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Savannah. Charleston. New Orleans. San Antonio. These colonial-era cities inspire the courtyard garden ideal: green and lush, with beautiful plants, pools and fountains, paved with stone, tiles or bricks, & protected by sheltering walls with gates that reveal a table and chairs for cocktails or an al fresco meal...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Unexpected Beauty in Port Aransas

All Texans love Port Aransas. It's the beach of our childhoods. We know it ain't Destin. There's no "sugar sand."    Don't look for a Southern Living or an HGTV dream home. It's just "the Beach." We grew up with it and it is as comfortable to us as our favorite jeans...or flip-flops.


There is expected beauty at "Port A," like the sand dunes or this brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis.) But there are scenes of unexpected beauty, as well. We found a beach cottage inside "Old Port A" that has been certified as a "Best of Texas Wildlife Habitat."


A birdbath is outside the gardener's silver gray picket fence.


Pink flamingos and an unidentified specimen play among the DYC's underneath a Washingtonia robusta. (DYC = *darn* yellow composite, i.e. yellow daisy-like flowers that appear everywhere. When you don't know exactly what they are, they are DYC's)


A fuchsia Zinnia (Zinnia elegans) and a Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) cross stems in the front garden.


A Mexican petunia (Ruellia brittoniana) glows underneath. It appears more blue to the naked eye than to the camera. I'm sure there is a complicated digital photography-ophthalmologic reason for that, but I don't know what it would be.


The bougainvillea matches the native Mustang Island flamingos (Phoenicopterus flamingo-plasticus.)


Bougainvillea spectabilis



You knew I had to work in a courtyard somehow. This is really the outdoor portion of a great interior design showroom, the Susan Castor Collection on East Roberts.


This is a cement "Farley Boat." They are all over Port A, and are filled with flowers and decorated in honor of the wooden flotsam Farley Boat which was designed in Port A to be used in the choppy gulf waters. The concrete jetsam variety is sold by the Port Aransas Garden Club to fill and decorate as your individual creativity dictates. The backdrop is a clump of three Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterohylla) tropical pines from the southern hemisphere usually used north of zone 10 as house plants.


This is the center common courtyard of a new townhouse development. I like that it is a shady retreat from the strong gulf sun, and is full of tropical greenery.


These neon-orange ixora (Ixora x hybrid) was found within the courtyard in a sunny spot.




The leaves of the white bird-of-paradise 'palms' (Strelitzia nicolai) were slighty browned by our colder-than-average winter, but what impressed me was that the watering was all planned using drip-irrigation, which conserves the expensive island fresh water and keeps maintenance requirements low. I will remember this when my retirement plan (The Texas Lottery) kicks in and I can afford a place on the coast!




I had never seen this fresh water canal north of Alister Street. It has so much potential as a linear park, but I'm from San Antonio and we love creating river walks.




I'll close this post with another shady courtyard of a house that is for sale. A tropical gardener obviously lived here, as there were more than four species of palms and several varieties of different cycads. I can dream can't I?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Plant Inventory




Whew! That took forever! Here is the list of ALL the plants on my property: front: side, and back courtyard.  - As if you really wanted to know -  I think the hot temperatures made me think of something I could accomplish at my air-conditioned keyboard, instead of working outside in the sauna. More about the specifics of my courtyard garden are coming down the pike...OK, back outside! I’ve got work to do!

Front Yard Plants
Stenotaphrum secundatum                              St. Augustine grass
Dichondra carolinensis                                   Ponyfoot (in grass)
Trachelospermum asiaticum                           Asian Jasmine
Ficus pumila                                                   Fig ivy
Quercus fusiformis                                          Texas Live Oak
Lagerstroemia indica                                      Crape myrtle (Acoma semi-dwarf)
Chamaerops humilis                                       Mediterranean Fan Palm
Nandina domestica                                         Heavenly bamboo
Pittosporum tobira                                          Japanese pittosporum
Fatsia japonica                                               Japanese aralia
Cycas revoluta                                                Sago palm
Caesalpinia pulcherrrima                               Pride of Barbados
Ilex cornuta 'Burfordii'                                    Burford Holly
Agapanthus x ‘Elaine’                                     Lily of the Nile
Strelitzia nicolai                                               White Bird-of-paradise (as an annual)
Impatiens wallerana                                        Impatiens (as an annual)
Plumeria rubra                                               Frangipani (potted)
Rhapis excelsa                                                 Lady palm (potted)
Hedera helix f. digitata                                    Needlepoint Ivy (potted)
Guzmania hybrid                                            Bromeliad (potted)

Side Yard Plants
Ilex cornuta 'Burfordii'                                    Burford Holly
Cuphea hyssopifolia                                        Mexican heather
Ruellia elegans ‘Katie Blue’                           Dwarf Mexican petunia
Chamaerops humilis                                       Mediterranean Fan Palm
Plumbago auriculata                                      Plumbago, Cape leadwort
Caesalpinia pulcherrrima                               Pride of Barbados
Justicia spicigera                                             Mexican honeysuckle
Hamelia patens                                               Firebush
Russelia equisetiformus                                   Firecracker plant
Verbena x hybrida ‘Blue Princess’                  Blue Princess Verbena
Rosa 'Zéphirine Drouhin'                                Thornless Bourbon climber
Tecoma stans ‘Gold Star’                               Gold Star Esperanza
Tecoma stans ‘Sunrise                                   Sunrise Esperanza
Ficus pumila                                                   Fig ivy

Back Yard Plants
Ficus pumila                                                   Fig ivy
Stenotaphrum secundatum                              St. Augustine grass
Dichondra carolinensis                                   Ponyfoot (in grass)
Cynodon dactylon                                           Bermuda grass (mixed in sunny area)
Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’               Alphonse Karr clumping bamboo
Trachelospermum jasminoides                       Confederate Jasmine
Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana'                         Dwarf Mondo Grass
Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'            Black Mondo grass
Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyersii’                    Foxtail asparagus fern (ground and pots)
Quercus fusiformis                                          Texas Live Oak
Washingtonia robusta                                     Mexican Fan Palm
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis hybrids                        Tropical hibiscus
Philodendron bipinnatifidum                          Cut-leaf philodendron
Philodendron x ‘Xanadu’                                Miniature cut-leaf philodendron
Musa velutina                                                  Pink-fruiting banana
Monstera deliciosa                                          Split-leaf ‘Philodendron’
Asparagus myriocladus                                   Ming asparagus fern (potted)
Impatiens x ‘hawkeri’                                      New Guinea Impatiens (potted)
Kalanchoe luciae                                            Red paddles, desert cabbage (potted)
Syagrus romanzoffiana                                   Queen palm (potted)
Rhapis excelsa                                                 Lady palm (potted)
Cycas revoluta                                                Sago palm (potted)
Aloe striata 'Cache Bella'                                 Aloe (potted)
Hesperaloe parviflora                                     Texas red yucca (potted)
Plumeria obtusa                                              Singapore White plumeria (potted)
Zamia furfuracea                                            Cardboard palm (potted)
Stapelia species                                               Carrion flower cactus (potted)
Adenium obesum                                             Desert rose
Jatropha podagrica                                         Buddha-belly plant (potted)
Cyrtomium falcatum                                       Japanese Holly fern
Chamaedorea microspadix                             Hardy Bamboo palm
Odontonema strictum                                      Firespike
Alocasia macrorrhizos                                    Upright elephant ears
Chamaerops humilis                                       Mediterranean fan palm
Neomarica gracilis                                          Walking Iris, Apostle Plant
Bletilla striata                                                  Chinese ground orchid
Chlorophytum comosum 'Variegatum'            Variegated Spider plant, (ground)
Asparagus setaceus                                         Climbing asparagus fern
Nephrolepis exaltata                                       Boston fern
Nephrolepis biserrata                                      Macho fern
Phlebodium pseudoaureum                             Blue Rabbit’s Foot fern
Pteris ensiformis ‘Evergemiensis’                   Silver lace fern
Hedera helix ‘Silver King’                                Variegated English ivy
Hosta ‘Blue Lollipop’                                        Blue Lollipop hosta
Potentilla neumanniana                                  Spring cinquefoil
Liriope muscari 'Aztec'                                    Aztec grass


N.B. I will update this list as changes and additions are made.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Classical Heads

One of the recurring themes in my garden is classical heads. Come see!


This is a Bacchus with grapes and grape leaves in his hair.


This is Apollo with over-exuberant confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) inviting birds to nest in his hair.


This younger Bacchic figure has been trimmed of his excess jasmine coiffure. The columns are on the imposing six-foot-tall wall which forms the back of our courtyard and rings our small neighborhood. We added a diagonal confederate jasmine trellis between the columns to break up and add interest to the long expanse of wall.


This is  more of an Italianate-grotesque mask. This face, as most of the collection, was originally made to function as a fountain spit. This imposing visage hangs between two palms off the patio.


This Greek-style mask is an antique, picked up at a help-us-thin-out-our-inventory-sidewalk-sale. Something that used to hang above him in his previous life was painted without covering him with a dropcloth, providing him with a drip of dark-paint patina over his left brow, but I think I might leave it. He doesn't have a permanent hanging place yet, so he leans against a potted palm's plinth next to the fountain.


Alexander the Great guards the west end of the patio, and graciously allows fox-tail asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus 'Meyersii') to sprout from his hair. The West wall is made of "Fencecrete," in an Austin stone pattern. It matches our neighbor's house perfectly and is a great choice for our shifting caliche-laden soils. It will soon be laced with fig ivy (Ficus pumila) on our side, sparing the cap-stones. Providing a privacy screen is a specimen of the polite clumping bamboo, Bambusa multiplex, 'Alphonse Karr,' which has yellow and green striped culms. The bare-stemmed plumeria is the "evergreen" Plumeria obtusa 'Singapore White', which would have been evergreen, had I gotten it inside for all of our freezes...


This Bacchanoid figure adorns one of the garden's front columns, and looks like he could alternately represent one of the "Four Winds" because he seems to be blowing up a storm. The wrought-iron fence usually is covered with plumbago (Plumbago auriculata,) but this last winter pruned it heavily, and without my permission.


I don't know who this is, but he is Mexican, carved from cantera stone, and sports curved horns and a beard. He spouts water vigorously into an antique iron syrup kettle (or rendering pot) graciously gifted by my father-in-law from their farm in Tennessee. Don't even ask how we got it here and through the gate.


Oops, how did the BVM get in here? We're not even Roman Catholic! Actually she reigns (see her crown?) over the north-facing fern garden, making it a "Lady-Garden." She is cast of concrete in a quite detailed fashion and was found in Houston Heights at Ben's Antique Gardening, at 803 Heights Boulevard, one of my favorite streets in Houston.


This Green-Man corbel-planter was found in New Orleans in the Quarter, and I swear I had seen it at the same shop when I went to New Orleans on my eighteenth birthday with my parents. I didn't buy it then because it had a repaired crack at the bottom (and it weighed a ton.) I found it about fifteen years ago, hanging in the outdoor courtyard of the same shop, in the exact same place, complete with his repaired crack. I guess that is my one freebie exception to the well-accepted "the time to buy an antique is when you see it" law. He now sports needlepoint ivy (Hedera helix, f. digitata) outside our front door in a shady location.

(This section added July 18, 2010) I first saw the fountain (below) in a Naples, Florida garden center, and had to have it. Since it exceeds all airline weight limits and carry-on regulations, I began searching for it in San Antonio. I finally found it at Home and Patio. It is called the "Parisian Wall Fountain," and is manufactured by Al's Garden Art. The six spouts make a great sound that is deceptively refreshing in our hot summers. By the way, Naples is my DREAM garden location. Tropicals, subtropicals, seafood and shopping! Oh, and beaches, too.




The large planter head is obviously Bacchus and he is cast in high relief of fiberglass coated with stone dust. A "Ming" asparagus fern sprouts from his head, Asparagus myriocladus. I cemented a copper spout through the drainage hole with silicone, so excess water wouldn't run down the wall and leave a stain. Instead, it pours into the fountain itself. The tall wrought iron candelabra is from an estate sale, and was too wobbly, so I bolted it to a piece of rough-cut limestone from Keller Materials, a gardener's candy store of all stone products here in San Antonio. Now the hose won't tip it over.



Back to the heads. Four smaller beings surround Bacchus. The upper two are cast stone cherubs and the bottom two are the heads of Irish river gods reproduced from the ones which adorn the Dublin Custom House. I believe the male on the left is the Shannon and the female on the right is the Liffey. This finally completes the "head count!"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What is a Courtyard?


"A court or courtyard is an enclosed area, often a space enclosed by a building that is open to the sky. These areas in inns and public buildings were often the primary meeting places for some purposes, leading to the other meanings of court.
Courtyards—private open spaces surrounded by walls or buildings—have been in use in residential architecture for almost as long as man has lived in constructed dwellings. The earliest known courtyard houses were built in Iran and China and date as far back as 3000 BC. Courtyards have historically been used for many purposes including cooking, sleeping, working, playing, gardening, and even places to keep animals.
Before courtyards, open fires were kept burning in a central place within a home, with only a small hole in the ceiling overhead to allow smoke to escape. Over time, these small openings were enlarged and eventually led to the development of the centralized open courtyard we know today. Courtyard homes have been designed and built throughout the world with many variations in every century.
Courtyard homes are perhaps more prevalent in temperate climates, as an open central court can be an important aid to cooling house in warm weather. However, courtyard houses have been found in harsher climates as well for centuries. The comforts offered by a courtyard—air, light, privacy, security, and tranquility—are properties nearly universally desired in human housing." - Wikipedia


(A small courtyard in Cordoba, Spain found here.)

"An area wholly or partly surrounded by walls or buildings. A yard wholly or partly surrounded by walls or buildings; or a court or inclosure attached to a house." -Webster's Online

Courtyard gardens are such areas, as described above, which have been given over to be used as pleasure and/or vegetable gardens, no matter what their original use . In New Orleans, Savannah, and Charleston, courtyards were used for laundry, cooking, and as passageways from the street to the stables and carriage houses. Some were indeed used as gardens originally, but certainly not all. 

Moroccan Courtyards Again





The Riad al Moussika was originally the home of the former Pasha of Marrakesh, and has now been transformed into an ultra-luxurious hotel.  The Courtyards are beautiful day and night. Tiless form "oriental carpets" to floor these pleasure gardens or relaxation. 


The Riad Charqi is in Fez, with views of the Medina from the terrace. The blue and white theme of the tiles is so relaxing and the quiet spray of the fountain calls you into this oasis. Reserve your vision of Paradise here.



This courtyard is furnished more like a garden room, with the plants limited to a single planter in the corner. It is a great example of achieving a restful courtyard in a limited space. It is found in Marrakesh at the Riad Najmati.  The eight-pointed star shaped fountain is a small, yet beautiful addition.


The Dar Doukkala Hotel in Marrakesh has a more verdant courtyard with many types of palms and bananas to provide shade in its large expanse. Bananas are the ultimate tropical plant, but must be pruned regularly of dead and dying leaves to keep them presentable, as the gardeners have done in the Dar Doukkala's courtyard, above.



The above garden courtyard has only bananas and vines and is slightly more sparse than the others, but I really like the shape of the slender fountain which recirculates pool water back to the swimming pool through a small rivulet after falling in the shallow tiled basin.


This courtyard with pool would look great anywhere in the US Southwest, from Texas to California. The date palms would have to be replaced as they grew larger. The table and chairs demand that cocktails be immediately served. It might be nicer to have two ladders from the small pool, to maintain symmetry, and painted wrought iron ones would be fantastic. Both images found here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

More Moroccan Courtyards


A view of a courtyard in the famous Jardin Majorelle of Marrakesh, designed and built by the french artist Jacques Majorelle, then later restored to splendor by Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Photo found here. It all looks appealing but I particularly like the palms planted in the upright urns, instantly providing increased height.


Could a swimming pool look more inviting to a guest hot and tired from shopping in the bazaar? This can be found within the hotel Riad Herougui in Marrakesh, reserve here. There are few plants other than the palms reaching toward the fleeting sunlight, but the azure tiles more than make up for it.



The Hotel Riad Monika, also in Marrakesh, has a pool with an interesting outline, and columns which extend into the pool itself. Tall palms must be able to safely exist in small containers when totally protected from the wind.


There are vines hanging down Tower-of-Babel fashion, providing the assurance that nature is still in charge.


There is no doubt that the standing candelabrum is magnificent when lit, and such an idea could easily be incorporated into any style of courtyard. This would especially be useful in an area where lighting is needed but no electrical source is available or convenient.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Thomas Jayne’s apartment and courtyard in New Orleans is highlighted in the New York Social Diary. The courtyard is traditional, with flagstone flooring and brick walls. You can imagine the temperature being several degrees cooler than the street in the summer and several degrees warmer in winter. 


These freshly painted green and gray stairs lead up to the balcony which wraps around the second floor of the courtyard.


On the balcony a perfect spot for petit dejeuner.


The balconies look out over the courtyard to the lush plantings below.


Descending the green staircase, through the brick archway and into the courtyard. The gray of the steps matches the flagstone, and the green coordinates with the plantings and shutters.




Bananas, cycads, elephant ears and bromeliads lend a tropical feel. The metal table and chairs, though new, could just has well come from a park in Paris. The wooden shutters and brick arch supporting the balconies are pure New Orleans.  Sit down and enjoy a drink!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Moroccan Courtyard Gardens

Courtyards in Morocco truly function as "little Edens" for their owners. They provide seclusion, shelter from the sun and heat and a stylized vision of paradise. The houses found in the old-town sections, or medinas, of Fez, Casablanca, and Marrakesh have rooms which are closed to the outside world, but all open into the interior common courtyard garden. 

This shady courtyard is can be found in Fez. It is part of ALIF, the Arab Language Institute of Fez, and this picture was found here. 



This wrought iron grate provides glimpses of the paradise enclosed within at the Palais Bahia in Marrakech. Found on a great "what to do in Marrakesh" blog. 




The above beautiful courtyard is found at the Riad Lune et Soleil in Fez. The blue and white tiles stay cool underfoot and the trickle of the fountain is psychologically cooling.

This courtyard is one of several at a luxurious hotel in Marrakesh, The Villa des Orangers. Candle lanterns on the ground provide non-electric flickering light as the early evening lengthens.