Organic sculptures by Steve Tobin at Houston Botanic Garden Leave a comment

February 22, 2023

When I fled to Houston during Austin’s ice storm aftermath earlier this February, I made a visit with family to Houston Botanic Garden. Even in Zone 9 Houston, winter had not spared palms, grasses, and many other plants. Still, an art exhibit by Steve Tobin called Intertwined: Exploring Nature’s Networks, plus the garden’s subtle winter beauty, made for a pleasant stroll.


Tobin’s Clouds series was my favorite of the exhibit. Lumpy mirrored steel capsules on plinths float over tawny grasses, reflecting the blue sky and cottony clouds.

Viewed head-on, this one takes on anthropomorphic qualities. I see a prone human figure, its head in the foreground, lying in the grass and gazing up at the sky.

Dry garden

While we’re in the dry garden, let’s take a moment to appreciate grasses in their tawny winter hue, with antler-like cholla beyond.

Golden barrel cacti adding a little winter color

Wheeler’s sotol, Yucca rostrata, prickly pear, and big blue agaves perched like mermaids on rocks — a surprising amount of desert garden goodness in swampy Houston!

Some of the prickly pears have collapsed from that cold spell in December, but they’ll be OK. The freeze-browned palms? I’m not sure about those, but hope so.

Lots of bristling round plants

One more salute to the Wheeler’s sotol

An oval pond, with sad palms

Bronze Roots

One of Steve Tobin’s Bronze Roots sculptures adds tentacley vibes to the dry garden.

Another one makes a rooty focal point in the culinary garden. It’s underplanted with minty Aztec grass (or variegated liriope) and red-flowering bromeliads for a color echo.

Culinary garden

The culinary garden’s mint-green water wall, with water-loving papyrus growing at the base

Along the back of the wall, painted putty-pink, fruit trees are espaliered on a bamboo grid. In the raised beds, lettuces look ready to be turned into salads.


A monumental Steelroots, another of Tobin’s sculptures, appears to dance on the lawn at the end of an entry path.

Shade arcade

It wasn’t particularly hot on this early February day, but I always enjoy the Space Age design of the long shade arcade. Planted pockets green up the creamy stone wall.

Ming fern and ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia make a textural pairing.

One more view

Butterfly vine shows off its butterfly-shaped seedpods.


In the garden, a Nest sculpture by Tobin has a gazing-globe quality, making for a fun selfie.


Tobin’s Twisties adds colorful, upright squiggles to an open lawn. The black-stained structure is a hands-on, exploratory place for children called a curiosity cabinet.

Curiosity cabinet

Inside, cut grasses, trailing plants, and shells offer a tactile nature experience for kids.

In another cabinet we found animal bones, antlers, and even a tiny framed bat.

Lots of interesting items to pick up and examine


Tobin’s Syntax sculpture — thousands of metal letters encrusted into a vortexing orb — caught my eye.

The verdigris letters appear to whorl into the vortex.

What is it trying to say — or spell out?

What an interesting body of work! Steve Tobin’s Intertwined exhibit at Houston Botanic Garden runs through August 13th.

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Digging Deeper

Come learn about garden design from the experts at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors 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. You can find this year’s speaker lineup here.

Make plans to attend the Budding Out Plant Sale & Festival on March 18 at the John Fairey Garden in Hempstead, TX. Rare and distinctive plants will be offered, as well as art, ceramics, jewelry, food, drink, music, and other entertainment for the whole family. Members have early access and get in free. Non-member admission is $5. Children 12 and under are free.

Experience the Surreal Garden at Zilker Botanical Garden, an enchanting neon-art display throughout the gardens, with food and drink, music and dancing, surreal performers, and interactive art sculptures. Surreal costumes encouraged! 25% of event proceeds benefit the Zilker Botanical Garden Conservancy. Runs April 6 (VIP Night), April 7-8, and April 13-15, from 6:30 pm to 11 pm.

All material © 2023 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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