Tag Archives: gardens

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.

Ladies and Gentlemen, start your clippers.

Where has everybody been? Here at Big Red Sun, we’ve been working towards our PhD in City of Austin building codes. It’s scintillating. But somehow, I made time to make a last “pre-baby” run to Provence to mainline some contemporary garden design. We signed up for an uppity garden tour led by Mediterranean garden scholar and author Louisa Jones. Poor John Spong had no idea what he was in for.


There is oodles to tell- but i think the main take-away is clip your Mediterranean plants to show them your love. Nicole de Vesian, the mother of this style of provencal gardening, began dispersing it via her acolytes- most notably Marc Nucera. Every time I had encountered Nucera’s name, he was always described as a sculptor but/and he is also always described as the guy who clipped trees in these amazing shapes. Beautiful yes. Art? Sculptor? maybe not.


Mas Benoit, Nucera’s work with Idoux


Nucera’s work at Vesian’s La Louve But then we visited a not very well known garden, “Mas Benoit” by another Vesian acolyte Alain David Idoux. On the bus (yep, a bus?!) Louisa explained that Idoux was interested in geometry, the property owners collected contemporary art and greatly admired the artist Richard Long and ” american land artists”. Honestly- this sounded like the path to garden underwhelment or embarrassment- whichever is worse. But oh how wrong. How very very wrong. I have to admit- it was the first time I could conceive of a garden as a successful sculptural installation. The garden was really intense- I think because the intent of the designer was so clear. He was speaking clearly but in a most spare way, working in a truly minimalist vernacular, speaking in a quiet but huge way. I have never experienced anything like it- and clearly I really don’t have a good way to explain as evidenced by the sentence above OR anyway to show it from the pictures- which may actually be the key to it’s success? This man was not designing for a magazine photo- you need to be in this installation. The most I can muster about it’s success may be that it’s elements of construction are all extremely of the earth. There is no false note here. One of the first things you experience walking up to the farm house is this ante space. It features 2 trees in the yard and this broken vista through the clipped oaks to the back mountains. A bit later, one comes across a lavender planting- a wedge shape that acts as a kinetic sculpture as you walk along it’s length. The views open in relation to the sculpted tree in the field. The field relates to the agrarian nature of the region. This is all neat, but I didn’t really “see” it yet.


Up by the farm house, the planting design is luscious but quite spare even severe. (although later in the year i do believe they let the sage and lavender bloom so…voila)


A lawn lays in front of the house, the perimeters all touched by the clippers. Each tree sculpted over the years.


There is no path to lead you- but you know where you want to go- towards a subtle opening to the grass garden, an allée of olives- and towards the mountains.


The contrast of the grasses – which are to show in late summer are lovely with the clipped. As you enter the allée –it all falls into place. Everything you have seen before and what you will see after as you explore the garden. A large clearing is revealed and with in — sculpture trees. There, I said it. Yes, the trees were sculpture. they took my breath away. they are nothing. but… it made my heart ache.


And to the right another clearing and after, a meadow. And with in the clearing- the aforementioned homage to Mr. Long. And what do you know- did it rise above Richard Long or Robert Smithson? I’m not sure- but “i know it when i see it”, and this is art.


The rest of the garden humbly meanders along. There is no path to guide you. See a meadow and a crude bench from which one overlooks the meadow to the spiral.


Some rocks are lined up against the wild part of the garden to delineate. But now everywhere you looked- you saw the components of the garden differently. It’s hard to explain- but the trees, the clippings, the stones placed- all had a character. Not character. A character. They were individuals now. It was an odd awakening.


Walk along these rocks at the perimeter of the garden- come to the end and encounter a twisted olive- not to mention a massive oak that has been trimmed to guard the pool. (These Provençals think of pools as a necessary evil and tuck them away like a mistress perhaps?)


The owners keep the garden as Mr. Idoux intended- (He died prematurely and Mr. Nucera continues the garden) A full time gardener and his family live on the property and the owners visit often. The group appreciated the garden but didn’t love it. They thought it lacked soul, maybe wasn’t a “garden”. And perhaps they are right. There are no concessions to conventional needs (except that pool) but there are shady nooks, lawns, vistas, heart calming vistas in amongst the art- the garden makes you be in the land. not on the land. I have an urge to sum it up here- but I think that’s precisely not the point. more soon! xojb

It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.

I know i know- for a couple of reasons it’s easy to forget that i’m related to Dolly Parton. I try to play up the Anne Boylen side of the family for the sympathy card. But, you know I really relate to cousin Dolly when i’m trying to talk to clients about the price of…. subtle. I mean it’s like the older you get– it takes an inordinate amount of maintenance to look like you haven’t put any effort into your maintenance. And hear me now, but believe me later it’s as complicated to achieve that in the garden as it is under your chin.

Let’s start with chez Spong. We found a photo at the History Center of the original front of the house and decided to dial it back to pre- war chill.


At the time of purchase:



Sometime this summer:



And I confess, it seems annoying, even to me who understands why it costs so much, to pay to just take stuff away. But you know, pull up all those boring yaupons, get rid of all the excess stones, bricks, tiles, hire a really great hombre to wield a tiny little jackhammer to take off the additions to the patio while leaving the original 95 year old tile work, move the electric, re route the gas, hand dig around the heritage oak , bulldoze the wall and OMG look at all that dirt i just took out of that little bit of space down there?


And i really added were some limestone caps on the steps that were kind of already there under all the 80’s ca-ca. easy. and i’m installing a circular low wall that let’s us hang under the oak canopy. some grass. and you know. done. but mon dieu. it’s a fortune. BRS is too busy- i’m using subcontractors- i feel our client’s pain. I’ve been doing it in little bite sizes to hide the price from myself.


We’ve a couple other favorite clients who have faith in subtle. For a favorite recent project we arrived on site to this:




The client wanted it really to look like “nothing happened to the site- perhaps a bit enhanced”. So we planted thousands of natives. grasses, yuccas, some bushes, seeds etc. We pick axed them into the rock just like nature would have done it. The patient patient client was out of town during our install. She was sent photos that showed “all we had done that day” in which was all but impossible for her to see what she was paying for.