Meeting up with “Gays Who Garden” Andrew and Jared

November 15, 2021

I can’t remember when I started following @gayswhogarden on Instagram, but their alliterative, cheeky, and decidedly out username caught my eye, as did their beautiful images of soft-petaled roses, colorful Texas wildflowers, and glowing dahlias (in Austin — how??). We started chatting online, and in due course I invited myself over, as I do. They graciously humored me by actually inviting me — and another gardener, Cale, they’d also met online — to come see their East Austin garden.

And so on Saturday I met Andrew Ong and Jared Goza, the young couple behind @gayswhogarden. They are as adorable, friendly, and knowledgeable as their emoji-studded and encouraging Instagram posts read. As we walked around their garden, they shared the stories behind their plants and design decisions and gave a sense of how much has changed in only a few years by pulling up pics of the moonscape they inherited with the house.

In terms of their gardening passions, Andrew and Jared may be a case of opposites attract. Andrew loves roses and growing plants from seed, both of which require a good deal of fussing over. Jared favors native Texas plants that thrive without much babying. He’s laid claim to the front yard and overhauled the formerly over-paved space with buffalograss, a non-thirsty native turf grass for full sun. First he tried to grow it from seed, but when that failed to take he had it sodded, and he painstakingly weeds out sprigs of Bermudagrass that creep in.

The result is a shaggy native lawn that rarely requires water or mowing and looks terrific. Jared also tackled the hellstrip with water-sipping plants like black dalea (Dalea frutescens), gray globemallow (Sphaeralcea incana), flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii), blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana), and more.

A scrim of black dalea, the tallest I’ve seen, sparkles with purple-and-white flowers that complement the house’s blue siding.

At the front porch, black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata), an annual, climbs a trellis next to a pretty rain chain.

The guys are into vertical gardening and filling every conceivable space with plants. Andrew built these raised planter boxes for the driveway and is growing flowers from seed for cutting.

He also came up with some unique string trellis designs and is starting to train vines up them.

In back it’s more of a party with exotic dahlias and bougainvillea and lots of roses. This is more Andrew’s domain, and he enjoys experimenting to see what he can get to grow here.

A lovely pink and ivory bougainvillea

A gap between the house and detached garage — formerly bare dirt — gave Andrew and Jared an opportunity to create an outdoor living space — mostly for plants but with a hanging chair for lounging too. A slat roof filters the sun but still allows light and rain, and string lights make it inviting at night.

Vines creep along string hung between porch posts, making a living wall, and pots line the walk space on both sides.

Hyacinth bean vine (Lablab purpureus), a beautiful annual vine that’s easy to grow from seed

Its purple-pink flowers add rich color to the fall garden.

In back, more of Andrew’s seedlings grow in trays on a dining table, surrounded by his collection of potted roses.

He favors the most wonderfully scented roses, and we were invited to sniff each one. Heavenly!

Tough native perennials grow here too, like fall aster (Aster oblongifolius).

And hardy near-natives, like Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) and orange bells (Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’).

In a partly sunny back corner, Jared and Andrew dug a small pond, where they grow native bog plants.

Koi came to greet us like dogs begging for a treat.

Cestrum, a flowering shrub I’ve meant to try for years. Despite its lovely golden-yellow flowers, Jared confessed it’s not one of his faves. It loses its leaves in winter, he pointed out, leaving the fence bare until spring.

He was much more enthused about native white mistflower (Ageratina havanensis), which is one of my autumn faves too.

Monarchs were flocking to it.

Andrew plants bluebonnets seedlings directly in the gravel paths, expanding his growing space and giving them the gritty soil and reflected heat they love. Until the spring blues arrive, a teal-blue Adirondack draws the eye.

Andrew joked (I think?) that he was using the chair to cover up one of Jared’s native shrubs, a spiny-leaved agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata) — not his favorite choice because of those poky leaves. Jared and I sang its praises as a native holly with blue-green leaves and pretty yellow flowers in late winter (which bees adore). Andrew just smiled and directed our attention to a native holly he prefers, red-berried yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria).

Andrew is serious about growing from seed. Shelves of seedlings have taken over one of the pathways, and he’ll have a bonanza of new plants come spring.

An oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) turning red and orange stands out against the slate-blue garage wall. In spring it’ll be decked out in fluffy panicles of white flowers.

Thanks for the tour, Jared and Andrew! I enjoyed meeting you both and seeing all the cool plants you’re growing. Readers, and especially newbie gardeners in Austin, follow @gayswhogarden on Instagram for lots of gardening inspiration.

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All material © 2021 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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