Friday, December 10, 2021

And we were off, to John's Austin Garden

My October Austin garden visits included a stop at John Ignacio's garden. This was one of those potentially worrisome meet-ups fueled by social media...

My friend Ann met John when she visited the John Fairey Garden in 2018, two crazy plant people who happened to be visiting the garden at the same time—they kept in touch. Fast forward to the long, lonely days of COVID lockdown and Ann organized a few Saturday evening Zoom meet-ups for plant people across the country, that's how I met John. While these meet-ups weren't as fun as an in-person party, they definitely filled the gap as far as plant talk with like-minded individuals. 

Once I knew I'd be in Austin—with a little time for garden visits—one thing led to another, and there Pam and I were, pulling up in front of a garden, hoping we were at the right place...

Hamelia patens

I can't speak for John or Pam, but any awkwardness I was feeling lasted all of about a minute and then we were off and running. John busy touring us through his garden and me trying to keep up while I aimed the camera and soaked up the strange and fabulous plants.

Aesculus pavia var. pavia (scarlet buckeye)

I should note that any specific plant names I am able to share in this post come via ID by John. He was very patient with photos and questions I messaged him as I went through my photos.

This pot of wide-leaved sansevieria would fetch a hefty price tag in the houseplant section of one of my local nurseries.

John was working on the re-building of this greenhouse damaged by the nightmare storm that Austinites had to endure last February.

Bambusa textilis 'Kanapaha'

Ceratozamia latifolia, a cycad.

I loved this mash-up of a barrel cactus, a downed columnar cactus, and those fabulous dark-edged dyckia.

Another dyckia, or maybe this is a puya.

When we pulled up I had no idea John's garden ran such a long distance along the street. The tall trees and green lawn you see in the distance seemed to be the garden front, however the next (closer) lot is John's as well and he's fronted it with square planters planted up with very blue dasylirion.

Dasylirion berlandieri

The fruit is Diospyros lotus, aka date-plum, Caucasian persimmon (!?!), or lilac persimmon.

A healthy patch of Agave lophantha 'Quadricolor'.

Something else I wasn't prepared for, just how strange/fabulous/interesting/stylized John's house would be.

Papaya leaf, and corner of the house.

Does this shot say Austin to you? It does not say Austin to me.

Mystery agave in the wild part of the garden.

Ditto with a yucca.

Unfortunately this visit did not allow time for a visit inside the house, if John would have even been up for that. 

Brahea moorei (if I've kept my palm names straight).

The house was also undergoing a little construction when we were there.

I believe this is the first time I've seen Aristolochia gigantea blooms in person.

They were freakishly magnificent.

Three hands for scale!

In the back garden now, Sabal x brazoriensis, and greenhouse!

While there I was overwhelmed with interesting plants, however working my way through these photos I can't believe I was in the presence of such interesting architecture and didn't beg to go inside.

Or at least climb up on the various patios and decks.

Just beyond that large turquioise pot on the right was the entrance to the greenhouse.

I aimed my camera in there, but you guys... I DIDN'T EVEN STEP FOOT INTO THAT GREEHOUSE! 

I know. It's shocking. All I can say is that we had a finite amount of time. I will go back. I will.

Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, so spiky!

John demonstrated how you can twist the shiny orange covering right off those long spines. Sadly I did not capture a photo of him doing so.

Agave xylonacantha, I believe?

Spiky close-up.

John is doing some cactus breeding, I asked him for more info on what he's up to, this was his response: "There are over 100 species of cactus native to Texas. There are species of Echinocereus throughout the US and Mexico, but most of the ones that have been hybridized have come from the drier climates on the western side of Both the US and Mexico. I've been hybridizing the eastern growing species from Texas and Mexico because they are better at tolerating both drought AND rainfall as well as typically being much faster growing. One of the group of species, the coccineus cluster, is also much longer lasting in flower than most echinocereus and many other cactus species. So I started hybridizing with a focus on the changing climate - drought tolerant, moisture tolerant, rainy season indifferent (can take rain any time of year), floriferous, and longer lasting in bloom."

I think tree ferns and cycads are tied for interesting "almost" hardy enough plants that I wish I could grow in my garden. 

Check out that massive vertical staghorn fern planting!

This is my last photo from John's garden. It represents all the things I didn't get to explore that I hope I will be able to see next time.  

After we wrapped at John's garden, we took a quick look at the next door property that he's gardening for his dad, and then the three of us piled in Pam's car and went to check out a neighborhood garden that John worked on with it's owner during early COVID lockdown. It was amazing and I'll have photos from that garden on Monday!

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All material © 2009-2021 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. You certainly scored in making contact with John. Impressed as I am by his plants, the house's architecture stole the show for me.

    1. Ya, looking back at my photos I can see that I was pretty taken by it as well.

  2. The garden is great but I love the house. Looks like it belongs in Morocco or the Greek islands.

  3. For me too any awkwardness at meeting a stranger went away once John started showing us his garden. And I'm also marveling that we didn't explore the terraces and greenhouse. All I can think is we were completely overwhelmed by the amazing plants that John is growing, as if we were in Mexico or someplace tropical instead of west Austin.

    1. Exactly! I lost track of where exactly in the world we were.

  4. Great property--house and garden--mash up of Mayan Citadel and Rick's Café Americain. All the lushness protection from those TX Death Star summers.

    Thanks much for giving us a tour!

  5. What a fantastic wonderland of a place. Thanks John for letting our friends Loree and Pam tour your private bit of paradise so they may bring it to us. Hopefully you will get inside that most incredible home, Loree. Kudos on the cactus breeding!

  6. This is the kind of garden I want to move into. Anybody who grows ceratozamias *and* agaves is my friend!

    And the house!!!

    Please take me along if you get another chance to visit :-)

    1. Wouldn't that be fun? Loree and Gerhard descend upon Austin for garden touring!

  7. Definitely needs another tour!

  8. That house is so Socal to me-if I saw these photos without ID I would assume LA. It has a Griffith Park Planetarium vibe.

  9. Wow! So many plants and niches to explore. Surprising you resisted the urge to explore the greenhouse. I agree the house and garden do not scream Texas.

    1. I was so distracted by all the other cool plants!

  10. The Cycad and Tradescantia combination is simply stunning. I love the unique house design and colors; those terra-cotta looking blocks integrated into the walls are wonderful. I'm shocked you didn't step into the greenhouse... the excitement of the day must have played a roll.

    1. Definitely, and there was so much else to see. At the time I assumed we would circle back around...

  11. TropicalPDXJanuary 03, 2022

    Hi Laurie. We are able to grow cycads in Portland but you need to get the right ones. Cycas panzhihuensis is the most cold hardy one around and looks better than revoluta and is fully hardy here. Then there is C guizhihounsis, plus the various hybrids created from them. As well the plain old C revoluta placed in the right spot can thrive here too.


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