Hilltop pollinator garden of Ruthie Burrus: Austin Open Day tour

November 20, 2019

Having visited Ruthie Burrus’s garden before (including at Austin Garden Bloggers Fling), I knew it would be one of my favorites on the Austin Open Days tour in November, sponsored by The Garden Conservancy. Let’s start with the entry garden, where a concrete trough softened by ferns gently trickles.

This area has filled in lushly since I first saw it five years ago, when the trough was visible on all sides. I prefer it as it is now, tucked into woodland plants, including dwarf Texas palmetto.

Texas dwarf palmetto glows in front of the German Hill Country-style guest house, which sits to the right of the main house.

Pulling back and viewing the entry garden from the driveway, you see a deep shade garden between the driveway and the house (and guest house at right).

The deep planting bed allows massing of giant ligularia and other shade lovers, accented by agave starbursts.

A wider view

Limestone slabs break up the masses of plants, allowing access and giving the eye a place to rest. The white limestone also brightens up the shady space.

I like how Ruthie tucks structural agaves amid sprawling perennials like mistflower and purple heart.

Compact Queen Victoria agave nestles in a bed of sedge.

One more look at the trough water feature, and now let’s turn and face the front door.

Clad in warm-hued limestone, the house opens onto a straight-through view of downtown Austin, its towering skyscrapers visible from the front porch. It’s a wow moment.

Stepping onto the back porch, that million-dollar view grabs your eye, nicely framed by a live oak perched at the edge of the steep hillside.

Then you notice the lovely garden that surrounds you, including unique planters on the porch.

Like this bird’s nest-style planter.

Here’s Ruthie, at right, talking to visitors. Those dark orbs on the lawn are seats but function mainly, I suspect, as sculptural elements.

To the right, a naturalistic garden glows with flowering perennials like salvias, as architectural plants like Yucca rostrata, prickly pear, giant hesperaloe, and agave balance all the little leaves.

Limestone slabs make a natural-looking path.

Texas dwarf palmetto catches the afternoon light, and ‘Pam’s Pink’ Turk’s cap blooms in the foreground.

A clean-lined swimming pool and mosaic path of Lueders limestone flow from the back porch to a covered dining patio. On a small lawn near a flagpole, the official photographer for The Garden Conservancy, Brian Jones, staked out a spot to take photos of the garden and visitors.

There are multiple places to sit and enjoy the garden, like this dining patio with an interesting woven-metal basket light.

Another view

Off to the side so as not to obscure the downtown vista, a charming rubble-rock garden shed roofed with rusty tin is clothed with a Katrina rose. When it blooms in spring and early fall, it’s breathtaking.

Colorful annual pentas fill the raised beds in front.

Behind the house a large whale’s tongue agave sits in a planter above a cheery swath of ‘Fireworks’ gomphrena.

Pointillist gomphrena complements the agave’s muscular leaves.

A bistro table and shell planter filled with an agave and frothy succulents make a nice focal point on a small back patio.

Atop a low wall, a white-spined, lanky opuntia adds personality.

Looking back across the whale’s tongue agave and lawn, I caught another glimpse of Ruthie (right) talking with her visitors.

Behind the rock shed sits the smaller of two large water-collecting cisterns. The other sits just below the driveway, and together they allow Ruthie and Gene, her husband, to store 10,000 gallons of rainwater.

I’d never seen golden thryallis sheared as a hedge before, and I love it. I’m going to copy this idea along my lattice fence next spring.

Walking down the steep driveway toward the street, I stopped to admire this large volcano bush (Lespedezathunbergii subsp. thunbergii ‘Little Volcano’) in full bloom — even after a freeze! Ruthie’s house sits atop a hill, so her garden likely stays a little warmer than most, as cold air sinks downhill.

After seeing this volcano bush a few years ago, and learning that it needs little care on a dry slope, I planted one of my own, but it’s still pretty small. If you’re wondering, I believe I found it at Barton Springs Nursery.

Near the street, yellow bells was blooming alongside the wavy paddles of a prickly pear. Ruthie’s garden offers so much inspiration in all seasons. She told me that her garden was already well past peak bloom in early November, which may have been true, but her beautiful design and the many evergreens growing among her perennials provide a great example of how to garden for all-season interest.

Up next: The final garden on tour, the B. Jane-designed Two Coves Drive Garden. For a look back at the xeriscape garden of Nuevo Santander, click here.

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