the Rain Garden at San Antonio River Authority (SARA) offices last Spring.  SARA protects the San Antonio River watershed for water supply and conservation.  SARA's Sustainable Landscape Superintendent, Lee Marlowe, gives an excellent presentation on the concept and installation of this rain garden so I'd learned quite a bit about it in advance.  If you're in San Antonio, Lee currently stars in a SARA public information TV spot featuring this rain garden.  While SARA's main office is south of downtown along the River Walk, this office with the rain garden is at 600 East Euclid just north of downtown.

Let's see how pros do a rain garden.  The purpose of a rain garden is to slow down and filter rain water before it reaches our water sources.  When I first heard about the SARA rain garden I envisioned a channel with rocks in the bottom.  This is way more than that.  I should have known better since the plants were selected by Lee and her team.  Lee, aka "the plant lady" for SARA, is a native plant expert who can rattle off the ID of some pretty rare plants and the person largely responsible for restoring native plants to miles of San Antonio River banks over the past few years.  Her expertise shows in this beautiful urban garden.

Did I mention urban?  I-35 is right there in the background so all the freeway goop washes off onto their property during rain events.  Downtown San Antonio is just on the other side of the freeway.  SARA's rain garden also filters runoff from 9,000 s.f. of roof so it's a little deeper and larger than most rain gardens which is why they used heavy construction equipment.  While not something you'd have available for your yard we can find plenty of inspiration and ideas to take home.  LID or Low-impact Development features such as rain gardens are taking on more importance as cities like San Antonio assess fees for impervious surfaces to raise funds for drainage improvements.

A no mowing sign in case there are questions.

The site was a flat, boring strip of lawn just like this area along East Euclid Street near the SARA visitor entrance.  To the right is the rain garden running along side the building.

All these plants are commonly sold in local nurseries making the rain garden an example for the community.

Dyschoriste linearis or Snake herb fills the bottom of the channel to filter the tainted rain runoff.

Scutellaria wrightii blooms add color.

Mexican Olive (Cordia boissieri) trees run at intervals along the building with Texas sage, Leucophyllum frutescens filling in under the windows.  Muhlenbergia lindheimeri grasses add another layer of texture along the row.

In her presentation on this rain garden, Lee notes the amazing number of species of birds, bugs, and butterflies that have flocked to this previously wildlife free zone.  I was here a little early to spot much in the way of activity though she did ask about my observations.

A gray swath of Woolly stemodia stands out among the green while Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Mealy Blue Sage (Salvia farinacea), Gulf Muly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) a little lower on the slope and orange-gold Four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuras scaposa) add color to the mix.

Runoff also channels into the rain garden from the parking lot via grates like this.   Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) right, blue skullcap left

Wish I could grow coneflowers like these.  They should be easy to grow but for some reason I've killed way too many of them.  Time to try again.

A small field of white and yellow Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) topping a rise combines beautifully with Four-nerve daisies heading down the hill.

Well done SARA team!  A rain garden to be appreciated as a beautiful, functional native plant garden.  If you haven't seen Lee's presentation on this garden yet I highly recommend it.  Follow San Antonio River Authority and SAWS (San Antonio Water System) on Facebook for notification.

Now where can I place a rain garden?   Mine would obviously be a modified version.  There may be incentives on the way soon.  While San Antonio lowers impervious surface fees for commercial properties with LID features, there is no similar option for homeowners at this time although this oversight will hopefully be corrected sometime in the future.

To learn more about rain gardens in San Antonio:

Residential Rain Garden
Rain Garden in Action with Lee Marlowe and Heather Ginsburg of SAWS

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The kid's museum with a grown-up landscape

The DoSeum, a kid's museum in San Antonio, opened in June 2015 and the landscape has been catching my eye ever since.  For the last two years I've passed this landscape on Broadway just north of downtown and intended to stop.  A few weeks ago I did just that.  This may be a children's museum but the landscape is fun for grown-ups too.

Impossible to miss a bright red wall along Broadway, a major north-south artery connecting downtown with close-in suburbs.  San Antonio's Lake|Flato Architects, the museum's designer, and Austin's Ten Eyck Landscape Architecture collaborated on the project.  The two firms have worked together on several local sites recently and the results are always excellent.  See my post on landscapes at The Pearl here.

A block-long striking red wall (bright as it looks) gets attention on busy Broadway which also serves as the gateway to our Museum District and the Pearl Brewery mixed-use redevelopment area.  Gabions filled with aqua glass cool that hot red wall color.  Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) sits on a filled slope behind the wall.  Spots of bright red color show through softening trees.

Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) softens sidewalk edges and should be spectacular in full cotton-candy mode during fall bloom.  I'll try to return to see how all the fluffy pink works with the red wall.

The bus stops here.  Our Via bus system has a museum route plus a Trolley for visitors.  Mexican Olive trees and a bright yellow Esperanza are there to greet you.  Imagine that wall as seen from the bus.  I'd ride out from town to see this.

Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition' looks best against a bright, solid background.

A peek inside the gabion revealed the center is filled with rubble rock but there still seems to be plenty of shine on all sides.  Four-nerve daisy  (Tetraneurus scaposa) is thriving in a west-facing location.

A curving hillside seems the perfect location for gabions.  Matching aqua recycled glass granules pressed into concrete at intervals repeat the color and a mix of textures make this a decidedly not boring sidewalk.

A few of the grasses are struggling on the slope.  Still looks good with dots of gold lantana.  I'd follow the aqua spiral up the hill but it's getting hot out here!

We'll turn to the cooling welcome of the museum entrance and the "place-based" design of Lake|Flato which draws inspiration from traditional buildings of South Texas.  With this approach, even the firm's earliest projects (now at 30 years) don't seem outdated.  Hesperaloe parviflora 'Brakelights' punching in more red accents brought over from the streetside wall.

Thoughtful architecture includes a walkway for families to safely navigate the parking lot.

Stroller and wheelchair-friendly access with shade sails to help beat the Texas heat.  Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora) in raised planters with softening effects of Mexican Feather Grass and Salvia greggii alongside.

Back the other way, planning ahead for our inevitable deluges.

This is how it's done.  One of my favorite things about Christy Ten Eyck projects is most of these plants are already in my landscape or readily available at local nurseries and are a main reason for stopping: plant massing, repeating colors, varying textures--all good ideas to consider.

We won't have to wait long for Ten Eyck's next project which is expected to open just around the corner at the San Antonio Botanical Garden in October.  Looking forward to seeing what she does to follow this wonderful DoSeum effort.