Modern country charm, vintage signs at Katie Bird Farm Leave a comment

May 15, 2024

Chickens and donkeys and ducks, oh my! Katie Bird Farm has it all, plus gardens galore and a modern farmhouse and swimming pool on 3 acres in southwest Austin — all of it decorated with vintage signs and repurposed farm equipment. Owners Julie Nelson and Kay Angermann built this charming hobby farm and country garden by hand over the past 12 years. It was my first stop on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour last Saturday.

The first thing I noticed, walking up the driveway, was how Julie and Kay use upturned stock tanks as display tables and pot pedestals. This vignette of yuccas, Texas mountain laurel, a sculptural cedar stump, and a kalanchoe planter atop a round stock tank is set off with shredded bark mulch. Live oaks and flameleaf sumac make a green backdrop. Pure Central Texas, this.

A metal roadrunner represents Kay’s guardian angel, according to her account on Central Texas Gardener or Cooped Up (Season 1, Episode 3; start at the 15:40-minute mark), two videos worth watching for in-process images of the garden and also the adorable way the couple finishes each other’s sentences. As her story goes, Kay was chain-sawing cedar trees alone at the property and noticed a roadrunner following her around. It seemed to be watching out for her as she did dangerous work, and so she named it after her beloved grandmother Katie. The friendly roadrunner, Katie Bird, gave them a name for their new farm as well.

Their modern farmhouse gets a dash of color from yellow and aqua chairs on the front deck. A ceramic globe and four-nerve daisies add more sunny yellow. Silver ponyfoot creeps between poured-concrete pavers.

Potted plants add more color along with a happy yellow door.

On the porch, a concrete cowgirl welcomes visitors.

Around back, a porch runs the length of the house, with plenty of space for a farm table and sofa.

The porch view — a swimming pool and spa with retro aqua patio chairs. A rock garden extends off one side.

A garden bed near the pool provides plenty of flowers with Jerusalem sage, mullein, larkspur, Mexican hat, and salvia.

A metal flower made from an old tiller wheel makes a farm-appropriate focal point.

Standing cypress just coming into bloom

Umbrellas built into the pool are a good addition for a Texas summer.

Heading back to the poolside garden

Galvanized tub planters and steel pipes topped with metal orbs add rural character. Hand-painted signs point the way to various gardens.

I especially like this creative reuse: segments of galvanized flashing are curved into a loosely structured planter, filled with soil, and planted up with succulents. I spy another roadrunner here too.

Nigella seedheads

In a planted-up old wheelbarrow, a mini T-Rex stomps through a mass of ghost plant.

Kay buys and sells vintage signs and patio furniture at HIPBILLY, and she’s hung her favorites all around, like this old Texaco sign.

Another upturned stock tank makes a display table for succulent containers, including one made out of a toy dump truck.

I don’t know what these little metal containers were originally used for, but they were hung all the way up a wooden post, each one a succulent posy.

A patchwork path of pavers and bricks adds personality.

‘Macho Mocha’ mangave in all its freckled, purple glory stands out amid Engelmann’s daisy. Its yellow pot coordinates perfectly.

A gulf fritillary butterfly enjoying the daisies

The patchwork path leads to Kay and Julie’s vegetable garden and barn.

A windmill wheel 10 feet in diameter hangs on the barn — a standout focal point. Kay bought the wheel — a disassembled collection of blades — while she and Julie were living in their former house in town, with no clear idea of what she’d do with it. The pieces sat on their deck for a year.

When they bought this property, they started planning their barn’s design around the windmill. The building had to be tall and sturdy enough to support the weight. “It was a long process with so much thought including where the barn would sit, its design and where the windmill would go,” Kay writes on her blog. “Did I mention we had no idea how big a barn would have to be [to] hold a 10′ windmill?”

As she explains:

“Julie and I had assembled it a few weeks prior which was quite the task itself. Our barn builder was really concerned when he saw it together that we might not get it up there. My cousin Mark came over to help engineer and lift, we had the two barn builders, myself and a couple of guys who happened to be at the house painting. We put some 2×4’s underneath it and carried it like a pancake across the property. It was so heavy. Our barn builder made a frame to mount it on with legs for support. We were able to get it upright and rest it between [two] ladders and then hoist it up against the frame and centered. Our barn builder began screwing it in to the frame. It was touch and go throughout because of its size, weight and sharpness of the blades. It took all of us and lots of thinking through things as we went along. When we finally got enough screws in it to let go, we all took a giant deep breath and did a bunch of high fives! It is one of our favorite things on the property.”

Lights around the windmill illuminate the vegetable garden after dark. It’s a wonderful feature, with a great story of determination to bring Kay’s vision to life.

An old gate that once belonged to Grandma Katie lives on at Katie Bird Farm.

I wish I’d asked about this metal boat-turned-planter. I bet it has a story too.

Chickens, ducks, and two miniature donkeys live in a fenced barnyard next to the vegetable garden. A metal rooster greets you at the gate.

The duck coop…

…and chicken coop are decked out with old signs.

Graffiti muralist Federico Archuleta was commissioned to paint the Virgin of Guadalupe on the ladies’ coop.

Stylish digs

A stock-tank pond gives the ducks a paddling pool. Funny signs accent the cedar-shaded barnyard, where plenty of seating indicates that visitors like to hang out with the animals too.

The miniature donkeys, Pearl-Snap and Pascua, noshing on hay

Heading back into the main garden, I stopped to admire this vintage green glider.

More old green chairs invite visitors to sit and stay a while.

Succulent pots hang on a trellis that dresses up a cedar tree.

In a shady bed of Turk’s cap, which will soon be flowering red, an old tractor grill waits to make a color echo.

Artistic housesitters made the stone labyrinth for them.

The labyrinth’s origin story was posted during the tour.

Beyond the pool, on the far side of the house, a prairie garden of native wildflowers and desert willow thrives in full sun.

Mexican hats in yellow…

…and rusty orange were in flower.

It’s one of my favorite wildflowers.

One more. That silver plant in the background is…

…’Silver King’ artemisia, seen here with blanketflower. ‘Silver King’ is an aggressive runner, as I hear from friends who grow it, but they swear it’s manageable. San Antonio’s Rainbow Gardens has a stronger warning. As for me, I may just admire it in other people’s gardens. It IS very pretty, especially with the orange blanketflower.

Vintage chairs parked in the wildflowers lead you back around to the front deck and a small lawn defined by a steel edge.

So inviting

Inviting seating everywhere you look, really

But at last I was able to tear myself away in order to head to the next garden on the tour.

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Digging Deeper

May 18: On Austin Home’s Great Outdoors Tour, held 5/18 from 10 am to 3 pm, find “Pinterest-worthy pools and outdoor kitchens to thoughtful plantings and stylish urban density solutions.” Tickets are $30.

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!

All material © 2024 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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