There is a first time for everything and this was a triple first for me: I was a first-time flinger at the Garden Bloggers Fling Austin 2018 (#gbfling2018); it was my first visit to Texas, the lone star state and it followed therefore that it was my first to Austin, a city that boasts it is ‘the live music capital of the world’.
There were more than 90 garden bloggers from the US and Canada mainly, with four from the UK (Victoria Summerley, Helen Johnstone and Michelle Chapman) including first-time me! So what was it like and why go all that way to meet other garden bloggers?
It was amazing; friendly people with a similar interest in gardens and plants, great company on the bus, at lunches and dinners, and wonderful gardens, large and small, where the owners and gardeners were on hand to showcase them with us. I learned a great deal about a completely different plant palette and style of gardening and brought back many ideas that I would like try out at home, albeit on a smaller scale!
Weatherwise it was hot and humid at times, and we experienced a ‘gully-washing’ storm, just a bare half-hour into our first garden tour on the Fling, a visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. More about this wonderful place in a future blog as, with a group of several other bloggers, I returned the following week, to see it on a sunny day.
Pam Penick (Digging), one of the trio of Austin Fling organisers, had offered to show me and my fellow UK garden blogger Michelle Chapman a few of the sights of Austin on the pre-Fling day. The fact that the whole group was visiting her garden the following day didn’t seem to faze her in the slightest!
We lunched at the Hula Hut on the shore of Austin Lake and then headed for Mount Bonell, a limestone height that rises 775 feet above sea level. To reach the top there is a gently rising stone stairway of 102 steps that lead to breathtaking views over downtown Austin.
We walked along the top of the limestone ridge, taking in the view of the city and over the houses that lined the banks of Austin Lake, a section of the Colorado River. It was here that I first realised that Austin was much greener than I had originally thought. The main trees on Mount Bonnell were live oak, ash juniper, persimmon and mountain laurel. Live oaks were predominant in many of the areas of the city that we visited and here we saw at least two plants that recurred on many occasions during our garden visits. One was the prickly pear, shown here with its citrus-lemon flower. The other was agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata). Its bright berries, although difficult to harvest as the plant has spiny foliage, are worth the trouble for agarita berry jam. Its foliage reminded me of both holly and ivy foliage and its bright red, almost festive berries added to that thought!
Our next stop was Barton Springs Pool, a three-acre pool fed by underground springs. With an average temperature of 20–21C this is an ideal place for visitors and locals to cool off in the heat of the day. We three put our toes in the water and felt a little respite from the heat of our first day in Austin. I couldn’t be specific about which American novels this lovely pool brought to mind: I imagined hot summer days and characters in a novel cooling off in the creek or river, rather than the swimming pool of today. I sort of understood how heat and swimming in an unusual setting could be just as solid as a character in a novel. Could the author be F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salinger or even Henry James? Or none of the above-mentioned but just a feeling that the place communicated something to me. To add to this notion of mine, I later learned that Robert Redford learned to swim here when he was a five-year-old visiting family in Austin.
The Tenth Anniversary Garden Bloggers’ Fling officially started on Thursday 3 May with a reception at the stunning Austin Central Library, which was five years in the building and opened on October 2017. Overlooking Shoal Creek and Lady Bird Lake, it has a rooftop garden with views across the lake and downtown, and at the lower level a series of terraces can be used for outdoor events.
On the rooftop garden I was stopped in my tracks to see carpets of Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ which I am more familiar with as a tumbling accent plant, that cascades from a container like the waterfall of its name. Here it was grown as a ground cover, making a shimmering silver pool-like mat beneath palms and succulents.
Writers are easily pleased if they can see the spine of a book in a library with their name on it, so I made a little trip into the library to see if one of my books had made it onto the shelves. I was disappointed on the night not to track any of my titles down, but delighted to see that Victoria Summerley, one of the UK Garden Bloggers, was represented on the garden shelf at the library. Not willing to give up my quest to be ‘on the shelf’ I googled the catalogue on my return home and was relieved to know that two of my books – Garden Lover’s Guide to Spain and Portugal and The Ultimate Herb Gardener – are held in the Austin Central Library.
This was Thursday evening and the Fling had only just got going… so be patient, I am jet-lagged and have to sort out gazillions of images from this long weekend of garden visiting… there will be more.