Blue magic in Lori Daul’s garden Leave a comment

April 27, 2024

I returned to one of my favorite Austin gardens last weekend, the South Austin garden of designer Lori Daul. It’s an oasis with, by our count, ten water features including multiple stock-tank ponds, birdbaths, and ground-level saucers tucked into groundcovers. The color blue unites everything, adding to the cooling, watery effect.

Pond garden

Let’s start our tour in the backyard, where Lori’s biggest stock-tank pond, an 8-footer, draws you out into the garden.

A flaking, powder-blue chair by the pond sets the color tone and offers a spot to commune with the goldfish.

They come swimming over when you appear, their feathery tails swishing.

Moody blues and purples add drama to bright greens.

Behind the pond, a surprise — a rolling ridge of blue mountains studded with tiny circular mirrors that look like twinkling lights in the distance. It’s a mural Lori painted on a metal wall she built and welded herself. The theatricality and scale of it set her garden apart. Lori never does anything by half-measures.

Lori built it for privacy when she learned the property behind her house would be developed. Also, “maybe I was just daydreaming of a yard with a nice panoramic view,” she told me.

In the center of the yard, under a mesquite tree, an island bed jam-packed with plants frames a cream-colored fountain.

The fountain is ideal for birds, with a bubbler and a shallow bathing surface. Smoke tree and beaked yucca, among other plants, add contrasting foliage.

Lori just finished laying a new patio made from a patchwork of pavers, bricks, and stone. She spent a lot of time collecting materials and arranging and leveling them. The patio fills a U-shaped space between her house, an adjacent she-shed, and the mesquite-tree garden.

An oval stock-tank pond sits beside the she-shed, along with a blue wire chair cradling a potted prickly pear.

Velvety, light-catching colocasia is one of Lori’s favorite pond plants.

A chocolate mimosa echoes the colocasia’s smoky purple hue.

Globemallow adds creamsicle contrast.

A few edible plants grow in pots.

Shade garden

Along the painted wall, in a deep raised bed, a shade garden thrives under a line of crape myrtles. A decaying tree branch adds a forest vibe and insect habitat along the front edge.

The tiny mirrors sparkle in the background, and green leaves glow against blue paint.

One of Lori’s many water features

She recently planted a yellow-berried yaupon holly under the crape myrtles. Its golden berries will stand out against the blue come fall.

A plastic flamingo prances through burgundy cannas.

In a sunny spot, a bowl of prickly pear stands out in a froth of pink evening primrose and ‘Silver King’ artemisia.

Another cactus sprouts phallically from a head planter.

Side garden

Looking toward the side yard, you see an arch of blue bottles on a mesquite limb, which frames an enticing view. A large whale’s tongue agave rides high, elevated in a stock tank. Under a round mirror, a half-face planter looks back at you. The stained wooden fence carries the blue theme along.

The whale’s tongue agave is so powdery blue, it’s almost white.

How I love the blue-rose shape of this agave, plus those mahogany teeth along the leaves. Gorgeous!

This is perhaps my favorite planter in Lori’s garden: a half-face pot with hypnotic eyes of ‘Quadricolor’ agave, a swish of ‘Evergold’ sedge on the side, and a foxtail fern hairdo. Peach-apricot ‘Star of the Republic’ rose encircles the porthole-like mirror.

I wish I could convey the perfumed fragrance of ‘Star of the Republic’ rose. Divine!

‘Quicksilver’ rose unfurls luscious mauve blossoms as well.

Along the narrow side path toward the front yard, another stock-tank pond draws the eye.

Lori placed it on axis with her kitchen table window so she can enjoy the pond during meals or coffee.

‘Ann Chowning’ Louisiana iris shows off wine-red flowers, and a fountain provides trickling water music.

‘Tangerine Beauty’ crossvine and burgundy canna add more warmth against the blue fence.

By the gate, a little kumquat in a pot dangles orange fruit. It’s paired with purple oxalis and the trailing, spiny stems of huernia, a passalong from Jenny Stocker of Rock Rose.

A red-veined sorrel in front echoes the red of nearby cannas.

Front garden

In the front garden, a huge whale’s tongue agave in a stock-tank planter is sending up a tree-like bloom spike. Lori is fretting about how she’ll excavate it from the tank once it collapses and dies (agaves die after flowering). But for now, it’s a thrill to see it going out with a bang.

The dramatic beginning of the end

Pink evening primrose and pink roses tumble over terracing walls.

And pink flamingos stalk through ‘Silver King’ artemisia — “flamingos in the mist,” as Lori jokes.

‘Amistad’ salvia stakes out a shady spot.

Heartleaf skullcap is starting to open lavender flower spires.

Stock tanks are placed liberally throughout the small front garden, elevating agaves as focal points and making another container pond.

‘Arizona Star’ agave potted up amid sedge and heartleaf skullcap

Our friend Diana Kirby stopped here to admire the pond. Her blue outfit is on-point in Lori’s blue garden.

Steel balls float in the stock-tank pond, adding a little shine. Bronze fennel appears to gaze at its own reflection, like Narcissus.

Rose campion finds a gravelly niche between steps to the porch.

African hosta thrives in the shade, elevated in a square planter beside holly fern.

A grinning, marble-eyed skull greets visitors at the door — evidence of Lori’s keen sense of black humor, which always keeps me laughing. Thank you, Lori, for the lovely garden visit this spring!

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May 4: Explore “brilliant backyards, perfect pools and pergolas, and outdoor rooms and gardens” on the ATX Outdoor Living Tour on 5/4, 10 am to 3 pm. Landscape architects, designers, and builders will be on hand to answer questions. Tickets are $33.85 for adults, $17.85 for kids age 10-17.

May 11: Tour four Austin gardens on 5/11, from 9 am to 3 pm, on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour. Each garden “is created and cared for by a Travis County Master Gardener and demonstrates realistic gardening practices that inform and inspire.” Tickets are $20 in advance, available through May 5, or $25 on the day of the tour. Children 12 and under get free admission.

May 11: Save the date for Austin Home’s Great Outdoors Tour on 5/11.

May 18: Pop up to Dallas for the 2024 DCMGA Garden Tour on 5/18 from 10 am to 5 pm. Tickets are $18 if purchased online prior to 6 pm on 5/17, or $22 after 6 pm on 5/17 or at the event. For a sneak peek, click here.

June 1-2: Take a self-guided, 2-day tour of ponds and gardens in and around Austin on the annual Austin Pond and Garden Tour, held 6/1 and 6/2, 9 am to 5 pm. Tickets are $20 to $25.

Come learn about gardening and design at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, authors, and gardeners a few times a year in Austin. 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. Season 8 kicks off in fall 2024. Stay tuned for more info!

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