Thursday, November 22, 2018

A love letter to color, life, and tequila: the Austin, TX garden of Lucinda Hutson

Love at first sight is real, folks. One look at Lucinda Hutson's little purple house was all it took, and I was a goner. 

It happened in early May at the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin, Texas. Thanks to Lucinda, the color purple will forever be linked in my mind with her Casita Morada, her jewel box of a house built in the 1930s.


Lucinda Hutson is not just a color picker extraordinaire, she's a passionate gardener, cookbook and lifestyle writer, and expert on spirits made from the humble agave: pulque, mescal, and above all tequila.

Lucinda was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. She learned Spanish at an early age and, as a teen, frequently hung out in Juárez, El Paso's sibling on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. 
"In the late 1960s, our coming-of-age initiations included escapes in rowdy Mexican cantinas on Saturday nights," she writes in her 2013 book ¡Viva Tequila! Cocktails, Cooking, and Other Agave Adventures:
The most dangerous thing about Juárez then was tipsy Texan teenagers running amok drinking nickel shots of tequila with dime beers. In 2009, Juárez was deemed the most dangerous city in the world, overtaken by battling drug cartels…Few now brave crossing the border—all the more reason to create our own tequila cantinas at home.

Which is exactly what Lucinda did, as you will see in a little bit.


Lucinda's love of Mexico is evident everywhere: not just in the vibrant colors she chose for surfaces, but also in the pottery, furniture, and many other accessories. Exuberant plantings of Texan and Mexican natives as well as tropicals compliment the palette with lush greens, their flowers echoing the colors of the walls: purple, yellow, blue, orange, and red.


Lucinda's garden is as bold and brash as a life lived to its fullest. There's nothing meek or minimalistic about it. The word "spirit" comes to mind. Not just as in "brisk energy" or "distilled alcoholic beverage" (think tequila!) but also as in "spiritual." This is Lucinda's refuge, and quite possibly also her sanctuary.



What I feel when I visit somebody else's garden runs the gamut from detached acknowledgement to warm admiration to unabashed envy. In Lucinda's garden, I felt joy. Nothing complicated or ambiguous, just simple happiness. I'm sure I had a big smile on my face for the hour or so we were there. This may not sound like much, but to me there's nothing better. Very few gardens make me feel that way.


The seating area above is still in the small but densely planted front yard. It's just a few steps from the sidewalk but feels surprisingly private.

Below is the entrance to Lucinda's backyard, what she calls El Jardín Encantador, or Enchanted Garden. The wall on the left is where the driveway to the detached garage (blue building in the upper left) used to be. By enclosing the driveway, Lucinda created a series of garden vignettes, each reflecting a different theme.


My agave radar immediately alerted me to the Agave americana planted on top of the wall. How I wish I had a wall to plant agaves on top of!


A potted bougainvillea, its magenta bracts bright like a beacon, shows visitors the way.


Now we're inside the Jardín Encantador. This area used to be the driveway. Now there are herbs, vegetables, and of course flowers—always flowers, in hues of orange, red and purple.


A lovely place to sit and take it all in—and smell the heady fragrance of star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) climbing up a trellis attached to the fence.


There is so much to see here, I didn't have enough time to take it all in. Zinnias and marigolds, both Mexican natives, feature prominently.


Watering all these pots is a formidable task in the summer, in spite of the drip system installed in some spots.


At the 12 o'clock position is Lucinda Hutson hugging a visitor. Behind them is where we entered the back garden.

Swiss chard with Aptenia cordifolia draping over the sides of the large glazed pot, marigolds in front

Here is Our Lady of La Tina, the Bathtub Goddess:



Our Lady of La Tina on the left, with two other shrines:


Here is the Agave americana on top of the wall you saw earlier. It watches over the Mermaid Grotto:



Seashells adorn a metal arbor under which sirenas pose seductively, waiting to lure unsuspecting visitors. Potted Sansevieria trifasciata look like seaweed billowing in the current.


The mermaids did have me spellbound and it was hard to move on. But with only an hour to spend, I had no choice if I wanted to see more.




This orange wall—behind it is the kitchen—was one of the most-photographed vignettes. Children's chairs in a range of sizes are hung on the wall, as is the custom in Mexico. 


The chairs also make handy shelves to display art or flowers—or set down your margarita glass at a fiesta.


UK writer Victoria Summerley photobombing this wide-angle shot (hi, Victoria!):


Proof that it pays to look down every now and then:


Now we're entering the central part of the back garden. The deck in the next photo is between the house (off to the right) and Lucinda's writing studio (on the left).


It also pays to look up!

Peeking inside Lucinda's studio

Lucinda' studio is quite possibly the most inviting writing space I've ever seen. Although I'm not sure how much writing I would get done there; I'd be too tempted to lounge on the sofa and read. Or simply while the time away day-dreaming.



Cowboy boots filled with black-eyed susans: how can you not like them in a garden like this!



This is the hub of social activity in the garden. I can only imagine how many parties have taken place here over the decades!


Buffet/bar against the side of what once was the garage:


You bet I'd like to come for a party!


Every wall, nook, and cranny is used to display Mexican arts and crafts:


Aloes make good companion plants even though they're from a different continent

Tucked away in the back corner is the best-known part of Lucinda's garden: her home cantina.


Nobody can describe Lucinda's cantina better than Lucinda (from ¡Viva Tequila!):
A traditional split-cedar ramada (porch-like structure) holds a rustic bar table for serving punches and tequila drinks, and a saloon cabinet stores bottles of tequila and mezcal for fiestas. A large rusted metal sculpture of an agave perches atop this ramada. Strands of party lights (and sometimes banners strung with papel picado) add to the festiveness.


The bottle tree sports a collection of tequila bottles. Hundreds of corks form a layer of mulch—a humorous touch.

My favorite sign in the entire garden

Agave sculpture on top of the ramada, the leaves undulating like flames

More agave sculptures...

...and even more!

I've never had an authentic cantina experience so I'm no expert, but I don't think an outdoor shower is a regular fixture. No matter, Lucinda has one! The sign makes it clear that the shower is meant for single occupancy, but I bet it has been disregarded a time of two over the years. 

According to ¡Viva Tequila!, Lucinda uses the shower after working in the garden.

Aloes and tequila, what a combo!

One of several metal musicians providing permanent entertainment

Lucinda had graciously opened her house for us to see, but I didn't have enough time for more than a quick walkthrough. I only took two shots in the kitchen:


Liquor cabinet/bar

Canadian blogger Janet Davis has a great set of photos of the inside of Lucinda's house on her blog, The Paintbox Garden.

Our visit was over much sooner than I wanted. There was so much still to explore, so many photos still to take. Maybe there will be a next time—never say never.

Before I left, I asked Lucinda if she would pose in the front doorway. I love these portraits because I can feel the connection between Lucinda and her Casita Morada.



Lucinda's place is Mexico, it's Texas, it's both of them and neither of them. It's uniquely hers, and yet it has a generosity of spirit that makes visitors feel included—like they are part of it instead of outsiders looking in.

¡Gracias, Doña Güera, por las flores, los colores y el espíritu de alegría que compartió con nosotros!

To find out more about Lucinda Hutson, visit her website.


© 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.

8 comments:

  1. You did a fantastic job with the photos, not that I haven't come to expect that of you. The vividness of the colors in your photos encapsulates the spirit of the garden's creator. I enjoyed this opportunity to tour this garden once again, if only virtually this time.

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  2. Wonderful post Gerhard. I have really struggled with trying to document this garden,and hope to post about it this winter -but you have really captured it's essence , and had enough presence of mind to get so many great blogger-free shots. Love my bloggers but it's a challenge to present confined spaces full of peeps and still show the full impact of the garden itself and the plants within.

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  3. Yep, you definitely did this fabulous garden justice! I wandered around so much that I got confused looking at my photos as the order of things, and completely missed the Agave on top of the ramada.

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  4. Lucinda's garden is a difficult one to photograph, Gerhard, and I've seen it in person & by way of many photo shoots of many bloggers - and multiple repeats from a few of them with no people present - but IMO you have captured it best. Agree w/ks above, you completely "captured the essence." Great fresh perspective on Lucinda's masterpiece from your lens to us! Thanks for the gift!

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  5. Lucinda's garden is one-of-a-kind, as is she. I'm so glad you enjoyed your visit, and thank you for sharing it so eloquently! I really enjoyed your post, Gerhard.

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  6. Wow - great shots that help someone who has never seen the garden feel as though they are walking through in person. The eclectic look of the garden looks as if it developed over many years. The bright colors, unexpected use of plants like Swiss Chard, artwork ... it all feels very whimsical and I can understand how it evoked a sense of joy. Inspiring garden!

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  7. Great post! As others said, captures the essence of the place.

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  8. Wow! I love this and I’m so inspired too. Gerhard, have you been to Keeyla Meadows house and garden in Berkeley? Same enthusiastic use of color. She has open days in the summer when she lets people visit.

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