All posts by Julie Blakeslee

Show and Tell

Pam Penick- a homegrown garden writer asked to come visit my personal garden last week in preparation for next spring garden tours.  The request sent me into a bit of a tizzy.  I specifically chose not to plant this garden as a “show” garden.  I want it to be a garden of ideas and feelings.  Feelings are evanescent.  And how much of that do we want to tolerate in our garden? Personally, I feel this is the garden’s soul-  the comings and goings.  And that is how I like to think about blooms in the garden. The jasmine blooms, the wildflower blooms, the bluebonnets, the asters….In my private garden,  I plant loads and loads and loads of the same plant so when it does it’s thing it makes a very large impact.  I have a neighbor who has written me snail mail thank you letters for the breadth of the aster blooms on the perimeter of my garden that face her house.  I want to look forward to the swaths of bloom, watch them emerge, watch them reach their full vulgarity, watch it all fade & then remember it- contrasted with the rest of the year.

But in real life- when blooms are on the way out they are limp and brown.  The bluebonnets and wildflowers must go to seed so the brown stays until it explodes.  I fear I might have appalled our esteemed garden writer- my meadow does her thing in March and April and is crisping up come mid May- the time of our visit. (Although for the record I must say that everything else but the lower meadow was looking ok.)

And here of course lies a designer’s ultimate challenge- how to manage the comings and goings.  Gardens are nature improved non?  So the current thinking in my garden is how much can or should I manage les petites morts. Can we just liken it to post coital bliss? It’s got the same  messy aftermath.  But there are those who hop up and those who loll around in it.  Nature will have us loll around in it.  A highly designed garden does not loll around in funk.

There is a particular garden master – Fernando Caruncho- who is doing a lot of thinking about this. In his famous garden mas de las voltes, Sr. Caruncho features geometric fields of wheat.  The wheat emerges annually- is green, then turns gold, then is harvested and the bales placed in specific locations in the field. Note that he harnesses all this nature in a strict grid and juxtaposes it against evergreen structure of the garden.  Thus we can meditate on the agricultural cycles.  He expertly manages the death/the harvest of the plants.

His work is genius.  I’ve visited his personal garden, and it is well- quite personal. More personal than any of his client projects I have encountered. For a while now,  I’ve been wondering what the difference is between a designed garden and a designer’s garden- his had similar elements but had a different feeling.

While doing research for this I discovered that large portions of his famous garden had succumbed to a disease and had to be pulled out.

When I visited,  the garden looked like this- the shaped hedges are his signature.

This little red pavilion is more colloquial than anything I’ve seen in his estate gardens. We had lunch there with his little dog and wife Maru. His kids play in the shallow pools.

Now his garden looks like this:

The following is from an Architectural Digest story on the new plantings:  “For a year Caruncho tried every possible cure, but there was no hope. In despair, he ripped out everything that had flatlined, from the expanses of clipped boxwood to mounds of mature Escallonia that had lapped the garden kiosk like emerald waves. The scarred earth rebuked him: Caruncho himself had sparked the destruction. Now the magical retreat, a youthful triumph he had always assumed would remain the same, was gone. But its structure—the walled enclosures, the mysterious flights of steps, the U-shaped pergola topped with rebar lattice—had not changed. As he soon realized, it was simply waiting for him to cast off his grief and cultivate another incarnation.

“Gardens, like people, have a cycle: They are born, grow, mature, and die,” Caruncho observes. “For the first time in my life, I understood that. I needed to accept the new conditions but return to the original ideas.” As for the wounded acreage, he adds, “I began to understand it more deeply, as when you love someone who has been in your life for a long time.”

Today the garden’s famous austerity has given way to rational exuberance. For the past several years, Caruncho has filled the beds with thousands of white cosmos, an annual whose self-seeded display—what he calls “a moment of splendor,” with a catch in his voice—makes a joyful contrast to the architectural severity that encloses it. Flowers rise up, chest high, swaying in breezes, spreading like great clouds, and offering months of heart- stopping tenderness before vanishing from sight…..

“It is possible to have a garden that lasts forever but also is ephemeral,” Caruncho explains, noting that the cosmos’ fragile beauty has affected him deeply—professionally as well as emotionally. “Rebirth is the miracle of gardens, and that is something that will be with me for the rest of my life.”

This new information about his personal garden has really affected me.  I think about Sr. Caruncho often- his intellect, his skill, his discipline & importantly the way he seems able to get his clients to go along with his advanced ideas.

And yet- he and I have arrived separately at similar personal gardens.  Echoing the same themes. Must he too arrange his garden tours to avoid swaths of post orgasmic cosmo aftermath?  It seems as if it’s worth it to him- and his family- as it is to mine.

I guess a question that I will continue to ponder will be- if it is this important to us – we who could design anything- shouldn’t we offer our clients the same opportunities for extreme catch in your throat beauty?  Don’t they also know that the best orgasms come with a bit of clean up afterwards?


tom selleck hairy chest magnum pi 80s

Let’s talk about maintenance.




It’s up to us to make decisions about our own bits and pieces.  When I first started visiting potential gardens with BRS, I had many a client ask me for a zeroscape.  I always giggled knowingly at them, ha ha wink, we all know the word is really xeriscape – defined as a landscape that uses xeric plants.   But, um. No. It’s come to our attention that there are folks who believe a garden needs nada. never.  That we might guarantee their garden will never have weeds, nor frost damage, will laugh off drought, humidity, dog pee and drunken marauders.  Never would it need a clip, or a pinch, a nip or full bush whack.

We quickly began to associate people’s garden maintenance requests with their personal grooming styles and I’m here to tell you-  in our heads, we think we are spot on.  So yeah, we are thinking about your bush when you are talking about bushes.  Really.  I’m not saying we all fall into strict categories- there is winter and summer grooming for us and our gardens agreed?  But let’s name it to tame it- a little grooming all the time is just a good idea.

Speaking of-  last spring I decided to rip out the Hades Garden.  It was getting too expressive. Imagine that in a bikini? We were.


And truth be told, I’m feeling the need for some C O N T R O L. clipped tight clean control. Something that will do what I will it to do. And it’s a wee bit sad that I have a better chance of mother nature bending to my will than my two and a half-year-old.

Thus the new bliss garden.

at install last spring:


We used a few things we had hanging around the nursery and added pretty silver, blue, purple and yellow. And I’ve made it smell good- loads of lavender, so if I’m having a little melt down at work I just pop out into the new garden “to clip”.  It gets clipped several times a week and it’s responding with vigor. Nicole Vesian said you can show your plants you love them by giving them a good clipping.  This garden is an homage to her work with which I’m rather obsessed.


Voila.  She is already putting out this spring after a winter of pruning and light fertilizing. We experimented with fertilizing the lavender all winter as it’s its growing season. And it’s about to burst forth with controlled lavender love.

I’ll tell you though- when a client comes in and says I want that… and points to the new Bliss garden. We have to say, wellllllllll.  Will you love it and feed it and groom it weekly?

A bit more about the beauty of loving garden care.

Some of our most favorite-est projects are our gardens at Josephine house and Jeffrey’s. Larry McGuire loves JoHo to look like a rich woman’s yard and well… a-hem, we are here to make your techni- color dreams come true.

When we inherited the Josephine House property, it was feeling a little neglected.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.50.04 PM

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 4.20.42 PM

Bravely brushing aside jeers “hey hey tutti-frutti” from other landscapers driving by- (that’s you Jeff Neal) we quickly put aside our innate snobbery about annuals and dug deep for our inner California housewife- little did we know, she rested very very close to the surface.Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 4.23.52 PM Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 4.23.42 PM Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.50.50 PM
Now, we trip over one another to find the best color combos that can bedazzle and withstand the plethora of dog pee and Christian Louboutins popping about. And yeah, it needs bi-weekly love to look like this but so do you.

Slowly we’ve been asked to help other McGuire Moorman properties. Lambert’s is a particular love- minimal cowboy chic is our latest theme.Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 4.29.07 PM Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 4.29.00 PM

Yep even cactus need love and care to look their very best.  Last spring we were asked to take on the beast of Perla’s on south congress.  Dios mio- it’s hard out there being a plant- but we are getting her rhythm and we will thwart and stun the garden trespassers with our eye popping Long John’s Silver color theme.  We have also been fortunate to add Clark’s to our constellation: “preppy plants please”.   We do love how McGuire Moorman let’s each property find it’s own personality and we are honored to be working with them and  the gorgeous By Georges as well.


Go East

The Violation made BRS do some quick and deep thinking about needing to move office.  Brilliantly- Selena and Dylan founded BRS on the East side of ATX in 1994.   After 22 years- the east side is a big part of the firm’s identity.  Personally, it took me a little time to get my East Side on.  But soon our neighbors were like family. The 6th street cowboy gives me a shout out. img_4646

When the churro trailer set up next door, I knew not to assume that they were frying this gringa up to serve to tourists. Or actual dogs for that matter. I stopped trying to find the home of every chicken  I found wandering on the street and finally stopped bringing fabulous shiny piñatas to every party.

And when we looked in other parts of town to office- they just seemed a little too. too. not BRS.  Thus our buckling down to try and stay put.  Last week we took a trip to the history center to see if historically there was parking with this building.  img_8403

This photo is from sometime b/t 1903-1914.  But even before that in 1887 Kunz Groceries and Beer was on this corner.  First street seems to have always been a mix of commercial and houses.  It’s understatement to say that the history and politics of this neighborhood are very tough.  After settling in our new home for a few years,  dsc07268

we arrived at work one morning to see our neighbors Sergio and Monica’s shop being bulldozed. This shit actually happens?  I felt like a complete gringa asshole once again- never mind the fact that I had a yelling street fight with the new owner of the demolished building when he came to threaten me and my business the week before. The new owner told the Statesman — he wanted his building to be beautiful just like Big Red Sun.  It’s confusing to become part of the fabric of this old neighborhood- we are valued in some ways but I’m sure also vilified for gentrifying.  The CoA has contacted the business owners on Cesar Chavez about creating an IBIZ district- we sat in a CoA meeting and shuddered as we contemplated the city “solving” for “connectivity” issues on the street.   This charming neighborhood has infected me.   Last one in-  shut the door to change.   I’m sure that’s not the answer- but we do know that we have to honor this neighborhood, these neighbors and the changing city.  And if the CoA is asking for our help- we’d be remiss to leave.


So- remember how shitty 2016 was? It ended for BRS with a parking code violation called in by one of our neighbors.  As a result, the city has asked us to pave our courtyard garden to make it available for parking.

As a garden design firm, our garden is obviously an important part of our business identity. It’s also a hardworking space for our business-

For instance:


wait- there’s also a video (it’s worth a click)

This is just a day in the life of our hardworking garden. 2017 note- when someone comes and asks to film an underwear commercial in your garden ALWAYS say yes.


When we leased this building- the garden looked like this.  l1070322

We cut the door into our space for loads of light and also so we could have a constant connection to the outdoors. Good for our soul and morale. Not to mention our baby plants- here grow our flower seeds we are starting for the Josephine house summer garden. img_8394

The courtyard has been a showroom/role model  for our high end synthetic turf that we try and suggest to almost every client. This is an installation shot of the lawn.


We are a garden design and maintenance firm that does NOT own a lawn mower on principle.   We have to have saved millions of gallons of City water from installing these all over town. It’s a big leap of faith for someone to put in a plastic lawn (!) so it’s great to have one that can be test driven.

Back to our violation

The City’s request is for 9 parking spaces and a fire lane on the property that must be paved. PAVED?! the antichrist to gardeners.

The trashy little secret is that we do park in this courtyard and drive all over it…. storing trucks overnight etc. I’m telling you this turf is tough. img_8402

Thus after some major whining and flopping around, we’ve decided to take on the challenge of trying to abide by city’s needs while being green and staying beautiful in the process. We know the city also wants to encourage new thinking in terms of parking surface solutions, run off containment, heat reduction and tree health (note the heritage pecan at our fence line).

BRS will try and update our field notes here as we navigate the halls of our great city to find a kinder gentler alternative to paving the playgrounds of our scantily clad brothers and sisters, puppies, butterflies, bees and flowers.

“Meadow Mania”

So clearly having 2 chitlins has slowed mon field notes. It’s nice to be able to look back and see that the babies have made a softer and fuzzier me. And it’s not just my new baby fat and hairy legs. Long before they were twinkles in a petri dish, I had dreams of chubby little legs running through the meadow by our house. The details of not having an actual meadow fluttered way above my head. “Don’t worry sweetheart of a new hubbie, I’m a gardener- we’ll just make a meadow.”


Step 1- wait for the long abandoned and mostly waterlogged house next door to come out of trust.




Step 2- Bless it’s 1980’s soul and then quickly take it out of it’s misery.


Step 3- call friends at Native American Seed


Step 4- dazzle your new neighbors with tractors


Step 5- Voila- your new meadow.


Step 6-



Any of my fellow gardeners feeling a little fib in my pictograph?  Think it went something a little more like this….


Step 1- agonize. fret. wring hands. argue about the property next door. Know that any new buyer will need 3 stories to get a city view- and an excellent view of our back garden and nekkid swimming.


Step 2-  Secure next door property- knock it down and unleash a plague of rats on the entire neighborhood. starting with your own house.


Step 3- wait until the soil is perfect temperature, finally spread the seed


Install temporary irrigation, watch the birds convene daily to eat the grass seeds and then suffer 2 monster turd floaters that wash the majority of all the seed down the softly sculpted hill.


Step 4- re-sod with heinous squares of buffalo turf that take eons to establish


Step 5- finally get some grass traction- contemplate reverting to your father’s way of killing fire ants via pouring gasoline down the mound and lighting on fire. take refuge in Aztec Pest Control’s kinder and gentler way.


Step 6- crouch low when the city code inspector drives by frequently- has someone called me in for not cutting my lawn? Is there a code against having long grass? shouldn’t I know this somehow?


Step 7- Finally, get some luck, pull up the temporary irrigation after 2 seasons and get la niña!



I mean, was it worth it? Yes yes yes. I’m quite obsessed with it- I love it in the winter when it’s all gold and blowing. In the spring when it’s 5 bluebonnets and thousands of primroses bloom (the majority of the primroses at the bottom of the hill- ahem).  Slowly, the other wildflowers are coming in- wine cups and other friends are self-sowing.


The second baby comes and what…is it hormonal….as we awaited Leon’s birth- in some weird nesting thing last fall I went out and dug in 100’s of flower seeds into the upper meadow. I’m telling you now that about 4 of them bloomed this spring.


So in a fit of maternal crafting this fall – Willie and I decided to make a butterfly garden in the upper meadow- with live plants. No more of this seed shit.   And it isn’t pretty when the hormones have access to a planting crew,  coincide with the native plant sale at the wildflower center  & a need for some “alone time” in the nurseries.


I purchased oh about 150 4” plants. Willie and I dotted them all over the upper meadow & called my long suffering irrigation guy.


They came through my beautiful meadow and trenched to run temporary drip to the butterfly plants.


Is it worth it?  Before we could even get the plants in the ground we had loads of butterflies. And watching the babies eyes light up is all that I had dreamed and more.  Trust me hubbie- we’ll just “make a meadow. It’s what we do.”