Gathering spaces in Ruthie Burrus Garden, part 2


May 02, 2022

In my last post I hope I wowed you — as I was wowed — by the colorful wildflower meadow and textural spiky-soft shade garden of Ruthie Burrus. If you missed it, check out Part 1 of my visit to Ruthie’s West Austin garden. Today we’ll explore the back garden, where Ruthie has divided her long, shallow backyard into welcoming and charming hangout areas for family and friends.

White garden

As you come around the house, you see a Mediterranean-style white garden — a new design since I last visited. A kiln-style pizza oven once sat at the rear of the house, but it’s been removed. Now a gravel garden sparkles with white flowers and silvery green foliage, nothing too tall — a vision of coolness. I bet this space is especially beautiful in the evening, as the plants take on a moonlight-garden glow.

The focal point of this space is Ruthie’s garden haus, cobbled together with Old World charm from stones unearthed from her property, scrap roofing, and antique doors and windows.

‘Helen von Stein’ lamb’s ear edges a curving stone path from the back door and porch to the garden haus. A pink ‘Peggy Martin’ rose once graced the shed’s face. But after the snowpocalypse killed it, Ruthie began training another type of rose.

A wider view of the white garden shows native blackfoot daisy along with artemisia and agapanthus.

Top view of the two-toned agapanthus, aka lily of the Nile.

Side view of the lamb’s ear path, with shapely pots of lavender, raised beds overflowing with pink evening primrose, and a curved border of dwarf apricot roses.

The white garden as seen from the lawn

Ruthie’s training roses up tall metal trellises.

L-shaped rusty steel bars make the sturdy frame, with cattle panel inserts.

Everything is welded together in back.

Another view of the garden haus. Notice how Ruthie echoed the burnt orange and sandy hues of the shed’s stones with terracotta pots and apricot roses. Even the decomposed granite fits the color scheme.

I couldn’t get enough of the stone shed, so here’s one more view.

Atop a stone wall, tiny purple flowers grace a round rustic pot.

And hardy Agave lophantha pairs up with a dainty succulent in a dish planter.

Flower border and skyline view

The next garden room perches on a steep hillside overlooking downtown Austin. Ruthie grows colorful perennials and annuals along the edge, backed by a trimmed hedge of Texas mountain laurels that screen the houses below.

It was a hazy morning, but what a view.

Standing winecup and California poppies replicate a little of the color explosion of the front meadow (seen in Part 1).

Hangout spaces

A wall of steel-framed windows looks out on that skyline view and a covered dining porch.

Beyond is a rectangular swimming pool framed by trees and backed by a part-shade garden of yuccas, native ornamental trees, and wildflowers. I love the petal-like stone dish planters by the pool.

They display a dusky lavender mangave underplanted with white flowers.

In another pot, a Queen Victoria agave bristles over a trailing ice plant.

I love this combo of feathery prostrate Japanese plum yew, blackfoot daisy, and verbena. I’m kind of surprised this works because blackfoot daisy can be finicky about too much water, and the new plum yew probably needs regular water. But it’s beautiful and looks happy.

From the pool you look across a lawnette of sedge — Berkeley sedge, I think — toward a three-sided porch. To the left of the porch…

…is a bigtooth maple underplanted with giant ligularia.

A flowering aloe in a round pot drew my attention to the porch.

But what stopped me in my tracks was a stunning floral display of flowering bulbs on the outdoor fireplace mantel.

I walked over, muttering, “I bet they’re real.” And of course — somehow — they were!

I marveled over the freshness of the flowering bulbs without any obvious water source, the beautiful way they’re arranged, the spiny eryngium tucked in here and there, the moss seeming to hold it all together. How pretty the colors look against the black-and-white picture of a bird nest.

It’s like a still-life painting.

Ruthie told me it’s the creation of Keith at Westbank Flower Market, and she had it made for a special event at her house.

From the shelter of the porch, you can admire — or mourn, depending on how long ago you arrived in Austin (haha) — the growing downtown skyline.

And oh hey, another pretty succulent dish

Ruthie has a talent for putting together eye-catching containers. I admired this spiky beauty in a copper tub.

I think that may be a ‘Sharkskin’ agave with the paddle plant.

The pool looks inviting as Austin heats up for summer. Those two white-and-black squares just beyond the hedge are chimneys on the roof of a neighbor’s house, which gives you a sense of the dropoff.

At the far end of the pool, a garden bristling with Yucca rostrata and giant hesperaloe is softened by flowering Gulf Coast penstemon and spuria iris.

There’s also a bronze rabbit sculpture, by Colorado artist Jim Budish.

Spuria iris

Spikes and softness. The rabbit’s long ears fit right in with those spikes.

Yucca rostrata, Gulf Coast penstemon, and heartleaf skullcap in bud. Broad limestone slabs make a rustic path through this garden and around to a private side yard.

The perfectly placed rabbit can be observed from the pool and porches. And he observes back.

Side garden

Following the flagstone path around the house I discovered more wildflower wildness in standing winecup and pink evening primrose.

And a few poppies for good measure

Hard-working bees too

A stone-walled circle appeared amid the wildflowers — a large planter showing off dianthus, flowering aloes, and more. A carved stone eagle perches on one side.

A window overlooks this planter, and it must make a lovely view from inside. As must every inch of this beautiful garden.

Thank you, Ruthie, for sharing your garden with me again this spring!

For a look back at Part 1 of Ruthie’s garden, including a colorful wildflower meadow, click here.

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Digging Deeper

May 5th at 8 pm: Attend the final Garden Spark talk of the season! Jennifer Jewell, award-winning author and Cultivating Place podcast host, shows that gardens are powerful agents for change, addressing challenges like climate change, resource use, habitat loss, and more. Using beautiful images from her book Under Western Skies, she’ll share innovative gardens that celebrate western landscapes. Get your ticket at this link. Tickets must be purchased in advance; no walk-ins. Come learn something new and hang out with fellow garden lovers!

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark! Hungry to learn about garden design from the experts? I’m hosting a series of talks by inspiring garden designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. Check out the 2021-22 schedule. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2022 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.



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