Heart of stone

May 18, 2022

Amid the flurry of gardens I had the pleasure of visiting in late April, landscape architect Tait Moring‘s garden stands out, as always, for its evocative stonework and a magpie collection of found objects, boyhood collections, and castoffs from clients’ gardens, which Tait assembles into art for his own.

Take the gothic niche in a boulder wall that divides the driveway from his back garden. When he had the wall built, Tait tucked in special rocks, fossils, geodes, glass, and other treasures. One day he found a skeletonized deer in the canyon below his house. He wrenched off the skull — anything for art — and placed it in the niche as a focal point. The vignette has the pensive poignancy of a Renaissance still life.

The skull itself reveals a scribble of etched lines — nature’s artistry hidden for a time under flesh and blood.

The other side of the wall reveals a well-fitted puzzle of treasures and rocks.

Little altars everywhere

The wall’s gateway is rustic cedar, befitting the wild canyon just a few yards away.

One more look at the skull niche, and now let’s go through that gate.

A neat, rectangular lawn lies like a green rug before a narrow swimming pool. This is a well-used party and lounging space, where Tait hosts family gatherings. Several carved cantera stone pillars — scavenged from a derelict quarry — with trailing ivy create a lost-in-the-jungle ambience…

…especially by the pool, where Tait indulges in lush tropicals.

Summer-loving tropicals and ferns make a bold fringe between the pool and a stacked limestone wall.

A stone head planted with foxtail fern adds a little humor.

An old juniper, still recovering from the ravages of the Snowpocalypse, shades the lawn.

On the left, a stone retaining wall shows off a mason’s talent.

A contemporary birdbath makes a focal point in the shade garden.

Another cantera column on the right is nearly hidden under rampant vines.

Just below, a circle of stacked stone gives a rustic facade to a stock-tank pond.

One of several handsome cats who have the run of the place

Tait’s home and garden perch on the edge of a canyon. A deck extends seating space over the canyon’s rim, while a narrow path runs along the edge.

On a wire trellis, scarlet clematis displays its bell-shaped blossoms.

The stiff, fleshy flowers give rise to its common name, scarlet leatherflower.

Steps descend to a wildflower patch, where standing winecup holds chalices of morning light.

Red corn poppies were aglow too.

The feathery foliage of standing cypress promises more red flowers to come, after the poppies fade.

A hand-crafted gate seems alive with plants and creatures like this twining snake. A castoff from one of Tait’s clients, the piece reminds me of a similar gate at Zilker Botanical Garden.

Tait recently scored another castoff piece, a massive inlaid stone tabletop. He poured water across it to bring to life its jeweled colors. Scenes of exotic lands…

…beautiful moths…

…birds and flowers are “painted” with inlaid stone. The tabletop is cracked and has some missing inlay, but it’s still stunning. Tait is considering how to display it, perhaps as a wall plaque.

A painted pillar — another inherited piece, I expect — adds a dash of color to a cedar trellis.

Porch pots include a turtle with a second shell of ghost plant.

A contemporary fountain and raised pond trickle water next to the porch. A grid of cattle-panel wire spans the pond to save the fish from hungry herons.

But another menacing creature lurks in the top part of the fountain.

Hah — it’s a garden-art ‘gator!

Life and death go hand-in-hand in Tait’s garden world, as seen here with a concrete human skull, animal bones, a decaying tree trunk, and fresh new pads popping up from a freeze-killed prickly pear. As ever, limestone rock undergirds it all.

Along the driveway, a wildflower meadow would normally be in full bloom in late April. But this spring has been so dry and hot that flowers are scarce in unirrigated areas. Still, several moon-like stone orbs add interest. Tait got these from a nearby shopping center when its landscaping was overhauled. Lucky Tait!

A tall beaked yucca was sending up a bloom spike on its left “head.” Tait said the two heads take turns blooming each year. How cooperative of them.

Speaking of heads and castoff treasures, Tait was given this sculpted bust of Lady Bird Johnson, which graces a wall near the entry. He’s done work for the Johnson Ranch, so the piece has special significance for him.

Nearby a blue Day of the Dead skull peeks out from a bored hole in a slab of rock — no doubt more of Tait’s found objects. He has a great eye for turning these into captivating moments in the garden.

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Heart of stone