Darla’s on Castle Hill~ Austin, Texas

Darla’s garden is a meadow within an enchanted forest of giant, blooming trees. It also happens to be in the middle of downtown Austin. The first time I saw the property was in May of 2009. Then the view from the curb was like looking into The Big Thicket. Neighbors told me that the previous owner had encouraged nature to reclaim the acre plot by doing no maintenance – for thirty years.

There, behind the veil of the overgrown woods, is where Darla and I met there for the first time. The city, its noise, the surrounding condominiums, all seemed to disappear. Charmed by the privacy it provided – and the active resident bird population – together we decided that we would make it a goal to preserve the woodsy-ness of the property.

In the next months, our team slowly, and thoughtfully replaced the dense undergrowth of hackberry and ligustrum with redbud, mountain laurel, and blackhaw viburnum. An oval-shaped meadow near the street was reclaimed and populated by native grasses and clover. To give the space some strong “bones” and symmetry we installed sculpted limestone benches and large terra-cotta pots with topiary shrubs and some native, dwarf shrubs that will form soft hedges. In time the space was utterly transformed.

The garden today is lush, green, blousy, and fertile. No one but the most trained eye would ever guess that Darla’s garden is a dry garden – and will require almost no additional watering beyond rainfall when established. I hope it will serve as an example for Austin gardeners of how a native, low-water philosophy can be adapted to fit into a neighborhood of thirsty lawns and conventional landscape design.