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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Holiday Decorations

The gold star lighting on the mantle came from Crate & Barrel. The green garlands are made by Barcalay.
When I first met my husband Chuck, one of the things that impressed me the most about him, what his love of holiday decorations. He took me out to his family ranch on Brodie Ln, which at that time seemed far from Austin to see a beautiful wreath with garlands that he had made with magnolia leaf base, covered in fruits and pine cones he had placed on the stone entry to the ranch....

Throughout the 28 years of our marriage, he has continued to delight and inspire me with his continuing creative inspirations and passion for collecting decorations. We have six storage buildings on our property San Michele, filled with different holiday decorations and accessories for all seasons!

Chuck's fame spread (of personal admiration) to spread over the years and one year we spent our entire Christmas decorating the home of 9 of our relatives! It got to be a bit much! We still consult with clients, family and friends, but we don't dare try to do all the work ourselves!

I have overwhelming admiration for David Kiero (Austin) and Kenneth Turner, Caroline Rome and others like them still continue to do that on a massive personal and professional scale. We still look forward in anxious anticipation for inspiration from some of our favorite magazines and style and decorating books like Miranda and Cut de suit and Southern Accents and we try and make an annual pilgrimage to San Antonio to see all their beautiful lighs along the Riverwalk and colorful displays throughout the city!

Sadly, so many of our favorite shops that we have bought Christmas ornaments from in the past have gone out business: The Cadeau, Higginbotham's, Pecan Square Emporium, The Market, Horse of a Different Color, Culturas and Smith and Hawkins, more...

Our philosophy is if you see something you love even if it seems expensive at the time, buy it because you may never see it again! Don't wait.

We used to decorate with lots of beautiful fresh greeneries, till I realized that the reason I was so sick every Christmas was because I was allergic to it all. Fortunately, there are so many wonderful companies now that make beautiful artificials! I can still tolerate some greeneries and outdoors, as long as I don't handle them myself.

Chuck's favorite Christmas decorations are hand blown glass ornaments. So we have thousands of them on our tree. His favorites are made by Christopher Radko and Old World Christmas Shop in Spokane, Washington. He has always been a lighting master and taught me how to train helpers to light the tree from the inside out! He's done the lighting himself for years but has finally retired and only does the finally tweaking of lighting and ornaments these days. I've been able to successfully train people to meet his exacting standards. Thank heavens! I look forward to enjoying that sense of perfection as much as he has over the years!

Chuck found the horns at the tent located across from the Texas DPS on North Lamar.

We both hated the energy crises. As we grew up in Austin, loving the beautiful colored lights that used to be strung across the bridges over the Colorado River with the big colored bulbs that reflected in the water. Hopefully those days of economy are gone and beautiful lighting has returned as a holiday tradition. Since I've gone into the event business I have been fortunate to have met some talented event lighting artists, one is Bryan from Ilios Lighting . Check out the new Austin wedding day magazine pg 351. Also Kenneth Bordelon, who is constantly on call helping me with my personal lighting needs in the garden and for special events.

The pomegranate wreaths are from Crate & Barrel. We found the axis deer skull on the ranch. The bench came from Dreyfus Antiques.

The blue damask came from The Menagerie. The red amaryllis came from Breed & Co. The silver tray was my grandmother's. The assorted red vases came from Michael's and Hobby Lobby.

More about lighting under our class for Garden Landscape Lighting!

Besides meeting wonderful lighting professionals, I've also had the great pleasure to meet hundreds of talented floral designers!

Specifics on this kind of theme will be the subject of our holiday decoration classes!

Christmas is our favorite Holiday but we love Easter, Halloween and Valentines Day. Of course the best are the treasured hane-me-downs from family from favorite relatives!

The antler chandelier was made from dropped white tail deer antlers that my Aunt picked up on the ranch. Michael Larvey assembled and wired them for us. The red berry garlands we wired to them came from Southern Floral. Chuck always buys Christmas crackers to set at each place for the holidays. The Meissen China was my Great Grandmother's. The Silverware is International Royal Danish Pattern which was my Mother's pattern. I liked the simplicity of the pattern and it has worked out well over the years to share extra pieces when one of us had a large party. We added the gold ornaments from Neiman's for extra sparkle and to accent the gold details in the china pattern.

The red silk fabric for the custom made table cloth came from Silk Road.

The Rock Wall:
I hired my neighbor and friend, Ken Rutledge, to come and help me with his back hoe. Our original project was to clean up the side property line of all the rocks. Mr. Dodgen, the farmer who cleared the land to grow cotton, had piled all the native limestone along the fence line. The rock piles were very hard to maintain with the weed eater, so we gathered them up and I built a beautiful dry stacked wall out of them on the south side of our property.

The Pond
I had so much fun working with him on the rock project that I decided to try to tackle another project that I had always wanted to do: build a pond. We laid out the design with garden hoses to the east of my kitchen in an area that already had a natural sloped terrain. As Ken started digging, we decided to add different elements to the design.

The ranch is located above Onion Creek and I had spent my childhood admiring the natural way the water sculptured the natural terrain. There were areas with smooth grassy surfaces that you could walk down to, areas where the water rushed through and made honey comb rock, and there were other areas that were filled with big boulders. We would ride out on the ranch on the back hoe and find rocks that we liked. Ken was incredible in the way that he could twirl the rocks around and manipulate them into just the right position. He told me further on in the project that he had helped landscape architect James David in his garden in Rollingwood. I knew I had found the right person to help me fulfill my childhood dreams of creating my own pond. I have enjoyed sharing my pond with many children since then who have come here for weddings, parties, and other events.

I grew up close to Mayfield Park and Laguna Gloria in Austin. Both places had water features, landscaping, and architecture that were magical for me. I remember always loving to play by my Mom's good friend Marguerite's fish pond at her house on Windsor. We also played along the hike and bike trail at Shoal Creek, we fished for Crawdad's at Reed Park, and climbed on the rock formations at Bull Creek. We watched the turtles, ducks, and fish at Zilker Park and along town lake. I also remember loving to watch the Koi swim in the Acequias at the Alamo. The gardens and ponds at Los Patios, McNay Museum, San Antonio Zoo, and the Witte Museum in San Antonio were also sources that I drew inspiration from for my passion for water gardens.

Ken turned out to be just as passionate about learning more about ponds as I was. I traveled to Brookshire, Texas with Chuck to Lilypons Water Garden and purchased the pond liner. Next, I went to Marion, Texas to Water Garden Gems and bought some beautiful Water Lillie's from them. I had seen there ads in my gardening magazines for years and their sign on I10 as traveled back and forth from Houston. It was a dream come true to finally get started on my own pond.

I joined the Austin Pond Society and we went on their tour in Austin and San Antonio. If you are interested in ponds I highly recommend this tour because it was informative and the gardens were amazing. I met one of my Mom's friend's son, Mark Jessen who is also known as The Fish Tender, he is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about fish. Another knowledgeable Austin source our I the people at Emerald Garden. I bought a big yellow Koi, seen in the picture above, and a orange and white Koi who have lived in my pond for many years. Over time, I purchased several books on ponds and I found myself wanting to add new plants and other elements to my pond based on my new discoveries. As my knowledge grew of more plants, I would make lists of the things that I wanted to aquire. Eventually more people and gardeners would bring over their excess plants and they would usually be the ones that I had wanted for a long time, but didn't know where to find.

I make it a point when I am traveling to visit ponds and water features like the fabulous ones at the Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco, the New York Botanical Garden, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and Lotus Land in Santa Barbara, California. There are many wonderful water gardens all over the world that I have had a great time viewing. If you are interested, check on the right hand side of the blog for the full list of different, amazing gardens. There are many more on my bucket list that I can't wait to see. The best thing about building your own pond though is the pleasure you will have sitting by it enjoying all the wild life it attracts: butterflies, dragonflies, turtles, snakes, fish, frogs, and birds of all types. The reflections of sunlight and moonlight are calming, mesmerizing and the music from the frog bands and insects during the summer are entertaining. I like to keep benches, chairs, and hammocks near by so I can spend many happy hours by myself or with friends enjoying the atmosphere.

The Fountains

Like ponds, I have always loved fountains. I have built four fountains at San Michele. The first fountain I built was in the motor court in the front of the house. I saw a cantera stone fountain surround at the intersection of Highway 290 and William Cannon as I was driving one day. I had always wanted to build a fountain to place my Grandmother's statue of a little girl holding a frog. I ordered the 12 foot surround and waited patiently for it to come from Mexico. My good friend Bill Graham, who did the masonry work on my house, helped me build the foundation and set the stone, the liner, and the cement topping that goes over the liner all in one very long day. I had to go to the storage building and get special lights, so we could see when we were trying to finish it late at night. Concrete was mixed by hand in a wheelbarrow as his mixer was on the blink which is never a fun prospect on a project that large. Always economically minded, Bill decided to not to rent a rebar bender, which meant it was much harder and took much longer to bend the rebar in the circular pattern of the fountain. He always uses a long plastic tube water level to check his levels, which is amazingly simple and accurate. Building this fountain was definitely hard work and a labor of love. I got poked in the leg by a piece metal, very painful, and had to get a tetanus shot. I learned from the research I did about keeping your fish safe that you need to put things in your water that they can swim into to hide from predators. You need to make a depth deep enough that tall birds like Herons can't wade in it. The extra depth also makes it easier for the fish to survive in cold weather. An old, local carpenter, John Mays, gave me lots of tips on how to keep my water clean by using a couple drops of laundry bluing. He also gave me some of his very special bricks that had hollow chambers in them for the fish to swim in and hide. He had owned a fish farm and had great practical knowledge and experience, which he kindly shared with me.

I bought lots of water lilies to fill the basin and found a concrete pedestal to raise the statue up to the right height. We have tried many different pumps to find the right one to maintain the right amount of pressure needed to make the water flow through the narrow old tubing in the statue. We filled the fountain with different kinds of smaller fish and enjoy sitting on the stone surround and watching them swim. There are all different kinds of flowers available that bloom during the day or night. I like the colors of the tropicals, but wish they were more freeze hardy.

Kenneth Bordelon, my friend and electrician, helped me with up lights and down light landscape lighting in the trees around the fountain. We also put some interior water lighting to accent the plants and the statue. We bought the lighting at Home Depot and Lowes. Chuck and I enjoy planting different kinds of annuals in a ring around the fountain throughout the year. We added twinkle Christmas lights in the circle for special accent lighting, but have found that it is hard to keep from shorting out.

The large formal gardens that I visited in Europe while I was in school in Switzerland always made me want to build a large formal garden of my own. The classic layout of large geometric shaped beds with a multi-tiered central fountain as the center piece have always intrigued me. When my Great Aunt and Uncle gave me the perfect piece of land with a large open field I knew I finally had the right space to build this type of garden in. I built nine huge rectangular flower beds, 58 feet wide by 65 feet long, with gravel paths dissecting them. My goal was to have a large, central fountain. It took me many years to accomplish that.

Mr. Herrera of Herrera Iron Works has built many custom iron balconies, stair railings, and other feats of iron art for me over the years. One day, Chuck my son Patrick were visiting Mr. Herrera's home and saw old cement fountain parts laying on the ground. He and Patrick looked at each other and immediately knew that this was the fountain of my dreams. Chuck asked Mr. Herrera if he would sell it to him as a gift for me. He told Chuck he had always admired the fountain and that one of his good friends who lived in San Antonio had built the fountain himself and had it lit with neon lights in his garden. When his friend died he left the fountain to Mr. Herrera, but he had gone to San Antonio and carefully taken it apart but he never had put it back together in his garden. Because he liked us so much, he agreed to sell it to Chuck and delivered it himself. I was completely blown away by this surprise. We had to get my Uncle's tractor and large heavy straps to lift it. As each part was extremely heavy. For many years before I could afford to build the concrete basin that it sits into today, it stood assembled without water like the leaning tower of Pisa in my garden. It leaned because it didn't have the proper foundation to support it.

Boothe Concrete had built many sound foundations for us over the years and I knew they would be the best people to build my fountain. We decided to make it 19 feet inside diameter with a 16 inch concrete border and 18 inches deep. I had experimented with the 12 foot diameter cantera surround that I got for the front fountain and knew that I needed something larger fit proportionately in my huge space. 12 feet looked way to small. Everything in the main part of my garden had to be built with super sized proportions to show up in the proper scale of such a large space. I had also experimented with John Mays on a design for an eight sided base for the fountain to sit on. I still haven't finished surfacing the base with the raised panel designs with crown molding that we came up with or the cap for the 16 inch base. Maybe this year, but til then they still remain unfinished. This really bothers me so to try to minimize it I have placed seashells on top of the base and around the border. I bought some wonderful cave stone from my friend Phillip at Carved Stone, Inc.. We made a special niche in the base of the fountain for the pump and have experimented for the last five years, since we built the fountain, with many different kinds of pumps and lights to accent it. Chuck found some silver balls that he likes to watch floating in the water. I have found that little boys and big boys like to play with them during the weddings and events here. I am often amused to see how many they can accurately toss in the different levels of fountain. I had one bride's Aunt, who had a family tradition of playing a prank at each family member's wedding, ask me if she could put bubbles in the fountain. The bride was very surprised to see all of the bubbles, but it took a couple of days for the bubbles to dissipate. I would like to see the glass fisherman's balls floating in the fountain and bought some at the connesiour in Port Aransas. Unfortunately, the children's curiousity during the events is far to prone to get the best of them. After they broke several, I decided it was too dangerous to have them. It is an amazing sight to be seen when it freezes in Texas and icicles drip like stalactites in cave from the fountain bowls. I have seen beautiful grey herons and white egrets standing in the top tier drinking water with their necks gracefully arched. This is why I am sure that other fountains have included statues of these great birds in their designs.

I learned when I built my smaller fountains the importance of sizing the diameter of the basin large enough to be able to capture the water coming from the water source during a windy day. I bought two six foot round, black, plastic tubs from a pond supply place to put in my two outer flowerbeds. They were economical and easy to set on top of the ground without an expensive foundation. But because of my breezy, sometimes windy orientation in the garden they have been difficult to keep working properly. I would like to cement over the black plastic. The dark color makes the water heat up in the summer which causes more algae growth. The wind blows too much water out of the basin because it is only 17 inches deep and almost six feet in diameter. So most of the time, I end up not being able to run the pumps because too much of a nuisance to constantly have to go check the water level and clean out the algae that stops up the pump. I haven't found the right pumps yet to accurately pressurize the tiny tubing inside the antique cherub statue I have in bed #1 or the top tier of the fountain that I used on its own in bed #9. I have to keep the water levels up high enough, so that I don't damage the underwater lights when I turn them on for night time ambiance.

I always admired the old round rock water tanks at the ranch at McNeil. Bill Graham went with me with his trailer to the stone supply store on 620 and helped me pick out the right stone. He worked each piece with his tools to fit the circular design I wanted. He was afraid that the ground movement would break up mortar, so we left them as dry stack. I still want to try the mortar. They hold pretty well but when the children play on them some of the top pieces that he carefully notched around to fit around the rim can come out of alignment.

The Pool

When Chuck and I first got married we lived at the West End Condominiums and relaxed year round in their heated 12 by 12 pool/hot tub spa. I always wanted to duplicate that pool and was finally able to at San Michele. John at Aloha Pools had done some consulting on a project we worked on in Bear Creek and we were impressed with them. We hired them to build a 12 by 12 with a colored concrete wall and aqua iridescent mosaic glass tiles like the ones my Grandmother had found in Mexico and used in the beach house at Port Aransas.
I am allergic to large doses of chlorine so John has special ordered peroxide and lithium to keep the pool clean without hurting my skin or eyes. For someone that likes to be in the water as much as I do it is worth every penny. I decided to put a bench and jets all the way around so that it could accommodate people who could easily move around to catch the sun or shade or take in different view. I wanted smooth limestone edges around the perimeter that was 16 inches wide so that they would be comfortable to sit on or lay on. The size is perfect for two people to lay on rafts in the hot summer. The gravel pathway surrounding the pool allows me flexibility to arrange umbrellas as needed for shade. I have a plug near by for lighting, music, and a towel warming rack for the cooler months. I found some great terracota pots at the Big Red Sun that have an open pattern that lit with low voltage lighting that create beautiful shadow patterns at night. We can also bring in all the Moroccan lanterns and citronella candles for even more patterns and a romantic atmosphere at night. Cecil at CK & R Enterprises built an iron fence around the pool with four gates. We copied a design that looks like an old gate pattern that I had bought from Lisa at Star Antique Lighting. I have some of my favorite damask roses planted around the pool, so I can smell their fragrant scent when I am swimming. I have lots of colorful Cosmos and Zinnias which attract butterflies and hummingbirds. My favorite time to swim is in the late afternoon during the summer, so I can watch the huge, puffy white cumulus clouds and the incredible sunsets that we have to the west.

The Entry

When we first moved to our property in Buda the road coming in from the main street was devoid of lighting and plant life. Our neighbor who raised Arabian horses had a rusted old gate and falling down fence. When we decided to open our house as a venue we knew we were going to have to spruce things up a bit. We talked to the neighbor and took down the old gate, fence and put in a wider gravel road for access for two way traffic and big delivery trucks. I have some wonderful books on Italian villas that I used to help my rock mason Jacinto to come up with our own design for the stucco columns with lanterns which also serve as mailboxes on the street. I went to Laredo to find iron light fixtures at Lazos Imports. My artist friend Byron Long helped me paint the San Michele shield and address on each column. Jacinto's cousin Alfonzo worked with me getting weathered stone from my garden that I had bought from San Jacinto Materials in San Antonio. I particularly like the cream color of stone that comes from their quarry in Boerne. With copies of various examples of columns and walls from my books, Jacinto, Alfonzo, and I built the columns.

Many pups resulted from the original Agaves I bought when we first moved here.

I moved
a bunch of my iron urns that I had collected from Atkins antiques, Paradise, and a dealer at Bar W and filled them with Agave lechuguilla, Agave Americana, and Smooth Agave to put them on top of the columns. I grew up watching westerns with my Grandfather and I was always fascinated with the way the agave and cactus plants were lined up in rows leading into the villages.

I found an ad in the Hays County Free Press for Agaves for sale many years ago. We loaded up as many as we could in the trailer. Moving the agaves was very hard work because we had to be move and chop the plants with long bars, machetes, chains, and pieces of plywood to drag the plants on and off the trailer. I found that if you planted the Agaves to low, then they would dry out faster. So we planted them on a mound to help with the draining process. Driving down highway 71 I met a couple selling plants on the side of the road. Don & Mozelle with Caprock Cactus had some incredible sotols and other desert type plants that I bought to mix in with the agaves.

I had joined the Cactus Society in Austin and attended many of their sales. Some of the plants you see in this photo came from their Zilker Garden Center Sales. I also joined the international cactus society and attended their meeting in San Antonio at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. I met Peter a professor at A&M in Kingsville who invited me to come to their garden and take as many pads from cactus as we could carry. Chuck and I rented a U-Haul and filled it up. Thus began my cactus growing which resulted in such a bounty that I was able to make long serpentine raised beds of spineless cactus all the way down two sides of my road. I love it.

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