The Little Purple House


There are whimsical gardens and then there is Lucinda Hutson’s “Texican” garden – an unapologetic explosion of color that is pure FIESTA. Brought up in El Paso, Texas she regularly traveled to Mexico and central America whose colors and traditions continue to influence her. Lucinda loves to make everday life a fiesta and encourages others to do the same, whether it’s with festive cocktails…vibrant garden-to-plate dishes…or creative design ideas from her “Texican” artisan cottage and gardens.


Set amid a row of more typical Austin homes, the vivid purple facade of her 1940’s cottage offers a hint at what lies both within and beyond but nothing could have prepared me for the extravagance of lush tropical vines and billowing flowers that both framed and engulfed a series of garden rooms.

The front garden was a jungle of rampant plant growth where dozens of flitting butterflies added to the vibrant display.Of course Lucinda had to take this a step farther and introduce her  own life-size version….

A guardian butterfly flutters in the breeze

A guardian butterfly flutters in the breeze

I wonder if Lucinda ever takes a moment to bushwhack her way to this cozy nook and contemplate her magical kingdom?


Themed vignettes


Succulents reminiscent of seaweed frame a mermaid, swimming in a seashell adorned grotto

Each themed room was reminiscent of a fantastical sidewalk painting, straight from Mary Poppins. My hurried snapshots, taken on an intensely sunny day cannot even begin to do justice to these kaleidoscopic displays but I’ve given you some great links at the end of this post which include Lucinda’s own images taken in optimal lighting. Be sure to enjoy those!


Decorative plates edge the kitchen garden


Every party needs music!

One of Lucinda’s offices is in the garden. Opening the door is an invitation to enter her Stairway to Heaven, a remarkable mosaic showpiece.


“Stairway to Heaven”

Colored walls

Heading deeper into the back garden a cluster of buildings painted in equally bold colors provide Lucinda a series of additional canvases for her artistic touch


Colorful oil cloth was used to cover these shelves, instantly waking up the dark purple wall

A weathered wooden curio cabinet holds

A weathered wooden curio cabinet holds Mexican tiles


One of my favorite wall displays was the collection of Mexican children’s chairs, which Lucinda uses to perch tools or coffee cups as the need arises.


Using vines

Vines play an important role in this garden, taking the eye skywards while introducing more color and framing scenes.


Bougainvillea catching the morning sun


Why grow one vine up a birdhouse when you can grow two????

The perfect color echo

The perfect color echo

Tiny details

No opportunity is lost to add party flair.


If you’d like to learn more about Lucinda, and see fabulous photos of all her garden check out her website.

You may also enjoy her book Viva Tequila!, a festive blend of inspired recipes for fabulous drinks and dishes, lively personal anecdotes, spicy cultural history, and colorful agave folk art proverbs and lore. It would make a wonderful gift for the party lover in your life, or anyone interested in anthropology. Check out my affiliate link below:

Evolution, Renovation and Rejuvenation – Revisited

Updated trellis structures transformed this space

Updated trellis structures and a clean plant palette transformed this space

I originally published this post in November 2011 on my old blog and continue to see the images re-pinned on Pinterest as well as receiving emails about the custom trellis design. Since it clearly struck a chord with so many I decided to re-post it here, with larger photographs, some new images and minor text updates.

Sometimes it only takes a few simple changes to transform an outdoor space.

Gardens evolve; trees grow, shade patterns shift, personal tastes change and before you know it what once was beautiful now looks tired and untidy.

BEFORE - the old arbors were beyond help

BEFORE – the old arbors were beyond help

The problems

This garden surrounds an elegant home in Bellevue, WA. The original landscaping was done 15 years ago and has been tweaked a few times since then. However the narrow garden border at the back of the home was in need of help. The arbors were sagging and the overgrown Armand’s clematis (Clematis armandii) which smothered them made the space feel dark and dated. Climbing hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomalis) had been added to fill in the back of these arbors but never bloomed so did nothing for the space.

Two Hinoki cypress had seen better days as they struggled with the reduced sunlight and of course there had been the endless ‘hole plugging’ that we are all partial to. In fact I am probably to blame for at least some of that. Whenever I removed something from the container gardens for this client I always asked if she would like it for the garden… So there was a hellebore here and a clump of black mondo grass there resulting in a mish-mash of plants. That onesie-twosie thing!!

The wish list

Yet all this took was a little editing and the replacement of two arbors with something more modern to achieve an artistic, cohesive design. The new look better reflects both the homes traditional architecture and the homeowners desire for something “professional, clean and organized”.

Having designed container gardens at this home for several years I had a good sense of plant preferences, color palette and style. I was therefore asked to draw up a planting plan for a low maintenance design that would be mostly evergreen yet offer lots of color.

BEFORE - a series of photos with text helped to communicate ideas

BEFORE – a series of photos with text helped to communicate ideas

When renovating a mature garden such as this one, it isn’t always necessary to draw a scaled plan. I simply took a series of photographs to work from and made notes on the health of plants, soil quality, key problem areas etc. By adding text to the images I was able to communicate my vision for a new planting plan effectively with the clients as well as Berg’s Landscaping who were going to be doing the installation and building the new arbors.

What goes? What stays?

I started by removing all the little ‘bits’ which had been added over the years such as Japanese anemones (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica) and Kenilworth ivy (Cymbalaria muralis) together with the monster evergreen clematis, two sad looking Hinoki cypress and a few other under-performing shrubs and perennials.

I decided to keep the aucuba, even though they look a bit spindly right now, as they are tough shrubs that pack a lot of color into a shady garden. I will prune them in spring to encourage more branching. Likewise the magnolia has seen better days but I am going to give it some TLC and see if it can’t be revived and returned to its former glory.

What’s new?

The aucuba, magnolia and Charity Oregon grape (Mahonia x media) were all broadleaf evergreens that suggested a color scheme of yellow and green – a good start but not vibrant enough. With the Hinoki removed I needed to add two new substantial shrubs.   I knew the homeowner’s favorite color was red so I decided on two Yuletide camellia (Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’) with their striking red winter blooms, highlighted by a large central boss of yellow stamens.


Yuletide camellia added my clients favorite color while repeating the yellow found elsewhere. Photo credit; Monrovia

The other major addition was the deciduous tree Ruby Vase Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica ‘Ruby Vase’). This more columnar variety is an outstanding tree for narrow spaces.

Winter flowers on the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood continue the red accent color

Winter flowers on the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood continue the red accent color

With rich fall color that lasts for many weeks, beautiful bark, red winter flowers and burgundy new growth in spring it was the perfect tree to replace an old madrone, adding height as well as four season interest.

The new trellises

The new trellises completely change the whole look and feel of the back garden. Using cedar and recycled metal panels they have created unique focal points. Whereas the old arbors seemed dark and heavy these are light and airy. The addition of the rusted metal panels lends a modern touch without appearing too contemporary.





The metal panels were found at a local architectural salvage yard and the cedar frame designed around it to fit the space. (No, I do not have any formal plans for this design – the napkin has long since been thrown away!)

The unusual flowers of Cathedral Gem sausage vine

The unusual flowers of Cathedral Gem sausage vine

Such structures deserved a special vine yet there aren’t a lot of options for evergreen vines which bloom in the shade. I was excited therefore to hear about Cathedral Gem sausage vine (Holboellia coriacea) introduced as part of the Dan Hinkley collection in 2011 by Monrovia. This beauty has fragrant white flowers in late winter and early spring, thrives in the shade and is hardy to zone 6. Of course as luck would have it, none were available locally and I needed four! Monrovia went out of their way to help me and the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA generously agreed to let me tag these onto his order so I could have them in time. Great team work – thank you!

Heuchera Tiramisu foliage perennial plant with leaves in amber shades of gold, yellow, orange, bronze, red

Heuchera Tiramisu marries the golden yellow and amber shades. Photo credit: Monrovia

To add sparkle and color under each of these I selected the golden leaved  Tiramisu heuchera to partner with Pink Frost hellebore ( a favorite of the homeowner) and the transplanted black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) for a totally evergreen, modern combination.

Sweet Tea heucherella mingling with aucuba

Sweet Tea heucherella mingling with aucuba

Being mindful of the request for color I also added clusters of the richly colored Sweet Tea heucherella under the camellias. These large, bushy, evergreen perennials contrast well with the glossy camellia foliage while their deep red veins will form a subtle color echo with the camellia blooms. Sweet Tea also blooms for months creating a delicate frothy appearance as their tiny white flowers dance on slender stems.


L to R: Japanese forest grass, Pink Frost hellebore, black mondo grass

The final detail was to simply add more of the Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) to complete a sense of rhythm along the entire border length.

Finishing Touches

Clusters of container gardens planted in a similar plant and color palette added to the sense of unity while offering additional seasonal color.

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The end result was fresh, colorful and interesting. Although new plants were added the look wasn’t fussy or over-planted but rather clean lined and tidy. It made sense.

Don’t be afraid of tackling the renovation of a mature garden border. Work with a designer to create a master plan and bring new life to your outdated space.

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Serenity in Seattle; my favorite display


While most visitors to the 2016 Northwest Flower and Garden Show were jostling for position to photograph the large display gardens, I found myself drawn to the smaller City Living  exhibits. Each designer worked with a 6 x 12 space defined by pavers to represent a high rise apartment balcony. The criteria was that all materials used in the display  could be carried through the home to the exterior. In addition the glass walls of the Skybridge where these exhibits were located should be kept open and the Seattle skyline view incorporated.

Ten designers took the challenge and created lavish displays incorporating edible gardens, lush container plantings and furniture that ranged from rustic to contemporary; something for every taste and style. While each one sparked ideas the exhibit that was my personal favorite was From Sea to Shining Sea, designed by Dee Montpetit of Ma Petite Gardens.  From the dusky purple and silver plant palette to the watery hues of the containers and the innovative use of fence pickets it afforded a wealth of take-home ideas for every gardener.

Create Your Own Style

When selecting containers many homeowners will opt for a matching set, perhaps varying the size while keeping the same shape and color but there are other ways to create an interesting cluster. For example one could stick with the same style (rustic, contemporary or traditional) but vary the color or do as Dee did and select a number of pots that are all  in cool shades of aqua but vary the style and finish.

aqua pots

A stunning selection of ceramic containers from AW Pottery were featured

This is a wonderful way to add some interest into a small space with different textures yet avoid the overall look being too busy. From a rustic finish with  detailed embossing  to a traditional high gloss and smooth finish and an intriguing ribbed detail, these ceramic containers are beautiful independently but become works of art as a composition.

Notice also how Dee used these containers in different ways.


This container cluster has it all; water, tropicals, perennials and fragrant spring bulbs


A shallow rectangular container was used to grow a vine up a woven fence panel for vertical interest, a tall vessel is used as a bubbling fountain, others hold shrubs, perennials, grasses and fragrant spring bulbs to give the illusion of garden borders, creating a sense of intimacy for the sitting nook.


Notice how the deeper brown-grey tones of the container are picked up by the New Zealand flax and wooden fence pickets

Plant Selection

It is important when viewing show gardens to realize that considerable license is taken when combining plants. Shade and sun lovers share space, while drought tolerant and thirsty plants also co-habit for the brief duration of the show. Likewise tropicals and Pacific Northwest natives mingle for a few days. The designer wants to inspire you to look for interesting foliage and flowers, to vary the height, leaf texture and form and to have fun. To that effect Dee used whatever she could find in Seattle in February! The result is a soothing but visually exciting palette in shades of blue-green, dusky purple and silvery white.


Westland astelia has beautiful dusky lavender foliage with silver overtones

Intriguing Details

Does your patio have an unattractive wall that you need to disguise? I love the way Dee addressed this in her display.


The careful placement of a wood framed mirror gives the illusion that this space is larger while also bouncing additional light onto the patio. The reflection even appears to work as ‘art’, bringing color to an otherwise blank space.


On the opposite wall, weathered wooden pickets are tied together with jute , creating an informal trellis on which the evergreen clematis can climb. This mix of materials was a lovely  personal touch, crossing stylistic boundaries to marry rustic with elegant. You could probably use old pallet wood for this project if the length of each board was sufficient.

Lighting is important in any garden and what could be easier than this string of patio lights?


The organic nature of these vine spheres doesn’t compete with the other elements in this small space the way Edison bulbs or dragonfly shaped lights might for example. A hurricane lantern containing a mosaic glass candle added light to the table.

Dee even added frosted beach glass as a mulch to several pots, again in the soft watery shades.


Dee has demonstrated unequivocally that small in size doesn’t mean sacrificing style. Rather it is about expressing your creativity in such a way that it balances your desire for individuality with an eye to scale, proportion, texture and color. Has this given you some ideas for your own garden?


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Fragrant Fall Favorites

The fragrant white flowers of glossy abelia have bright pink sepals in fall and winter. Photo credit; Taken at Wisley Gardens by

Many of you enjoyed last week’s post on the katsura tree, loving its caramel apple scent as much as I do. Did you know that there are also several shrubs and perennials which spice up the fall garden with their fragrance too?

Glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) is a somewhat sprawling shrub with tubular white pink flowers along its arching stems all summer and fall. It is evergreen in many areas, but does lose a proportion of its glossy green leaves here in the colder parts of Seattle, although not before they gain a wonderful rosy glow. Adored by hummingbirds, I like to use this as an informal hedge or screen. For the tidier minded gardener abelia can be sheared for size and shape, but I can’t help feeling that if God had intended it to have a poodle or pompom cut He would have created it that way. Just saying. Plant it in full sun or light shade – and put the shears away so it can spread to 5’ tall and wide. Hardy in zones 6-9.

Dianthus 'Firewitch' may be small in size but BIG in fragrance. Photo credit; Missouri Botanical Garden

Cheddar pinks (Dianthus sp.) –how can something so small smell so powerful? While there are many different Dianthus available, it is the low growing rockery group which readily come to mind when I think about reliable fall flowers and fragrance. In fact ‘Firewitch’ seems to have flowers for at least 7 months of the year in my garden! While each hot pink flower may be petite there is nothing subtle about its spicy perfume. Use it in containers or at the front of a garden border in full sun and well-drained soil. Hardy in zones 3-9.

Sweet autumn clematis may be a thug, but it is a beautiful and fragrant thug at least. Photo credit; Wikimedia Commons

Sweet autumn clematis (Clematis ternifolia) – love it or hate it, the sweet autumn clematis lives up to its name. Whether you consider it vigorous or invasive, there’s no denying that this delightful vine has considerable potential to swallow an arbor but if you’re up for the challenge then you will be rewarded with weeks of starry white flowers exuding a sweet vanilla scent. Plant on a sturdy structure in full sun and well-drained soil – then get out of the way! Hardy in zones 4-10 it will grow 20’ in a single season.

A contemporary white, yellow and black scheme with daphne 'Eternal Fragrance' as the star. It is partnered with 'Delta Dawn' coral bells, black mondo grass and white 'bud bloomer' heather which echoes the color of the daphne's flowers

Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ (Daphne transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’)– When someone mentions ‘daphne’ I immediately think of winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’) with its 3” long elliptical green leaves edged in creamy yellow and an intoxicating perfume that fills the February air. This week I was looking for the perfect fragrant plant for a container and came across ‘Eternal Fragrance’ daphne. It has smaller green leaves than the winter daphne and although its main flowering period is in spring it blooms reliably through fall. Certainly the one I found was a mass of buds – the promise of many heady weeks to come! Try it as a centerpiece in a container which receives afternoon shade and place it near a door or window to enjoy the fall fragrance. Hardy in zones 6-9 but may be deciduous below 0’F.

The unassuming fragrant olive has an unforgettable perfume. Photo credit; Monrovia

Fragrant tea tree, Fragrant olive or Tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) – my blogging friend Deb Elliott wrote recently about this large evergreen shrub and its apricot-like fragrance. Take a side trip to Deb’s Garden and see what she enjoys most about this fall beauty and how it can be incorporated into your own garden.

At this time of year those of us who live in colder climates begin our gardening hibernation  – enjoying our garden through the windows rather than from the patio. I challenge you to pull out a sweater and take a sensory walk around your garden. Do you still have herbs and vegetables to taste? Are there wispy grasses to run your fingers through? Are the birds flitting in and out of your bushes enjoying the berry and seed head buffet? Stand still, close your eyes and breathe deeply. What scents drift across the autumnal air to tease you?  If there is little to note then consider the katsura tree I introduced you to last week or select one of the plants featured here.

Whether you have acreage or just a container garden there is always room for fragrance in fall.

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Priceless parsnips

deer resistant vegetable garden

Fit for the Prince of parsnips – our new vegetable garden. (PLANS AVAILABLE – SEE BELOW)


“there are perfectly good stores where you can buy parsnips you know”…………

…….so commented  a  dear friend who couldn’t quite wrap her head around why we were spending many months and more than a few dollars to construct the Taj Mahal of vegetable gardens.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you may recall my War of the Parsnips  in which I vowed to thwart the Duvall vole population from decimating my treasured vegetable – a family favorite for Thanksgiving dinner. I then made the mistake (according to my long suffering husband) of going on a garden tour and seeing the perfect design for a wildlife proof vegetable enclave.

Somehow it all begins with big machinery!

It began with a bobcat – the sort that churns up the grass big time, not the wild animal variety which would have created less of a mess. Trenches were dug to lay drainage pipe (we have ‘water issues’) and hardware cloth – that sturdy, fine metal mesh which keeps out burrowing critters, which was sunk about 3’ deep around the perimeter.

A steel mesh was buried underground to thwart the voles then pinned onto the insides of the lower boards


The two fences are spaced 5′ apart which allows for various bed/path widths

Next was the fence itself – the ‘boing-boing’ fence as it has been nicknamed. You see we’re in deer country and deer easily ‘boing’ over anything less than an 8’ fence to munch on the other side. However the vegetable garden was already almost equal in square footage to our modest home so the last thing we wanted was a really tall enclosure which would dwarf the house in height too. So we have two 5’ fences, 5’ apart, the principle being that deer won’t jump when they’re not sure they have clearance on the other side. In otherwise they can’t ‘boing-boing’ in or over a 5’ span.

As for fencing material we chose hog wire galvanized panels that have smaller holes at the bottom and bigger holes at the top. Rabbits can’t get through the small holes and deer can’t get their muzzles through the bigger ones. A solid 12” base stops moles getting in at ground level. Actually numerous mole hills around the perimeter suggest that several have tried and got a serious headache.

Since the gate at each end is only ‘single’, the pergola adds the necessary additional height to prevent the deer jumping

The gates match the fence panels but have a pergola overhead – again keeping deer out but also giving me somewhere to add honeysuckle and of course looking great.

Inside the enclosure the raised beds are 12” high and 18” or 3’ deep depending upon their intended use. Each panel is screwed together so if one board rots it can easily be replaced without taking the whole box apart. Raspberry beds are 3’ wide for example but 18” is plenty for leeks and onions. The main pathways are a comfortable wheelbarrow width of 4’ with 2’ for smaller paths.

All the main beds are 3′ wide – easy to reach from either side.


The only thing that isn’t working well? The vegetables! I hesitated to post this blog since I can’t show you a flourishing kitchen garden. Rather most beds are empty (we’ve only just finished construction) and the few veggies look pretty pathetic compared to other years thanks in part to our terrible spring. However it does mean you can see the structure which is perhaps more helpful.

One great benefit of the design is that I have plenty of sturdy fencing on which to espalier apples, train sweet peas or grow beans without additional frames.

Each panel frames a view – here our meadow. The sturdy panels make training vines easy.

The only thing left to do is add some gravel around the perimeter to keep the grass back and maintain a tidy edge. A bigger budget might allow for bricks or steel.

So while farmers markets and organic produce sections in the stores might offer parsnips for sale, nicely scrubbed and ready to cook, our parsnips are just minutes from garden to table and you’ll have to believe me when I tell you their flavor is superior to  any I’ve bought.


Thanks to the talents of my amazing husband  the voles can go hungry this year.


Our vegetable garden has been featured in Groundbreaking Food Gardens by Niki Jabbour as the ‘Critter-proof Garden‘ (Storey, 2014). Explore this book using my affiliate link:

It was also a cover story in issue 170 (August 2016) of Fine Gardening magazine.

Andy and I also teach an online course for Craftsy ‘Building a Raised Bed Garden’ that you may be interested in. This link will also give you up to 50% off!

NEW! Garden Plans

To get details of the downloadable plans for this garden and to purchase them click here


More on Deer Resistant Gardening

My next book on Deer-Resistant Design (Timber Press, June 2019) will showcase 13 gardens from across the United States that demonstrate how artistic design need not be compromised by the presence of deer. If you’d like to find out more and be notified when it releases be sure to sign up for my newsletter (you’ll get a GREAT free gift as a thank you too!)