Austin – Tchotchke

Lucinda Huston Garden

I learnt a new word in Austin – tchotchke.  I think it is a Jewish word and it means a small object that is decorative rather than strictly functional, a trinket.  Just as when I visited gardens in San Francisco, I was intrigued by the amount of objects some of the gardens contained.  I don’t think this is particularly a trend in the UK.  We have statues, garden ornaments and water features, and maybe the odd decorative metal watering can but I don’t think we display objects in the same way.

Colleen Jamison Garden

I wonder if it is something to do with the climate. The warmer temperatures in both cities lead the inhabitants to use their outside space far more than we do in the UK.  We talk grandly about garden rooms but, really we are just not in the same league, which you realise when you see gardens which have outside kitchens, pizza ovens and grills. Anyway, I suppose if you spend a lot of time outside and you don’t have rain as much as we do  then you start to think about your outside space much as you would a room and why wouldn’t you want to add various trinkets.

Colleen Jamison Garden

Just as I when came back from San Francisco wanting to paint my shed orange (rest assured I didn’t it wouldn’t have looked right) I came back from Austin wanting to tchotchke up my garden. Whilst, I don’t think I will ever be in Lucinda Huston’s league, I have included a few ideas that I have taken home from Colleen Jamison, Pam Penick and Jenny Stocker’s gardens.  All of which would work back here in the UK (see above and gallery below).

Before I come to Lucinda Huston’s garden and knick knacks (that’s what we call trinkets in the UK) I wanted to share with you two of my favourite things from a garden whose name I can’t find as I have lost my itinerary, but they were just so different and too big really to fit in the tchotchke category but they did make me smile

You see lots of bottle trees in the US.  Apparently they are meant to ward off bad spirits or catch hexies – I’m not sure – but they generally seem to be made up of blue bottles but in this garden we saw a lovely subtle green bottle one and then this confection which is just so outrageous you have to smile.

But the Queen of tchotchke has to be Lucinda Huston and her tequila garden.  Whilst the house and garden are small they punch well above their weight in impact.  These photos are just some of my favourite bits, there was much much more, all in bright colours.  I found it quite overwhelming but as you start to take it all in you notice that everything is carefully thought about and arranged.  This isn’t some random collection of stuff; there are themes and everything is displayed to its best advantage.  I have to admit that I was stunned at how tidy it all was.  If you just take the cabinet at the top of this post – if I had such a display cabinet in my garden I can guarantee that it wouldn’t be that neat, it would have old leaves and bit of grit on the shelves and in her house, which has as much if not more on display, it is immaculate, not a bit of dust to be seen.  It made me feel exhausted just thinking about all the work Lucinda must put in to keep it looking so pristine.

So no sooner had I got back to the UK than I was digging out the couple of garden ornaments I have and putting them out in the garden – understated but a start.

A garden of inspiration

The trouble I find with spending a number of days visiting gardens is the sensory overload.  So many gardens, plants, owners, ideas and experiences and when you then start to try and think about how to distil your experience into a blog post; well sometimes it seems to be a challenge too far.

I have a habit of writing blog posts almost immediately I return from a garden visit but work demands have got in the way and I find myself a week after my return skimming through my photos, only a 1000 in my case, trying to decide what to blog about. What strikes me is the direct correlation between the gardens I enjoyed and the number of photos of them.  In each case these gardens are very much those of enthusiastic plants people.  They are full of texture and form often more from plants than structure and they offer me inspiration on so many levels.

I think Jenny and David Stocker’s garden was the real winner for me.  We visiting on a very wet day, although by the time of our visit the rain was light but poor Jenny had experienced a trying time during the gullywasher earlier in the day.  However, despite the overcast skies the garden sang to me.

Initially, it was the extremely skilled placement of pots and small vignettes that intrigued me.  I can learn so much from these.  My pots end up scattered around the garden, randomly placed, but as you can see from the above a small collection with a mix of leaf shapes, size of pots and a couple of small accessories takes on a whole identity of its own; a small work of art.

The cacti remind us that we are indeed in Texas, and I have included it to humour those of my friends who are convinced I spent the week looking at cacti and tumble weed.  However, as you can see from these photos the garden is far from a barren landscape.  David and Jenny built their home on the side of a hill and enclosed the garden with a wall creating a sense of enclosure and presumably creating a microclimate.  I think I am right in saying that the various spaces between the house and perimeter wall create six different garden spaces each with its own theme. 

I think this is what Jenny calls the English Garden. I loved the exuberance of the flowers in this space.  There is no formal rigid border, instead the plants spill out over the paving creating a very naturalistic space and a space I would love to waste a few hours in, listening to the bird and insects and watching the lizards run along the wall (which we were lucky to do a couple of evenings later).

The first and third photos are of the front planting area which as you can see is full of large succulents.  I am not informed enough to attempt to name any of them but I loved the juxtaposition of the spiky succulents with the surrounding trees which I think are oaks.  I developed a  love of the trees in Austin which seem to have quite broad and open canopies giving much needed shade but also with their small leaves bringing a lovely diffused light to the space beneath. I have been trying to think of a tree I could use to create a similar effect in England.

I think one of the reasons I love this garden is because of the polished combination of very English plants such as the Aquilegias, Geraniums and Poppies with succulents and cacti; I think this one is a Prickly Pear. So often you see plants corralled into a restricted planting scheme – succulents, hardy exotics, herbaceous border – and never the twain shall meet.  Jenny has shown that you can ignore these preconceptions and building on the plant’s cultivation needs and looking carefully at colour, form and texture you an create exciting and intriguing planting.

Although Jenny has been blogging for as long as me, if not longer, I hadn’t come across her blog until this trip but I am now following her assiduously and I feel that I have found a kindred spirit albeit on the other side of the pond.






Austin: A quilting interlude

Whilst I have an inordinate amount of photos of gardens and plants to trawl through before posting on the amazing gardens I saw in Austin during the Garden Bloggers Fling I do also have a few photos taken on my iPhone of some amazing quilts we came across on our last day so I thought I would start there.

My friend, Victoria, and I stayed on in Austin for a couple of days after the Fling and on our last morning we decided to explore some of the cultural history of Austin visiting the State Capitol, the Bullock Texas State Museum and the Joseph and Susanna Dickinson Hanning MuseumSusanna Dickinson was one of a handful of people to survive the battle of the Alamo.

The Mexican General, Santa Anna, told the Texan rebels that they could either surrender or die and they chose to fight to the end. However, Santa Anna, spared some of the women and children including Susannah Dickinson and her small daughter and sent her to General Sam Huston to tell him of the outcome of the battle.  Santa Anna’s purpose was to scare the Texans into surrender but instead the Texans determination to secure their freedom from Mexico was increased when they learnt that even those who surrendered at the end of the battle were killed. In less than a month the tables had turned and Texas secured its independence from Mexico.

Susannah lived in poverty for many years after the Alamo, being refused financial support or land by the Texas government.  She married a further four times and ended up in Austin with her last husband, Joseph Hanning, who ran a furniture store. The bed in the top photo is in Susannah and Joseph’s first house in Austin.

The quilt on the bed was put together in 2010 in honour of the Alamo descendants and coincided with the opening of the house to the public.  All the Alamo descendants who attended the opening were invited to sign the quilt and if you look carefully at the white pieces you can make out a range of signatures.

Also in the house is this Texas Lone Star Quilt which was created around 1900 – detail below.

Earlier in the morning we visited the Bullock Texas State Museum and learnt more about the history of Texas which was fascinating. There were two quilts on display.  Sadly I didn’t take a note of the information for the next one but am including the photos anyway for your interest, especially the close ups.

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The final quilt in the Museum has an interesting story. The quilt was created through a quilting bee led by Miriam Ferguson who was the First Female Governor of Texas from 1915-1917.  She invited her closest friends to stitch the quilt to commemorate her years in the Governors Mansion.  The idea was that all the ladies would sign the quilt but due to the limited size of the Miriam had to choose which of her friends could actually sign the quilt and those who weren’t chosen felt snubbed and never forgave her the slight.

This is just a section of the quilt as it was hard to photograph in its case with other items.  If you look carefully you will see names stitched in red.  Personally, I think she could have included a few more ‘friends’.

It was good to get a sewing fix while away as despite taking some embroidery with me on the trip I never seemed to have time to do any.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centre

The first of, I suspect,  many blog posts from my garden visits in Austin, Texas. Our first stop yesterday was the Lady Bird  Johnson Wildflower Centre, part of the University of Texas in Austin. The Centre, opened in 1982 by Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes, is one of America’s  largest online native floral resources and is dedicated to the promotion of native species.

As  you can see from the oppressive sky the weather was not in our favour yesterday and we experienced what I think is called gullywasher  with just under 4″ of rain falling. There was just time to scoot around the garden taking photos before the heavens opened so I didn’t have much time to stop and consider what I was seeing so I think I will just share some photos to give you a flavour of just how pretty Texan flora is.

The first photo is a Lady Bird Johnson quote which I really liked and thought was so true in so ,any ways.

The idea here is that each of the square beds show you what native plants to use in what conditions – simple but effective.

I may well get a chance to return before I fly home so I may be able to expand upon this post later.

I hope this has wetted your appetite for more amazing Austin gardens, we certainly have seen some fantastic gardens already and there is more waiting for us tomorrow.