Between the Rows: Texas gardens different, drier, dazzling

  • Jenny Stocker calls this her English garden, with plants familiar to all of us, but even here there are a few succulents. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • No lawns for this garden at Jenny and David Stocker’s home. As you approach the walled house, there is a traditional Texas garden. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Texas gardens use a lot of stone. Here, flowers snuggle up to the stone pavers. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • This corner planting reflects a tiny bit of Texas life. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman


For the Recorder
Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Texas gardens may be different from New England gardens, but gardeners all share the desire to create beautiful spaces. I spent a week in Texas visiting my daughter and her family, and joining 92 other garden bloggers touring gardens in the Austin area. We visited big public gardens like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the Zilker Botanical Garden. We also visited unique private gardens.

The garden created by David and Jenny Stocker appeared to be a regular Texas garden as we left our bus. The walkway approach to the house with its smooth pale walls is very Texan. The landscaping consists of gravel, rough stone walls, and a dry creek bed with smooth river stones. Agaves of different sizes are spread across the landscape along with other succulents. This work was designed by Sitio Design, but the Stockers designed and did almost all the stone work themselves. They built the dry creek, the dry stone walls, retaining walls and rock gardens. Jenny was at the house site almost every day during construction to save ledge stones that would be useful, and David searched out interesting stone to add to the mix.

Jenny had to adjust to the hot and dry Austin climate, which is nothing like her native British climate, but she has found ways to include both garden styles. The garden is distinctive because of its “garden rooms.” I don’t know that Vita Sackville-West invented garden rooms when she created them at her famous Sissinghurst garden, but certainly that phrase has become popular. However, Sackville-West’s rooms were mostly separated from each other by large, tall, dense hedges. The Stockers, for the most part, have used real walls.

The house was built in 2001 with surrounding walls so Jenny could garden in a deer-free space. Jenny thinks of it as an Arts and Crafts Texas style-house with distinct rooms. Those rooms are used at different seasons and times of day depending on whether they need sun or shade, or protection from the famous Texas wind.

Our New England houses don’t offer much in the way of small sheltered exterior spaces, but because of the many angles in the Stocker house, there are corners that provide wonderful spaces for plants. One corner has two airy and spindly trees in it, one has a leafy tree casually lounging against the wall, one has a well-pruned shrub growing up the wall and one corner presents a whole tableau with a graceful tree, a bird bath and feeder, river stones to catch rain from the drain pipe and a varied collection of green plants.

Stone is certainly a strong theme in the Stocker gardens. There is the ledge stone that was dug up when the house was built providing the material for stone walls, but finished stone is used as well. A whole variety of plants and flowers thrive in the space between square pavers set in gravel. A sheltered round table and chairs sit on a circular arrangement of rough and finished stones, surrounded by low-growing plants.

Each of the different rooms has a different appeal, but I loved the English garden set beside the pool. The effect is very meadow-like with native and other low water plants. Many of the plants were familiar to me from my own garden. I was surprised to see columbine, poppies, foxgloves, roses, rudbeckias, nigella and other Massachusetts favorites.

Jenny noted that the climate and thin soil are definite challenges, so these are not low-maintenance gardens. She does use plants that can adjust to the climate and welcomes self-seeding plants, as well as pass-alongs from friends.

Of course, gardeners do not live by flowers alone. One room includes potted citrus trees and raised beds for vegetables. You will never be bored or hungry in this garden!

I found the stroll through all the garden rooms a bit dizzying. Each space provided a different delight, pieces of art, handmade hyper-tufa troughs and bowls filled with a varied assortment of succulents. This house with its gardens, its shady patios and its cooling pool welcomed us all with good will and generosity. I was surprised when I turned a final corner and found myself back at the front entryway. I wanted to start over and spend all day there. I wanted to fly home instantly and make a sheltered but flowery space where I could have my morning coffee and newspaper, just like the Stockers. I wonder what my husband will say when I tell him how much I loved this garden and ask where he thinks our table for morning coffee could be placed.

The Stocker garden is just one of the 14 gardens I saw. You will be seeing more of the inspired arrangement of plants and social garden spaces over the next few months.

If you would like to know more about the Stockers’ garden, you can visit Jenny’s Rock Rose blog at bit.ly/2KBEM78, which I have found entertaining, charming and useful.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com.