Wildflower-palooza at Ruthie Burrus Garden, part 1

April 30, 2022

I first photographed Ruthie Burrus’s garden 8 years ago, when she emailed an invitation to come visit. I was wowed by her wildflower meadow, textural foliage garden at the front door, giant rainwater cisterns, charmingly rustic garden haus, and skyline view. Here’s her garden haus in spring 2018. And I photographed the whole garden again in fall 2019, a lusher, more mature garden. Last week Ruthie made me drop everything by emailing to say that the wildflowers were in full bloom — come see. My favorite words.

Driveway wildflower meadow

Ruthie wasn’t at home when I arrived but had left the driveway gate open for me. Her house sits at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in West Austin and has almost a secret garden feel. The driveway curves steeply uphill, and passersby might not even notice all the color unless they looked up.

Along the slope, Ruthie layers native trees like Texas mountain laurel with dry-loving yuccas and agaves, underplanted with masses of flowering perennials and seed-sown wildflowers. A beaked yucca (Yucca rostrata) near the gate is sending up a flower spike. Salvia flowers in front.

This may be ‘Mystic Spires’ salvia. A whale’s tongue agave offers contrast with its muscular, toothy leaves. And it’ll still be there, looking good, when the spring flowers go to seed.

Ruthie grows native and adapted wildflowers, so there’s Englemann’s daisy and pink evening primrose cavorting with red corn poppies. Yuccas and hesperaloes add spiky foliage and evergreen structure and blooms of their own.

Standing winecup (Callirhoe digitata) may be my new favorite Texas wildflower. I’ve always loved the sprawling winecup (Callirhoe involucrata). But standing winecup holds its delicate magenta cups aloft on upright stems, more like a poppy. It’s beautiful mingling with other wildflowers or as a solitary specimen or even in a pot.

Standing winecup with red poppies and Englemann’s daisy

Ah, those vivid red corn poppies! (Has anyone been to the Red Poppy Festival in Georgetown, Texas? I’ve never been. Am I missing out?)

Rock Rose Jenny, who is from England, calls them Flanders poppies.

Softleaf yucca with Englemann’s daisy, pink evening primrose, and a few bluebonnets — natives all.

The last sighting of Texas bluebonnets this year, probably. Those early wildflowers have mostly gone to seed.

Gorgeousness along the driveway with red poppies, standing winecup, larkspur, and hesperaloes

Standing winecup

Softleaf yucca in flower amid pink evening primrose and winecups

Purple larkspur popping up amid standing winecup, Englemann’s daisy, and pink evening primrose. That stone retaining wall is pretty too.

A dark little hummingbird flitted into view, stopping to sip from the salvias.

I’m not familiar with this thorny but attractive small tree with bright-green leaves. Ruthie tells me it’s a bluewood condalia, also called Brazilian bluewood (Condalia hookeri) even though it’s native to Central Texas. She has several along the driveway, and I believe she told me they seeded themselves there.

More confetti-like wildflowers with giant hesperaloe poking up on the right

A closer view

California poppies and pink evening primrose

Poppies, tall verbena, Englemann’s daisy, and spiderwort

Ah, larkspur — so lovely, especially with standing winecup

A closer look

Texas sotol — a gorgeous plant when backlit by the setting sun. The spherical, strappy form is good too, especially contrasting with delicate wildflowers.

A frilly red poppy

Bumblebee on a salvia

Red poppies and whale’s tongue agave

And red poppies with ‘Green Goblet’ agave

Entry garden

At last I tore myself from the wildflower parade along the driveway to approach the house. Here Ruthie has made a textural, mostly green garden under live oaks. It’s lush with masses of perennials dotted with bold-foliage plants like agave and palms.

I especially love this vignette of matte, blue whale’s tongue agave backed by shiny, leathery giant leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum ‘Gigantea’), with soft green leaves on either side. This is SO GOOD.

Agave and leopard plant have different watering needs, so you have to be careful about irrigation and make sure the agave has sharp drainage (or put it in a big elevated pot). But this is a surprisingly popular combo in Austin for bright shade, and no wonder.

Summer annual Blue Daze makes the perfect front-of-border plant, its sky-blue flowers playing off the whale’s tongue agave’s powder-blue leaves. While Blue Daze prefers full sun, it was blooming well even in part shade.

Chinese indigo (Indigofera decora), a suckering groundcover, is here too and just starting to bloom.

Giant leopard plant with Mediterranean fan palm and Jerusalem sage, flowering yellow at the bend in the path

On the right side of the walk, a trough-style fountain makes a serene and rustic focal point.

River fern and spiderwort, both shade lovers, soften the trough’s rough stone frame.

Spiderwort flowers open in the morning and close in the afternoon.

Fern frond

Irises add a little more rich purple.

On the front porch, shapely pots contain annual torenia.

Side yard view

Ruthie’s house sits atop a high hill — what many Austinites would call a mountain. It commands a view of Lake Austin from the side yard, beyond the neighbor’s yard. That neighbor really loves red Knock Out roses, and Ruthie has tied in with them by sowing red corn poppies along the fence.

The poppies look charming against Ruthie’s big metal cistern too. This cistern, one of three, can store 10,000 gallons of rainwater, which Ruthie uses to irrigate her garden.

Up next: Part 2 of Ruthie’s spectacular garden, with her stone garden haus, flower borders, welcoming patios, and a killer view of the Austin skyline.

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Wildflower-palooza at Ruthie Burrus Garden, part 1