Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Horticultourism: Festival Hill, Round Top

Two weekends ago, we visited one of my favorite gardens in Texas--Festival Hill at Round Top.

Cloister garden at Festival Hill, Round Top

I had been before, but years ago, before my Horticultural Awakening, and only had vague memories of strange and whimsical stonework. Then, late last year, Matt & I were in the area, and I said, "Hey, what about that Festival Hill?"

And it turned out to be wonderful.

Steps leading from the Cloister Garden to the Mediterranean Garden. This sort of lovely, idiosyncratic detail--differing levels, an arch, a column, a gratuitous curve--is totally characteristic of the structures at Festival Hill

Festival Hill is a music camp and (classical) concert venue occupying a number of large, antique buildings surrounded by woods.  The grounds are defined by local stonemason Jack Finke's stonework, which charmingly combines the refined and the rough-hewn and looks like what you might get if a poorer civilization constructed itself out of the wreckage of an older, wealthier civilization.  I love it--decadent, quirky, and very well suited to its location.  Mr Finke, sadly, passed away in 2010--his truncated blog notes that his children took over his role as groundskeeper at FH as he took on more stone work.  I hope they or someone else is able to carry on in his tradition there.

A nifty stairwell with a funky balcony sort-of-a-thing

And then the plants, the result of the combined efforts of Madalene Hill, the famous herb gardener, Lynn Lowrey, the eminent plant collector and promoter, and current garden director Henry Flowers, are so neat!  An unusual passionflower, a rare willow, a myrtle I'd never seen before, a citrus-scented cypress, a whole panoply of named lavender cultivars...

Lemon Cypress - Cupressus macrocarpa 'Golden Crest'
I got more inspiration and enlightenment from the small "Cloister Garden"--about 1,000 sqft, I guess--than from the entire rainforest pyramid in Galveston the week prior to that (I had a very nice visit with friends, but horticulturally, the pyramid was a bit of a shrug).

Cloister Garden at Festival Hill - a small homage to 'Souvenir de la Malmaison', it contains S de la M as well as its sports, 'Kronprinzessin Viktoria' and 'Souvenir de St Anne'.

Whereas look at this niftiness--you want it, don't you?  Someday, it shall be MINE.  It's a super-curly willow, possibly  Salix alba 'Curly Locks'.

Salix alba 'Curly Locks'?

Similarly, look at this beautifully robust lavender, Lavandula stoechas, possibly 'Otto Quast'? I've never had much luck with lavender, but look how sturdy and attractive this is.

Lavandula stoechas, possibly 'Otto Quast'
It was growing in a whole bed dedicated to myriad cultivars of lavender, oregano and other silver-leafed herbs.

Mediterranean Garden--Madalene Hill ascribed this garden's success to excellent drainage and a thick mulch of gravel.

In addition, the grounds include a "pharmacy garden," with all kinds of obscure medicinal plants from around the world. It's fortunate that photographs don't capture temperature--our first visit was at the height of the drought last fall, and the garden was blistering, dessicated, and muggy. 

Pharmacy Garden--looks pretty good for the worst drought in living memory.
But they still contained many blooming plants.  The grounds outside of the garden were in more dire shape.  Look at this lovely bridge--over empty air and crispy weeds.

I bet this bridge looks really lovely when you can't see its Sac-rete foundations...

The pond is really quite big, but as you can see, the entire thing had evaporated.  And the woods were full of dead trees.

The salty crust at the bottom of what was once a pond

The map below shows you the extent of the pond--and the grounds as a whole, for that matter.  I added some purple smudges where the gardens (that I know about) are.  Our most recent visit was impromptu, and I was wearing utterly inappropriate dress sandals, so we didn't get to explore much to check back in.

Festival Hill gardens map
We need to go back soon to see how the pharmacy garden looks when it gets moisture, whether any water has collected in the pond, and how the woods are doing.

Another of the delightful details that characterize this place--why build just another bridge when you could build a spitting god's head bridge?

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