Waterwise beauty and metal animal safari in Linda Peterson’s San Antonio garden

An invitation to Linda Peterson’s garden in San Antonio proved too tempting a treat to resist on the day before Halloween. I arrived in San Antonio in time to tour the terrific new culinary and adventure gardens at San Antonio Botanical Garden before heading over to Linda’s mint-green home and walled garden under an undulating canopy of live oaks.

Tree limbs aren’t the only undulating features in Linda’s mint-condition gravel garden (not a fallen leaf or weed in sight). Check out the wavy arms on this variegated American agave, like an octopus writhing across the seabed. A double line of soap aloes adds a starfishy chorus line, with prickly pear standing like kelp along the minty wall. A wavy “stream” of Mexican beach pebbles adds another watery note.

A pair of metal rhinos pauses at path’s edge, appearing to consider crossing for a drink from the pebbly stream. Or so my imagination runs! As you can see, Linda’s garden is anything but wet. Mulched with gravel, planted with drought- and shade-tolerant plants, and irrigated only occasionally by hand, the garden is a model for anyone in the Southwest wanting inspiration for a waterwise garden that sacrifices nothing in the way of beauty.

Agave weberi mulched with Mexican beach pebbles and encircled by clumps of society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea). A sage-green container fountain bubbles alongside. Consider, all ye who garden under live oaks, which ceaselessly drop leathery leaves, acorns, and galls and push up leafy sprouts, how pristine the gravel mulch is – a perfect mat for sculptural plants and tidy groundcovers. Linda makes it look easy, but she obviously does a lot of regular tidying and pruning to maintain this gorgeousness.

Speaking of the live oaks, Linda treats them with reverence in her entire garden design. She and her husband, Carl, sited their home at the rear of the lot when building in order to preserve the majestic trees. Rather than cutting off one large, low-growing limb, they showcased it with a porthole opening in the courtyard wall.

Like a tentacled arm, it stretches through the wall and across the outer garden floor.

A rustic, stump-seat picnic table is embraced by the tree’s dark limbs.

A flagstone path wends through the outer garden, past masses of aloes, neatly trimmed rosemary, and massive agaves.

A stone crocodile planter grins toothily at passersby.

Linda’s serene color palette includes dusty green, pale yellow, and lavender, and she is disciplined about it. I enjoy the way the tan gravel mulch and generous negative (unplanted) space allows each plant to shine.

Ghost plant and…I can’t remember what that feathery groundcover is.

A broad-leaved agave amid fine-textured grasses – a winning combo.

Check out the beautiful, frosty “bloom,” or dusty silver coating, on the leaves. If you have a succulent with a dusty or waxy coating on its leaves, try to resist touching or it’ll wipe off and you’ll be sad, plus the plant needs it.

I always appreciate this simple flagstone patio and bench where the stone path bends and widens. The fluffy bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) behind the wooden bench screens neighboring cars and creates a private spot to enjoy a view back across the front garden…

…as well as this vignette of palms planted in culvert pipes behind another big agave.

Inside the courtyard walls, front-yard privacy is complete. A generously sized patio of green-gray stone flows around live oaks and paves a cushioned seating area in front of a large stucco fireplace.

Potted plants cluster for impact amid in-ground plants.

Linda shows admirable discipline in her container colors as well, choosing shades of brown or bronze terracotta.

Even accent pieces like this repurposed metal cylinder hew to the color scheme.

I adore these wire floral sculptures that Linda made from copper tubing. They look especially good rising from the wiry stems of a nicely pruned grayleaf cotoneaster (Cotoneaster glaucophyllus).

The sunlit path beckons.

Linda has a knack for a gorgeous container display. Hiding the utility meters and pipes on the back wall of her house, an assortment of dark terracotta and glazed containers in various sizes, some elevated on stone blocks, creates a lovely distraction. Dry-loving cacti, succulents, and shrubs/trees mean that summer watering isn’t a chore.

An oversized horned lizard stands guard in front, a spiky focal point.

A softer container planting of ming fern (Asparagus retrofractus) and trailing silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) graces the narrow space between garage doors.

The narrow back garden offers another spot for a small patio with two rocking chairs. Pots of neatly tied bamboo screen the view of a neighbor’s yard, while, in front, a collection of terracotta planters creates a lush scene with shade-loving plants.

Lanterns hang from live oaks, encouraging the eye to look up and enjoy the vertical view.

A hummingbird mobile and hanging pots add vertical appeal too.

But what I’m really struck by are the container collections that blend seamlessly into in-ground plantings, elevating plants for closer inspection and creating focal points or distractions from areas Linda prefers not to see.

The metal animal safari continues with a pair of giraffes (never buy one when you can buy two – or more!) seeming to nosh on clumping bamboo. Feathery foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myersii’) makes a soft-textured, shade-tolerant groundcover.

Looking back at the rocking chair patio, which is nothing more than a wide spot in the flagstone path that curves around the back yard. Brilliant, yes? An arching live oak supports a hanging chair and collection of lanterns.

Sometimes a tree dies, and then the stump becomes an opportunity to create a pretty table. This one displays two of Linda’s metal animals. Simplicity.

Green, clear, and aqua glass bottles dangle from another tree, catching the light and brightening the shady space. Bottle trees are a Southern tradition I particularly enjoy, since they can be personalized in so many ways.

On an elevated back patio, Linda showcases another collection of potted plants, including agave and dioon. A beaded curtain in a window adds to the dreamy vignette.

A contemporary woven screen she and her family constructed from leftover pieces of metal roofing hides a neighboring house from view and allows a carefully composed container garden to shine, anchored by a focal-point fountain glowing with chunks of blue and green glass.

Vignettes such as these are a joy to rediscover on each visit, and the entire garden is a treasure of waterwise design. Thanks for sharing it with me again, Linda!

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is hosting Luminations, a holiday light display in the gardens, December 6th through 9th between 6 and 9 pm. Tickets are $15 per person, $10 for members, and free for children up to 4 years old.

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks! Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by inspiring designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added. I’ll be announcing the 2019 schedule soon to email subscribers.

All material © 2006-2018 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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