The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- July 2003

Last Update: July 30

The grotto at Westcave Preserve.

July 3 - evening

I spent the better part of the day at one of the most beautiful spots in Texas, Westcave Preserve, just a forty-five minute drive west of Austin. I was there with a camera crew to shoot  documentary footage for KLRU-TV's new local program, Austin Now. We were actually shooting two pieces - one on the Preserve itself, and another on their award-winning new "environmental learning center." I thought I'd share a few images of our day with you... enjoy.

The Warren Skaaren Environmental Learning Center at Westcave.

 

Inside the grotto.

 

Travertine walls with maidenhair ferns.

 

The cave entrance.

 

Looking out of the grotto.

 

The waterfall.

 

My hard working crew, Heather and Jeff.

July 5 - morning

The sun is out, following in the wake of another in a series of showers that have passed through this weekend. I welcome any rainfall in July and I am pleased to see the garden looking so fresh and green. In a short while I'll stalk the garden looking for some new pictures. As I write this, a squirrel is trying to figure out our new "squirrel proof" bird feeders.  He seems frustrated, for now, we'll see how long that lasts...

Our backyard has become quite the bird haven (or buffet line.) Yesterday, I saw Purple Finches, Tufted Titmice, Chickadees, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Inca Doves, White Wing Doves, Carolina Wrens, English Sparrows (wretched little things,) Grackles, Woodpeckers, and what I think was a species of Flycatcher. We've placed the feeders close enough to our "cat porch" that our felines spend a good part of the day flicking their tails and dreaming about ambushes that, alas, will never be sprung. Hey, it beats cat TV! Speaking of cats, meet the new additions to our tribe... Rufous and Fez. We were fostering them for the Humane Society, but then we fell in love. Ooops, that makes seven!

July 13 - afternoon

It is an extremely hot summer afternoon here in Austin, the sun is beating down unobstructed by the clouds we enjoyed last week. I think it must be in the mid-nineties (around 35 degrees celcius) and it is still early in the afternoon. I spent the better part of the morning weeding and pruning and now have retreated indoors to see what is happening with the tropical storm that is approaching the Texas coast. If we are lucky, we'll end up on the wet side of the storm and the weather will cool down for the better part of the week. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

In the meantime, here are a few new pictures to enjoy...

Water lily from our pond.

 

Rudbeckia "Goldstrum."

 

Telephoto view through our allee.

 

The 'conehead bed' looking pretty lush after the recent rain.

 

'Incense' Passion Vine.

 

Luna and Fez. It looks like Fez has adopted Luna as his stand-in Mom!

July 16 - evening

Well, doing my rain dance for two days has finally paid off... one of the last spirals of rain from the dying hurricane just moved through the area leaving us with almost a half-inch of rain. The main body of the storm passed  tantalizingly close-by yesterday, with the rain missing us by only thirty or forty miles. At least we got something out of it - as they say down on the ranch, "A good rain and a new calf are always welcome here." I  say you can keep the calf, seven cats are enough!

Tuberose bloom after the rain. (Gardening at night!)

 

Luna and Fez - Another window, another day.

July 20 - evening

We have just returned to town from a brief trip with my parents to San Antonio. Years ago, I produced a documentary about the history and architecture of San Antonio and  I have  loved spending time there ever since - its history is so different from Austin.  As per usual, we spent a fair amount of time just wandering along the Riverwalk, perhaps the finest piece of urban design in Texas. I was pleased to see that the city hasn't rested on its laurels and has added significant new public spaces along the river. In particular, I was impressed by a small "connector" park that links the main plaza (in front of San Fernando, the nation's oldest cathedral) and the riverwalk. The park was designed by Lake / Flato Architects and it is beautifully planted with native agaves, grasses, flowers, and trees. It's terraced spaces invite people down from the plaza to the water and vice-versa helping to link the historic district around the cathedral, courthouse, and townhall, with the riverwalk.

Austinites are often condescending when it comes to our neighbor to the south, yet we could learn a great deal from San Antonio when it comes to creating great public spaces. Our downtown parks, by comparison to San Antonio's, are dreary and lifeless. Austinites have yet to discover the difference between a nature preserve and a park - don't get me wrong, I believe we need both, but we could do a great deal more to animate our urban parks and make them more welcoming.

Steps leading through the park from the Plaza above to the Riverwalk.

Agave planted with Mexican Feather grass.

The Riverwalk lined with bald cypress trees.

Reading San Antonio's history from its skyline: Spanish Colonial church dome,  Gothic Revival addition to the cathedral, Romanesque turn-of-the-century courthouse (the 'beehive'), and the glorious Smith-Young Tower from the 1920's.

Close-up of the Smith-Young Tower.

San Fernando's restored Spanish dome.

A window at the Spanish 'Governor's Palace.'

The courtyard at the Governor's Palace, one of my favorite places in Texas.

The gothic front of San Fernando. You have to see the restored interior! It is great.

Side door at San Fernando.

Dale Chihuly glass installation (currently on view at the San Antonio Museum of Art.)

A close-up detail of the Chihuly 'ceiling.'

July 21 - evening

I couldn't resist adding this picture of another Chihuly installation at the San Antonio Museum of Art. I'm not sure if these are glass swans, lilies, or aliens, but I really loved the effect. (For reference, these are about five or six feet tall.)

San Fernando doorway.

July 29 - morning

As you may have noticed, I have been away from my garden (and my computer) for a while. I spent the better part of the past week in New York attending a conference and doing a little sight-seeing. I must have walked twenty miles or more while I was in the city, wandering from one great public space to another. Of course, I took hundreds of images! What follows is a quick visual tour of some of the more garden and park oriented spaces I encountered as I explored Manhattan.

This is Paley Plaza, described as a "vest pocket" park, it is a tiny oasis in the Midtown area, the densest part of the city. I first saw this park when I passed by it many years ago when I was a child,  even then it struck me as an extraordinary space. It consists simply of a waterfall/fountain, locust trees, and moveable seating. The sound of the water masks the noise of the street and draws visitors inside. It is a brilliant  piece of landscape architecture. A world-class park that could fit in most Austin backyards!

 

The incomparable central plaza of Rockefeller Center, one of the great urban spaces in the world. Lively, inviting, comfortable, and grand all at the same time.

 

Towering over the plaza, a classic expression of American Deco, The GE Building.

 

This is the "Channel" garden at Rockefeller Center, so-called because it seperates the "English" building from the "French" building. There was a wonderful collection of aeronautical technology on display throughout the Center and the Channel Garden had been transformed into the sandy dunes of Kitty Hawk!

 

Couldn't resist this little bit of Deco detailing from a building on 5th Avenue!

 

This is Bryant Park with the New York Public Library in the background. Bryant Park was a center of the drug dealing trade in New York during the seventies and only addicts and fools ventured into its interior for many years. Now the city has reclaimed it by opening it up so that you can clearly see what is going on from just about anywhere in the park, making it inviting with beautiful plantings and outdoor cafes, and vigilantly maintaining it. Notice the moveable and some might say steal-able chairs. I understand from the folks who run the park that they lose maybe one or two a month! See how things can change if you plan for it.This park should be the model for Austin's downtown squares!

 

Another view of Bryant Park. Sure there are still some street-folks and "characters," but the park is so inviting they are just lost in the crowd, they are not THE crowd.

Bryant Park from above.

 

The transformed Times Square - so completely different from my childhood memories that it was almost unrecognizable. Some folks grumble that it has been "disneyfied," but I'll take this over the grimness that I remember anyday. The sidewalks were packed with happy crowds.

 

The Flat Iron building and Madison Square Park from above. Every public park or square that I went to was beautifully planted, clean, and filled with people.

 

A quiet church yard in Greenwhich Village. A nice place for a lunch break.

 

A wider view.

 

Waverly Place in Greenwhich Village. Nice Federal architecture and beautifully planted window boxes.

 

A quiet side-street in Greenwhich Village.

 

This is the restored Winter Garden at the World Financial Center. It was largely destroyed when the World Trade Center came down. It was designed to function as a connection between the Trade Center towers and the new (to me) promenade park along the Hudson River on the southwest side of Manhattan.

 

Viewing Ground Zero from the Winter Garden.

 

The park at the base of the World Financial Center with birch trees, hosta lilies, crotons, and boxwood.

 

The promenade along the Hudson with the Statue of Liberty in the distance. For years, New York had no place where you could just stroll along the river, most of the river front had been buried by highways. This beautiful stretch of  parkland was created in the 'eighties when Battery Park City and the World Financial Center were created. The weather was hot, so most strollers were choosing to stay on the shady side of the path to the left. Wonderful!

 

Landscaping along the shady side of the promenade.

 

Battery Park at the southern tip  of the island.

 

Battery Park and the south end of Manhattan from the harbor.

 

The view from Ellis Island.

 

View from the Southeast corner of Central Park in the evening.

 

Reflections in a Central Park pond.

 

Pond visitors.

 

A fountain at the center of the park.

 

Central Park has so many wonderful attractions, this is one of my favorites... you can rent a remote controlled sailboat and spend the afternoon relaxing by the water.

 

An evening ballgame in Central Park.

 

The famous Bow Bridge at the center of the park.

 

On the Bow Bridge- the Dakota Apartment Building, where John Lennon lived, is the low spired structure center-left.

 

The south end of Central Park. This is what urban designers refer to as a "strongly defined edge!" Most designers will tell you that strong edges benefit both city and park. Folks in Austin shudder at the thought of a tall building near a park, it is regarded as next to criminal. I think it can add to the experience of being in the park, especially if the building is as beautiful as the deco tower on the left.

July 30 - evening

I can't help myself... here are a few more pictures of my New York adventure.Hope you enjoy.

Park Avenue, one of my favorite childhood memories is of taking a stagecoach ride down this street... really.  It was a gimmick used by a steakhouse to keep folks who were waiting for tables amused. In my case, it worked!

 

Another view down Park Avenue.

 

The yacht basin at the World Financial Center. The Winter Garden is under the arched glass structure at center.

 

The Bow Bridge again.

 

A Greenwhich Village front-step garden.

I include this picture for my sister who developed a life-long fear of heights when she ran to the edge of the Empire State Building observatory and saw this! Bratty little brothers never change. (That's Broadway and Herald Square.)

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