Home GardeningGarden Diary Colleen Belk’s Old Austin garden

Colleen Belk’s Old Austin garden


November 15, 2023

An Old Austin-style garden was featured on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour two weekends ago: Colleen Belk’s 43-year-old garden. Yes, 43 years! What is Old Austin style, you may ask? I think of it as a lushly planted Austin garden with Deep South-meets-Southwest plant choices, sort of rugged, with winding paths, accents of natural limestone and shaggy cedar, and a collection of potted-up succulents. Check, check, and check!

Colleen worked at Barton Springs Nursery for many years, bringing plants home to try them out. Her garden has a wonderfully collected feel, with real beauties like this silver Mediterranean fan palm and Texas palmetto.

Pea gravel paths meander through dense plantings, with groundcovers filling in around everything.

Pretty pink chrysanthemums sprawl across a rock, adding fall color to the garden.

A bunch of Colleen’s potted succulents in vintage containers live on tiered shelving. A greenhouse is situated nearby, perfect for storing tender plants when it gets cold.

A terracotta duck totes a passel of agave pups on her back.

This cactus is one happy camper.

A galvanized tub and cylinder planter perch amid holey limestone to mark where two paths meet.

Colleen says this begonia, charmingly paired with pink guara in a stock-tank planter, comes back from the roots each spring.

I was smitten with her plume poppy (Macleaya cordata), which has self-sown throughout the shady areas of her garden. I know it can be terribly invasive in some parts of the country, but I wonder if in Austin it’s kept in check by our brutal summers?

Variegated Queen Victoria agave, with its lemon-lime stripes

Colleen’s garden perches on the edge of a canyon, and a large covered deck takes advantage of the view.

Beautiful canyon view

One more

As I was checking out this hanging succulent planter, Colleen came up and said it’s a vintage enema pot, which she collects. I’d never heard of such a thing, and it made me chuckle.

A wood-burning fire pit built into the deck has a substantial vent hood to move smoke out from under the roof.

An old red-and-blue patio set holds a big concrete bowl strikingly planted with a totem pole cactus and other succulents.

A cedar tree (native juniper) that the deck was built around has been lost to storm or other malady. I was charmed to see that Colleen kept a tall section of its trunk and is growing plants on it. In the core, she’s turned a hollow space into a planter for moss rose.

A little hiker frog wearing a backpack stands here, admiring the view.

The main part of the garden surrounds a fishpond outlined with limestone.

Grasses and flowering perennials like cowpen daisy that like full sun are planted here. In the background, two enormous, upright ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon hollies — which Colleen wisely spaced about 10 or 12 feet apart — make living gateposts into the garden.

A pea gravel path wanders off to the left of the pond…

…and overlooks the greenhouse below.

To the right of the pond, lots of fall-season color

Beautyberry in purple glory

Native cowpen daisy (Verbesina encelioides)

Bees were enjoying the cowpen.

An old pump spigot spills recirculating water onto a bowl-shaped limestone rock, making pleasant music. The slanted deck roof is visible in the background, floating over the eave of the house.

Texas sabal palm — its trunk is arrow-straight, but my pano shot gave it a distorting lean.

Fire-engine-red canna

The red canna pairs beautifully with purple smoke bush and ‘Fireworks’ gomphrena.

A mature Queen Victoria agave in all its bloomin’-onion symmetry

A wider view shows Queen Victoria agaves keeping company with a white-trunked Texas persimmon, more cowpen daisy, and Mexican feathergrass.

If you’d like to see more of Colleen’s garden, it was recently featured on Central Texas Gardener. Thank you, Colleen, for opening your garden to the public!

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Digging Deeper

Hey, Austin-area gardeners! Want to learn about growing a biodiverse hedge for screening your yard, adding wildlife habitat, and making a more ecological choice than a fence? Register for my next Garden Spark talk with Shaney Clemmons on December 7th at 7 pm. Come get ideas for what to plant that’ll withstand our Central Texas weather extremes. Plus it’s fun to hang out with fellow gardeners under the big live oak and string lights at beautiful Barton Springs Nursery! Hope to see you there!

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. The Season 7 lineup can be found here.

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

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