Mirador Garden: steel and succulents in Austin, TX (#gbfling2018)

I usually approach gardens that are completely new to me the same way I do thrillers or suspense movies: I try not to find out too much in advance so I can go into the experience without any preconceived ideas. I find that to be more enjoyable than seeing everything through somebody else's lens.

At the recent Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin, Texas we were given brief descriptions of each garden. I skimmed through them the night before to get a general sense but didn't read them carefully until afterwards. I might have missed a few things mentioned in the blurbs but I was able to let each garden "speak" to me on its own terms.

However, in my posts about the gardens we visited in Austin, I'll give you as much information beforehand as I can. That should help you better understand what you see in the photos.

The Mirador Garden was designed by Curt Arnette of Sitio Design. We visited Curt's own garden after the Fling; I'll have a separate post in a few weeks.

In the homeowner's words, Mirador Garden "was designed around low-water plants, and it was inspired by my travels. The fig arbor was influenced by one I saw in New Zealand. The steel-panel retaining walls out front were inspired by the botanical gardens in Sydney, Australia." (She's referring to the Jamie Durie-designed succulent garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens.)

The Corten retaining walls was the first thing I saw as I got off the bus, and I knew this garden would be special:

Building this Corten wall must have been quite an undertaking, but it sets the tone for everything that is to come.

The plant selection is a perfect match for the rusty steel: stately Yucca rostrata on top, and Agave salmiana below.

Other plants include Texas natives like desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) and bear grass (Nolina texensis).

Looking toward the house, you can't miss the row of Agave americana planted on top of the slope behind the garage. The meadow is Habiturf, a blend of grasses developed at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center as a low-water alternative to traditional turf.

The limestone walls are softened by a variety of plants, in this case bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa):

Or aloes:

The use of Corten steel, limestone, and water-wise plant material continues as we get closer to the house; the garages are off to the right.

The enclosed courtyard is behind the walls on the left.

More Yucca rostrata in full bloom:

The top of the Corten wall closest to the driveway is planted with Hesperaloe funifera, another Texas native.

The massed effect of the grass-like leaves is stunning: 

Inside the front courtyard, the plant material changes but it still blends harmoniously with the contemporary-looking limestone and the Corten elements.

I've rarely seen horsetail rush (Equisetum hyemale) used so elegantly:

The three blobs of vibrant green are firecracker plants (Russelia equisetiformis). They're so small because they were knocked back by the harsh winter.

Most gardens we saw in Austin had at least one water feature. It doesn't take much to give the illusion of coolness in the sweltering summer heat.

The building you see in the next photo (left) is the guest house. Next to it is a large cistern holding captured rainwater. All you need is a hose to water the vegetable garden!

Don't laugh, but the steel tomato cages were my favorite element—not only in this garden, but in any garden we visited in Austin. At home we've gone through many support contraptions for tomatoes, and they all suck in one way or another. The homeowner felt the same way and had these steel cages custom-made. Not only do the hold up tomatoes, beans and other vining vegetables, they'll also last forever.

These chards were the most photogenic vegetables I saw on my trip. The flowers add an element of seasonal beauty.

Do you see what I see over on the right?

A perfect specimen of Agave ovatifolia:

The whale's tongue agave seems to be the "it" agave in Austin. We saw more of them than of any other agave species.

Hesperaloe funifera seen from the inside of the courtyard (the driveway is behind the Corten wall):

I don't know what this tree is, but it has the perfect size and shape for this spot:

The Corten-lined channel is a stylized version of an arroyo. It fills up when it rains and directs the water to a clump of bamboo planted below it:

If the steel tomato cages were my favorite element, the rain chain you see in the next two photos was my second favorite. I've been looking for a nice rain chain for years but have never found one I like. Until now. But because this one is custom-made, I can't just go on the Internet and buy one. My search will continue.

If you thought the front was a spectacular fusion of contemporary architecture and sophisticated landscape design, you won't be disappointed in the back garden. Because of the weather (it was still drizzling) and time constraints, I had to rush through this part of the property so I wasn't able to capture as many details as I would have liked. But I didn't miss the Yucca rostrata forest-in-the-making:

Also notice the silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) spilling over the terraced bed framed with Corten steel:

The Corten madness (and I say that with unabashed envy) continues at the pool. One side of the pool (and part of another) are seamlessly clad in steel. I've never seen that before. Working on the Mirador Garden must have made a local steel fabricator very happy! 

More Yucca rostrata up against the house. I saw many Yucca rostrata all over Austin, but I never reached my saturation point. Pricewise, I expected them to be cheaper in Austin—after all, they're native to west Texas—but they weren't. Trunked specimens were still many hundreds of dollars. So much for bringing one home! (Just kidding, it wouldn't have fit in my suitcase.)

And finally the grand reveal of the pool. I bet it gets heavy use in the steamy heat of summer—which seemed far away on this rainy Friday afternoon in early May.

Notice the rain chain to the left of the pool? It's the same design you saw earlier. The craftsmanship is impeccable, which speaks to the attention of detail evident in every facet of this garden.

Here's a partial view of the green expanse beyond: a textbook example of borrowed scenery.

Below you get a glimpse of the fig arbor on the far side of the pool, another inviting spot to relax and take in the scenery beyond.

By the time I reached the side yard on the north side of the house, I was out of time. In fact, our bus captain, who was making one last sweep to ensure nobody would be left behind, was doing her best to hurry me up. So just a few glimpses of more Corten planters...

Aloe 'Blue Elf' and foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus 'Meyersii')

...and concrete (!) chairs. They looked great, and I immediately wanted some, but are they actually comfortable? But sometimes form outranks function.

Of the 15+ gardens I saw in Austin, the Mirador Garden was the most "designed." It's the kind of project that's at home both in architectural magazines and in the pages of Garden Design. But unlike some of the high-end gardens you see in magazines and on sites like Houzz, Curt Arnette's design is eminently approachable and inviting  in spite of its grand scale and use of "hard" elements like steel and stone.

Click here to go to the blog of David Cristiani, a landscape architect from Las Cruces, New Mexico, and read a professional's take on the Mirador Garden. ("Details, details. Forget the devil, there’s greatness in the details!)

Click here to go to A Growing Obsession to read blogger Denise Maher's astute observations of the Mirador Garden. ("Between the architect and the landscape architect, I don’t think they missed a trick.")

Click here to go to Pam Penick's blog Digging to see the Mirador Garden in fall. This post was written almost four years ago (just a year after the garden was completed), and the plants were noticeably smaller.


Index: 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling, Austin, TX

© Gerhard Bock, 2018. No part of the materials available through www.succulentsandmore.com may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent of Gerhard Bock. Any other reproduction in any form without the permission of Gerhard Bock is prohibited. All materials contained on this site are protected by  United States and international copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Gerhard Bock. If you are reading this post on a website other than www.succulentsandmore.com, please be advised that that site is using my content without my permission. Any unauthorized use will be reported.


  1. I felt like I ran out of time here too, so am so glad for the additional look!

    1. Hey, if all of us pooled our resources, we could do a book about each Fling city!

  2. It's way too wet and cold where I live to have agaves etc in my garden, reading your posts (and Pam and Loree's) helps me appreciate how truly special they are. Thanks.

    As for the limestone and steel...I love them both and so appreciate your fine take/description of them. I would love to see this garden on a sunny day and sit by/in that gorgeous pool. I notice you left off describing the gorilla on the side of the house ;)

    1. I'd love to see Mirador Garden on a sunny day as well. I bet the limestone positively glows!

      I did see the giant gorilla on the side of the house, but I simply didn't have time to take any pictures :-(

  3. I loved this garden, and thank you for pointing out that the pool would be great in the summer. I almost ignored it in the rain, but it was so well integrated in the overall design.

    1. The architect who designed the house, landscape architect Curt Arnette, and the homeowners must have been on the same page, because the house and the gardens blend together so harmoniously.

  4. Very nice post Gerhard, and thank for linking back to Pams post from 2014-it was fun to see the less mature garden and also to see it in another season. That blooming Gulf Muhly grass is a wow. An enterprising person who knows how to weld could likely fabricate some plant cages out of rebar that would be similar to those-though not as elegant. Those were definitely one of my favorite (of many) elements in this stunning garden.

    1. I tell you, if I ever found a reliable and reasonably priced metal shop, I'd have all kinds of projects for them!

  5. You covered this garden much more thoroughly than I did, capturing things I didn't fully appreciate at the time. This was my bus's last stop and I was tired of being wet at that point. The only thing I think I picked up that you didn't (or at least that you didn't show) was the gorilla sculpture on the back side of the house.

    1. I was just getting ready to take photos of the gorilla when it was time to go.

      I was so absorbed by all the details at Mirador Garden that I didn't realize how wet I was until I got back on the bus!

  6. Thanks for linking back to Pam’s post, it’s like a different garden! My camera was a foggy mess at this garden so my photos suck, yours are fabulous! Thanks for the retour...

    1. Yeah, photography wasn't easy in the drizzle. I do know now that my camera can get quite wet without any ill effects (knock on wood).

  7. Terrific post, Gerhard. It's a treat to see the garden again through your eyes, and I'm so glad to know how much you enjoyed the visit.

    1. Mirador was like walking into the pages of a glossy design magazine. A really nice dream while it lasted :-).

  8. When people ask me what I thought of Austin, I sometimes joke that I saw a lot of plants I can't grow in gardens I couldn't afford – but that doesn't stop me from admiring them. This was a beautifully designed garden. Like you, my favourite take-away was the plant supports in the raised beds! I'm going to try to mimic them in wood (or have Mr. TG do it for me). Looking at Pam's 2014 post, it's fascinating to revisit this space in another season. I wish we'd had more time to explore it.

    1. LOL, I love your summary of Austin! I can grow many of the same plants, but I can't afford the hardscaping :-)

  9. Everything about this garden is impressive!

    I wonder: would you have noticed the rain chains as much if it had been a clear, sunny day? :)

    1. Good question! I might have been preoccupied with something else.

  10. Time to remind myself to look into a welding class that I'll never find time to take. What an amazing garden! Thanks for another digital garden tour Gerhard.

    1. Welding! Now wouldn't that be awesome? I'd be happy if I could make simple metal planters.

  11. You got outstanding photos! I must have been too huddled under my umbrella--didn't even see the row of A. americanas, for example. They look absolutely terrible, though. Frost damage? The salmianas look far better.

    1. Seeing how Agave americana isn't all that hardy, I imagine they got knocked back by frost. Not my choice of agave for sure--ever. It's just too weedy.

      Can you imagine how stunning a row of Agave ovatifolia would look on top of the garage? Or giant hesperaloe or dasylirion!

  12. Thanks for the back area. The hedges and pool with the borrowed view are just killer. So is the hidden outdoor dining area and those concrete chairs. I'll just have to look back at your post in the future.

    And thanks for the link to my quick post on it!


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