Thursday, December 14, 2017

Holiday Gift Guide for Gardeners - Part 2...

December is a perfect time for giving to those gardeners in your life, and for giving back to those non-profit gardens, which bring beauty and education to our communities. We have both of these opportunities from our incredible Fling sponsors this year. 

Image result for zilker botanical garden conservancy logoZilker Botanical Garden is located on 26 acres in the heart of Austin. It has been a public garden in Austin since October 25th, 1964 and maintained since then by the Austin Area Garden Council and the City of Austin. The garden is in the midst of some exciting new changes. In 2015 the Zilker Botanical Garden Conservancy was established to take over management of the gardens and raise funds to rejuvenate the gardens.  They are a 501(c)(3) and are currently in their end-of-year fundraising campaign. There are big plans for 2018 that we all have a chance to be a part of! 

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower CenterThe Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the preservation of native plants and just this year was named the Texas State Botanic Garden. The garden houses 800 species of Texas native plants, 1800 insect species, and 148 bird species. They also grow 60,000 plants annually, many of which are provided to the community and their Spring/Fall plant sales. The WFC provides a variety of educational opportunities to both children and adults as well. You can donate to this non-profit at several different levels.   

Both Zilker Botanical Garden and The Ladybird Wildflower center have gift shops as well - for you locals!

Hortus TVHortus TV is exactly what Santa ordered! As we settle in for a long winter, staring out the window at the snow covered landscape, and barren plants, why not come up with new ideas for next year's garden? Hortus provides hours of streaming content dedicated completely to gardening! You can give to your friends or use that cash from your stocking to purchase a membership for yourself. There are 3, 6 and 12 month options! 

Articulture is a design-firm and boutique here in Austin. They specialize in creating art with living plants. It is not just about table-top displays, but also living walls and furniture! Articulture also hosts a variety of classes and artist talks - not to mention their new Winedown Wednesdays. What's not to love? Everyone at the Fling will have a chance to shop in person, but no need to wait. They have a great online store with all kinds of goodies! 

Precision Camera & VideoPrecision Camera has your photography needs covered! Whether it is a few things for stocking stuffers (camera strap, batteries, lights), a new bag, or maybe time for that camera upgrade. Precision matches any price and their online store is extensive. You can also purchase gift cards which can be used towards items, or one of their professional-led classes, or weekend photo excursions. 

Don't forget to check out the sidebar for links to our other great sponsors! And click here for Part 1 of our Holiday Gift Guide.

Happy holiday shopping, garden bloggers!


One special-rate room left at 2018 Fling hotel

We have 1 special-rate room left at the Garden Bloggers Fling hotel for next May 3-6.  The next blogger to register will get the $199 rate.  If you're still thinking about registering, do it now to take advantage of this special rate. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Holiday Gift Guide for Gardeners...

The holiday season is upon us.  If you are scratching your head about what to give a gardening friend, or, someone else has asked you what you want, look no further than this blog.

Our generous and supportive Fling sponsors have everything a garden blogger could want and more.  And, they have a wide array of gifts for the non-gardeners on your list, too.

Year round, the arrival of a catalog from High Country Gardens is guaranteed to stop me in my tracks to look for unique plants that I can't find locally.  I like to push my USDA Zone limits, and am always looking for different varieties to try.  One of my favorite features of the catalog and website is the attention to detail and excellent information provided about each plant. I don't have to go searching for more information about plants that are new to me, because each plant write up includes a long list of conditions in which the plant will thrive.  You'll learn right away if the plant is drought tolerant or deer and rabbit resistant and whether it's pollinator friendly.

Garden Design Magazine is a wonderful gift for the gardeners in your life.  It's also a special present for both family and friends who love beautiful gardens and design who either can't or don't necessarily like to get dirt under their fingernails.  The in-depth articles and stunning photography draw you into an inspirational plant wonderland you just can't put down.

I've given Garden Design Magazine subscriptions to both clients and friends.  With no advertising to interrupt the information-filled content, (an unusual occurrence in the magazine world), Garden Design Magazine explores amazing gardens, highlights beautiful plants and offers insights from the world's best garden designers.  It's the perfect gift for winter holidays that keep you out of the garden.

Proven Winners searches the world to bring you vibrant flowering annuals, perennials and shrubs that deliver the most beautiful garden performance. When you grow Proven Winners, you'll surely find garden success. Their plants have been proven in trial from coast to coast in the U.S.  Check out the Proven Winners website to find which of your local nurseries carry their plants.  The website will also give you great gardening ideas and information about fertilizing, container plants, recipes, and their top-selling shrubs, annuals and perennials.  Have you ever used the Butterball turkey hotline?  Well, Proven Winners even has a grower hotline you can call when you have a plant emergency.

Vivero Growers, a local independent Austin retail and wholesale nursery offers a wide selection of premium plants.  Unlike some nurseries, Vivero grows the majority of its perennials, natives and adapted plants, right on site.  The nursery is filled with vignettes of plantings, pairing just the right things for color, texture, contrast, size and overall WOW factor. They have many unique specimens and an impressive selection of succulents, agaves and cacti.  You can find pre-made succulent planters and container combos for sale or they can  help you pick the perfect plants to make your own planter.  If you're driving of flying to the Fling, a visit to Vivero is a bucket list must.  For bloggers flying in, don't forget your the plastic bags and paper towels you'll to put some of these plants in your suitcase! You'll find great gifts for your friends and for yourself.

Originally a wildflower farm, on the American Meadows website you can now find perennials, grasses, bulbs, ground covers as well as gardening tools perfect for aspiring or expert gardeners. They offer more than 110 annual and 78 perennial seed mixes for sale, specifically tailored to any region in the country.  Check them out to see which plants or specialized blends are best for your garden gift giving. 

One of hottest trends to hit the garden industry in years, succulents are all the rage.  Some of us have been in plant-love with them for years, and now the rest of the world is catching up.  You can find them in every possible container, from beer cans to shoes to teacups.   East Austin Succulents carries the most extensive collection of succulents I've ever seen in all my nursery visits at 10 Garden Bloggers Flings and around the world. Don't leave Austin without stopping by their fabulous store in...yes, you guessed it...East Austin.  From spiky to gently trailing, you are guaranteed to find the perfect easy-to-care-for gift here, even for the gardening-challenged people in your life. You'll find a wide assortment of pre-planted containers and a hoop house as long as a football field (well, maybe not that long), full of varieties of succulents you've never seen before. Be sure to pack them well when putting them in that suitcase!

Another long-time Fling sponsor, Botanical Interests, offers the highest quality US-grown seed and the most informative packets on the market.  Each unique seed packet is not only beautiful, it's filled with facts, tips, recipes and quality seeds.  When planning a garden, all of that information right at your fingertips helps ensure your plants will thrive.  Offering more than 600 varieties, all seeds from Botanical Interests are non-GMO and untreated with pesticides. Make your shopping even easier and buy one of their lovely garden gift sets, all ready to go. They also sell an adult coloring book to help extend your gardening zen to those cold winter days ahead.

Plant Development Services boasts the top-ranking plant brands: Encore® Azalea, the Southern Living™ Plant Collection and the Sunset Western Garden Collection®, available at nurseries nationwide.

The Southern Living Plant Collection is known as the go-to company for innovative new plants selected for their ability to solve specific landscape challenges.  They thoroughly trial and test their plants for use in southern gardens. Their website also includes detailed information about how to design, plant, prune and care for their plants.  A simple search will help you find local retailers that carry their plants so a quick trip to the nearest nursery will give you plant gift inspiration.

The Sunset Western Garden Collection is the first collection designed specifically for the Western Gardener. Their superior plant introductions are designed to ensure that plants in Western region of the country thrive. You'll find a beautiful array of plants and inspirational design ideas on their extensive website. Look for their plants at your local retailers and see their website for care tips to share with plants you buy for holiday gifts.  

The number one azalea brand in the world, Encore® Azalea, was bred at Plant Development Services.  Plant Development Services owns and/or licenses more than 100 patented plant properties and boasts top ranking plant brands including Encore® Azalea, which are the only patented brand of azaleas to bloom in spring, summer, and fall.  Their show of blooms goes on and on, giving gardeners an "encore" performance.  Selecting an Encore Azalea from a local retailer will be a gift that lasts and lasts for 3 seasons each year.

Another fabulous nursery that should top your list of places to shop on your trek to Austin, Leaf landscape supply will make you want to take everything home. Leaf Landscape Supply works to turn their clients’ landscaping vision into reality through superior quality, excellent selection and individual customer service. At leaf you'll find an excellent selection of succulents, agaves and yuccas, annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs.  For the gardener looking for that special something to give as a gift, or even to give to yourself, their extensive collection of plants offer you many choices.

Happy holiday shopping, garden bloggers! And check out Part 2 of our gift guide tomorrow!


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Friendly hippos ahead in the art-filled garden of Donna and Mike Fowler

Thirty miles northeast of Austin, the formerly sleepy hamlet of Hutto is growing as quickly as a hippopotamus in a lake full of duckweed. But the town still has a friendly, everyone-knows-everyone vibe, and its most congenial hosts have to be the former mayor and found-object sculptor Mike Fowler and his plant-loving, garden-creating wife, Donna Fowler. They own a beautiful, 100-year-old home on three large lots that they’ve turned into an art-filled garden, which we'll tour during the Garden Bloggers Fling next May.

Donna, who is a hospital pharmacist by day, says, "I come from a long line of farmers and gardeners on both sides. I'm originally from the Panhandle of Texas. Mike and I moved to Hutto in 1978, when there were only 500 people in town. We live in Mike's family home that was built around 1886. It has been a labor of love to restore it, add on to it, and make the grounds beautiful." 

What will you find in their garden? Well, hippos, naturally! Mike successfully lobbied for the hippo to be adopted as Hutto's official mascot, and you'll see colorfully painted concrete hippos all over town and throughout the Fowlers' garden.

But you'll also discover a huge vegetable garden with a tepee, Mike's playful garden art, and an exuberant mix of flowering perennials and palms, Texas-tough yuccas and hesperaloes, and native wildflowers. It's a welcoming, sit-and-stay-awhile garden with lots of seating plus a shady lawn, where we'll enjoy a tasty box lunch during our garden stop.

You'll visit this beautiful garden and many others next May if you join us for the Austin Garden Bloggers Fling. Don't miss out -- spaces are going fast. Register for the Austin Fling today! And by the way, if you want to see who else is already signed up, click here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Austin Flingers, stay and see more of Austin and Texas

When you come to Austin for the Fling, we can promise you lots of garden visits and fun with fellow bloggers. But it also gives you a chance to be a tourist in our weirdly wonderful city, and to make a day trip or two to visit other cool spots in central Texas. Over the years, I've added days to my Fling trips in multiple cities, with my spouse and kids joining me either pre- or post-Fling on tourist adventures. I highly recommend it!

The easiest course is staying on at the Fling hotel so you can walk or cab/rideshare to nearby destinations. Another option, especially if you're planning to rent a car to explore a little farther afield, is to switch post-Fling to a hotel outside of downtown. For example, the charming Lone Star Court, located in the Domain mixed-use development in North Austin, is today showing rates of $179-189 for the days after the Fling. I've done it both ways myself -- staying put or switching hotels -- and it really just comes down to what works for your budget and what you plan to see during your extra days.

But the real question is, how will you choose what to see? Austin has so much going on -- the music scene; beautiful parks, trails, spring-fed swimming holes, and lakes; museums for art lovers and history buffs; and the cultural dynamism that happens in a city composed of hippies and hipsters, artists and musicians, high-tech entrepreneurs, 50K university students, and a seasonal swarm of state capital workers and politicians -- and we're located right on the edge of the picturesque Hill Country, where roadsides bloom with wildflowers and towns settled by German and Czech immigrants beckon tourists looking for laid-back and friendly Texas charm.

Here are my top picks for local attractions and fun day trips. 

Things to Do: Downtown and nearby 

Live music on 6th Street and beyond: Look up club listings, and you're sure to find multiple options any night of the week. Iconic live music venues downtown, near the university, and in nearby South Austin include the Continental Club, Stubb's, the Saxon Pub, Cactus Cafe, and classic Texas dance hall the Broken Spoke. 

Good eats: Find our friend Sheryl's distinctively Austin restaurant picks here. And here are our downtown restaurant recommendations.

Shops on South Congress
Shopping: 2nd Street District has nice boutiques and is fairly close to our hotel. But for funky, colorful Austin shopping and people-watching, plus great views of the Capitol, you can't miss a stroll along South Congress Avenue. This is the uniquely Austin shopping/dining/hangout strip most people envision when they talk about Austin. It's a bit of a hike from the hotel (a 30-minute walk one way) but just a short cab/rideshare away. Don't miss it.

Bats: A large colony of Mexican free-tailed bats lives in the cracks under the Congress Avenue Bridge, and Austin has joyfully adopted them as the city's mascot, turning out in droves to watch them emerge each night in a black cloud and begin their nightly mosquito- and moth-hunting. You can watch them at sundown from the west side of the bridge or below along Lady Bird Lake, or take a bat-watching cruise to watch from the water.

Esther's Follies: Need a good laugh? Catch a live show at Esther's Follies, a mix of modern-vaudeville musical numbers, political satire, and hilarious (and a little naughty) magic acts. The theater faces a wall of windows overlooking 6th Street, pulling passersby into the acts. Sit at the front and you'll likely get pulled in too. Make a reservation to be sure of getting a seat, and go enjoy this beloved Austin theater troupe.

Texas Capitol: The domed Texas Capitol building is an Austin icon, and whatever your politics it's a cool place to visit if you enjoy history and architecture. Tours are free.

Texas State Capitol
Texas History Museum: Learn about our state's often rollicking and adventurous stories at the Bullock Texas History Museum.

LBJ Presidential Library: President Lyndon B. Johnson's history is preserved at the LBJ Presidential Library near the UT campus, just north of downtown.

Blanton Museum of Art: The Blanton is one of the largest university art museums in the country. Located north of downtown on the UT campus. Closed on Mondays.

Go Play Outside, Nature Lovers

Hike-and-Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake
Hike-and-Bike Trail: Take a stroll, go for a run, or pedal a rented bike on Austin's beloved Hike-and-Bike Trail and Boardwalk around Lady Bird Lake on the southern edge of downtown. There are 10 miles of trails, but bridges across the lake enable you to cut that into 3- or 4-mile round-trip jaunts. Check out this site for insider info about where to go. As for me, my favorite sections of the trail are along Barton Creek and across the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, and the Boardwalk portion of the trail over the lake. Both the Pfluger Bridge and the Boardwalk offer great views of downtown (selfie time!), but the north end of the Pfluger Bridge has the added bonus of a native-plant garden in the Pfluger Bridge Circle. 

Barton Springs Pool: This marvelous, 3-acre, spring-fed swimming pool is the heart and soul of Austin. Locals flock to Barton Springs Pool all summer to cool off in the 68-degree non-chlorinated water, but even in winter (when the water feels warmer than the air) dedicated swimmers will be out there doing laps. Go dip your toes just to say you did, or bring your suit and go for a refreshing swim. Closed for cleaning on Thursdays.

Mount Bonnell view of Lake Austin
Zilker Park: Barton Springs Pool is located within Zilker Park, an expanse of playing fields, rocky outcroppings, a big playground for kids, and a miniature train you can ride. The Hike-and-Bike Trail runs alongside the park on the south side of the lake near Barton Creek.

Mount Bonnell: You'll need a car to get here, but the view from Mt. Bonnell is worth it. Tucked in a cliffside neighborhood of high-end homes with killer views is a parking area at the base of a long set of stairs up the hillside. At the top you'll enjoy a sweeping view of Lake Austin and the iconic Pennybacker Bridge.

Hamilton Pool
Barton Creek Greenbelt: Take a scenic hike along a spring-fed creek with swimming holes and tall limestone bluffs on the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The greenbelt is hugely popular among Austinites of all ages and seemingly every dog owner in town. You'll find access points along Capital of Texas/Loop 360 and MoPac on the west side of town.

Hamilton Pool: One of the most beautiful hiking/swimming spots in the Austin area is at a collapsed grotto called Hamilton Pool, about an hour west of Austin. A 50-foot airy waterfall spills over the lip of the gigantic collapsed cave ceiling into a circular pool, which is open to swimmers, conditions permitting. It's a fairly easy hike around the pool and also out to the Pedernales River. Because of overcrowding, in the warmer months (like May) you'll need a reservation to enter, so plan ahead and reserve well in advance. 

See Texas! A Day-Tripper's Guide

Wildseed Farms poppy field
Go West: My favorite road trip, especially in spring, is west through the Hill Country to the charming German-settled town of Fredericksburg. It's located about an hour and 40 minutes from Austin along Highway 290 West, a scenic drive that takes you through rolling, rugged country where roadsides are often lined with wildflowers if we've had adequate winter rains. The famous Texas bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush will be pretty much done by early May, but you can look for pink evening primrose, blanketflower, Mexican hat, and more.

Vineyards and wine-tasting rooms line the route, and just before you reach Fredericksburg, you'll see Wildseed Farms on your right. Stop to photograph their wildflower farm fields and check out their nursery and retail store while you're there. You can easily spend a couple of hours in Fredericksburg exploring the main street shops and restaurants. At the town's National Museum of the Pacific War, established in the boyhood home of Admiral Nimitz, you'll find a Zen-style Japanese Garden of Peace. If you have time, push on about 20 minutes north on RR 965 to see Enchanted Rock, an enormous pink granite dome rising above scrubby ranch land.

Antique Rose Emporium
Go East: Head east from Austin into lovely, rolling farm country to visit Brenham and the beautiful gardens and nursery at Antique Rose Emporium. Located about an hour east of Austin, ARE's gardens contain bounteous roses but also plenty of other plants, especially grasses and perennials, with an old chapel as the centerpiece. Head to Brenham's town square for lunch and visit the Blue Bell Creamery for an ice cream sample afterward. For a true botanical experience, with rare plants from Mexico and China, push on (with an advance reservation for a private tour, ideally with a group; tell them you're garden writers and Pam sent you) to Peckerwood Garden in Hempstead, the garden of plant explorer and landscape architecture professor John Fairey, which is now under the stewardship of a nonprofit foundation.

Garden at Magnolia Market
Go North: All you Fixer Upper fans will want to head north on unscenic but speedy I-35 to visit Chip and Joanna's Magnolia Market at the Silos in Waco. An hour and 45 minutes later, and you'll be shopping amid the shiplap, eating at their food trucks, and visiting the market's adorable farmhouse garden.

Go South: Remember the Alamo! History lovers as well as garden lovers will find plenty to do in San Antonio, about an hour and a half south of downtown Austin. Head south on I-35 to visit San Antonio Botanical Garden, the Alamo, the famous River Walk, and Pearl, a fun and beautifully landscaped mixed-use site with shopping and restaurants built around the old Pearl Brewery. On the way there or back, detour to tiny Gruene (pronounced Green) for old-fashioned Texas charm with a handful of unique shops, wine tasting rooms, the Gristmill restaurant, and an authentic dance hall where -- if you're lucky -- a Texas swing band will be playing.

Hibiscus at San Antonio Botanical Garden