Sisterdale

Hill Country Venture

by Celia Hayes

So, knowing that on Saturday, May 10, that we will be tied up all day in the hot-pink-and-zebra-striped booth in the Beall’s parking lot at 281 and Bulverde Crossing for the Bulverde Spring market – and that we had some projects to finish before then – my daughter and I declared Friday, May 2 to be our personal holiday, and embarked on a short road trip into the Hill Country. Yes, we love the Hill Country, especially when it appears to have been blessed with slightly more rain than we have had in San Antonio. I wanted to get some snaps that I could use for the cover of my next book, but alas – the bluebonnets were at their best last month.

We went up through the back-road between Boerne and Luckenbach, which leads through Sisterdale; home of the Sister Creek Winery, and the Sisterdale Market just across the street from it – a tiny market, eatery and weekend event venue, where Chico the Tiny Chihuahua returned miraculously on last New Years Day, after an absence of about three weeks. We had a nice chat with the owner and admiring Chico, who apparently survived by hiding out in armadillo holes and drinking from a tiny spring, where his even tinier footprints were later noted. The Sisterdale Market is a charming place, in an old house by the side of the road. During Prohibition days, there was an illicit still in operation in the cellar – whoa – a cellar, for real? The still itself was, according to the current owner, taken out and buried someplace out in back. You’d have thought that the metal parts would have been easily found … but between Sister Creeks, the soil is rich and deep, and easily-dug.

The Sister Creek Winery is another indicator of how steadily the Hill Country is progressing to a state where it might yet be mistaken for the south of France; not only have entrepreneurs experimented with producing goat cheese, olive oil and lavender over the last twenty years or so – there are also vineyards galore. Sister Creek is one of the longer-established; even on a non-holiday Friday there were cars outside – including a massive white stretch limo.

The show-room is an old cotton-gin, built of heavy oak beams, low-ceilinged and smelling of ancient wood. The newer part, where the heavy-lifting of making wine is done, has been added at the back; rooms where the grapes are processed and aged, first in huge stainless-steel tanks, and then in wooden barrels – rank after rank, each labeled with what they are and how long they have been sitting. Some of them are rather heavily stained around the massive wooden bung on top; and that lends another wonderful odor. When I was a very small child, I remember visiting a winery with my parents and grandparents; a wonderful place, set in a garden, and one huge wooden wine-vat, which must have measured at least thirty feet across, and two or three stories tall. It had been retired from active wine-ageing duty and converted into a kind of pavilion in the garden, but the smell of it inside was positively intoxicating in itself. I don’t know if any of the wineries here now age wine in huge wooden barrels like that any more – but it would be a landmark if they did. After all, everything in Texas is supposed to be bigger.

Renaissance Fair

Ren Faire

by Celia Hayes

I’ve always thought there was a need in these mostly settled American late 20th century time for people to dress up and be something else for a while. There are local hard-core historical reenactors who do get very, very deep into this, in part to educate people generally about specific events and times in American history. Then there is the Society for Creative Anachronism, where lurk those folks who do more of the European medieval thing, with jousting and swordfights and all that. And the science fiction conventions, where fans of particular movies and TV shows costume for the duration, and take it all very seriously. My daughter and I had a friend through the Salt Lake City con who routinely dressed as a Klingon. One year he came as a Star Fleet officer, and we didn’t recognize him at all, until he spoke – he had a strong Scots accent. But then there are those who just get into it for fun at a Renaissance fair, where the costumes and gear are required for performers and vendors, and optional for the rest of us.

I only did the full Tudor/Elizabethan costume once – when Mom took us to the original and founding Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Southern California, sometime in the late 1960s. Which was held at that time in a dusty and live-oak grown park in Agoura, a place which so little looked like England that it may as well have been a tropical island in the South Pacific. By which I mean, it didn’t much look like England at all. But the enthusiasts set up booths and pavilions and tents, and there were jesters and jugglers and Queen Elizabeth’s court, all in heavy brocade and velvet costumes, and vendors selling whole roasted turkey legs, and pastries made with whole wheat flour – which tasted pretty much like cardboard. Banners flew in the clear California summer air, there was heraldry everywhere, and some kind of Rennaissance-ish costume was encouraged.

I made costumes for my younger sister and myself. Mom had sacrificed a couple of tablecloths, a sheet or two, and I had bought a couple of packets of RIT dye – my usual raw materials when it came to costumes – and a large roll of gold fabric upholstery braid bought from a small upholstery shop on Foothill Boulevard which was going out of business. Their bad fortune, but my good, for I paid only a couple of dollars for the roll of braid, and it was enough to lavishly trim a pair of Tudor-style gowns – with matching French hoods. I think I drew up the patterns by eye from a costume book, inspired by having watched The Six Wives of Henry VIII on the local public channel. We brought our costumes and changed in the ladies’ lavatory … and then sweltered for the rest of the day. I can only imagine how the performers in heavier costumes with the required underpinnings of corsets, bum-rolls and multiple petticoats suffered in the heat, all day and every day.

This weekend, though – we’re getting back into a little of that, with the Lost in Wonderland event – a tribute to Tim Burton movies, by the look of their Facebook page, but it looks like a gathering for the same kind of fans of the SCA, Ren-Faire and cons. And next month – there will be a local Ren Faire at St. Francis Episcopal Church. There is a discount for coming in costume, but my daughter absolutely refuses to play.

Front Porch Finale

Leaping into Spring Projects

by Celia Hayes

In between those days of bone-chilling cold, my daughter and I finished up the raised flower-bed part of the entryway to the house this week. The stump of the photinia is buried deep in garden soil, home-brewed compost, with a layer of weed barrier on top of that, and a thin layer of river rock on top of that. We visited Lowe’s over the weekend and were sorely tempted – and succumbed to several interesting varieties of day-lily and gladiola corms, and a rose-bush. I might, at a later date, put in some lavender plants, as the soil mix in the raised bed is just what they like; sandy, easily drained, full of good nutritious compost – the very opposite of the heavy clay which occurs naturally around here.

We raked in some good rose-food, planted the corms and the rose bush – and for good measure, my daughter scattered seeds from of a good handful of packets of annuals around the edge of the weed barrier, covered it all in river-rock … oh, we’ll need to go and get a few bags more of the river rock. We always under-estimate these things. The tools are cleared away, the empty sacks removed and the sand swept up – and the front entryway now looks pretty good. Not Parade of Homes quality, but still pretty good. There aren’t quite enough bricks left to continue paving over the narrow little flowerbed which runs along the side of the house between the walkway and the exterior wall of the garage. This has always been an annoyance for me; when I first bought the house it was filled with ivy. It took five or six years to eradicate the ivy. Now there are a couple of rosemary bushes, and a climbing rose that goes along the house wall – but the base of the bed always looked a mess; leaves blew in and it was a chore to rake them from underneath the rosemary. We’ll pave it with the last bricks, augmented with concrete pavers, leaving small square areas filled with more gravel around those established plants – which ought to reduce the mess-quotient by several degrees.

The cold snaps this winter have done a pretty thorough job of killing off everything that wasn’t sheltered in the greenhouse. Likely we will have to start all over again with Bell and jalapeno peppers. Among the other temptations in the garden section at Lowe’s was a good assortment of seed potatoes. I’m hoping that when the weather lets up a little I can plant them – and do better than last year. I’d like to eat more produce from my own garden than I buy at the grocery store, but so far, the only thing that flourished regularly were salad greens.

Potatoes weren’t the only temptation in the spring starts, seeds and roots – I committed to another grape vine; this one I intend to train up on wires strung between eye-bolts screwed into the back fence. My neighbors with the beautiful garden had done this; why not go vertical, in a small enclosure. My daughter bought a blackberry vine – and that will also go up on the trellis wires. Finally – among the stock at Sam’s Club last weekend; young fruit trees; apple, apricot, plum and peach, for a very reasonable price. Yeah, I bought two of them; when we lived in Utah, it seemed like every house of a certain age had at least one bearing fruit tree in the yard. With the mulberry cut back, I think there will be sunshine enough for the peach and plum saplings. So, that’s my plan for this spring in the garden…

The Grandest Villa

Downtown San Antonio the Villa Finale in King Willaim

by Celia Hayes

We walked through the part of the Riverwalk which runs from the Blue Star Art Complex up through King William last weekend, marveling at all the lovely period houses lining quiet, tree-lined streets. Although right next door to each other and very nearly of the same vintage, King William and Southtown have completely different sensibilities. The old Southtown houses are smaller, closer together, and many of them are more given over to commercial and artistic enterprises. While King William neighborhood does have a number of smaller bungalows and cottages lining the streets, it is the mansions and extensive gardens which set it apart; and one of the most splendid (after the Steves Homestead) is the Villa Finale – the home of the conservationist who put King William on the map as far as historical districts go.

The area was San Antonio’s first extensive up-scale suburb, beginning around the mid-19th century, when well-to-do German merchants and industrialists like C.H. Guenther, of the Pioneer Flour Mill began building stately mansions on what had been the outlaying farmlands attached to Mission San Antonio de Valero and Mission Conception. That first glorious heyday lasted until well into the 1920s, when the well-to-do began being drawn into newer developments in Alamo Heights and Terrell Hills, on rising land to the north of downtown. Many of the stately mansions became boarding houses, or broken up into apartments, and the area gently – or precipitously –decayed.

The credit for reviving the neighborhood and kick-starting restoration of many of the historic mansions and residences is usually given to Walter Mathis; a descendent of several local notables, including John W. Smith, last messenger from the Alamo and later Mayor of San Antonio. After service as an Army Air Corps combat pilot during WWII, he turned to investment banking, civic good works and collecting art and memorabilia. Late in the 1960s, he bought the house presently known as the Villa Finale and spent several years in research and meticulous repair; a splendid Italianate pile with a three-story square tower at one side. He filled the house with fine furniture, art and the results of his own enthusiastic collecting, lovingly landscaped the grounds … and then turned to other houses in the neighborhood, purchasing at least fourteen other houses and either restoring them entirely or in part, before re-selling – often on very favorable terms – to friends and acquaintances who could carry on the restoration. His efforts kick-started establishment of King William area as a National Historical District – and since then, of course, much are envied those homeowners who were either lucky enough to inherit property in the area, or who were perspicuous enough to acquire it for a song, way back then.

The Villa sits on King William Street and backs on the leg of the Riverwalk which runs through King William. The garden features a gazebo and a long wall separating it from the mansion next door – adorned with inset relief carvings. At this time of year the plantings are plain but serviceable; nothing spectacular or elaborate; just well-tended native plants or native-adapted plants and trees. There is a charge for visiting the house itself, but none for visiting the grounds and garden.

Urban Critters

Critters in the City

by Celia Hayes

A good few years ago I had a project for a college class in ecology, a topic that I already knew a good bit about, thanks to Dad. Yea, my bretheren and sisteren, at that time, the whole concept of ecology was a brand new and shiny one, with that nice fresh concept smell to it. Dad, being the working research biologist, had introduced us it ages before – when we were in grade school, as a matter of fact. My class project involved finding out about nominally wild animals living in the city. In that pre-internet and search-engine day this involved a daisy chain of phone calls, beginning with the city animal control office, until I wound up talking to (IIRC) a gentlemen at the Bureau of Land Management, who kept saying that really, he didn’t know all that much about it, but talked for nearly an hour telling me of all kinds of examples and incidents involving wild animals settling down rather happily in suburbia, and even deep in city high-rises.

At the time, we lived in the hills, on the far fringes of a suburb nestled against a national forest; miles and miles of chaparral-covered hills and semi-dry creeks, so that we were already acquainted with coyotes and foxes, and once we had even found the tracks of a mountain lion, deep in the canyon on the muddy bank of a creek. I thought that I had left that kind of untrammeled wild-life far behind upon moving into a fairly built-up suburb in San Antonio, but no… there is plenty of wildlife, happily roaming in or flying over the neighborhoods.

There are enough fingers of woodland along the creeks and parks connecting them to support quantities of deer. In Hollywood Park the resident deer herd is seen as sort of community pet and the main campus of USAA also supports their own herd. The only surprising thing is that there are no apex predators preying on the deer save automobiles … yet, anyway. A couple of years ago one of my neighbors nailed a deer with his car, on Nacogdoches between Judson and O’Connor. The deer was killed – so was his radiator. I presume that there are coyotes and foxes prowling some of the denser thickets, although I have not seen or heard any – and believe me, although coyotes may be shy, they are not quiet.

The suburban critters that I have seen – and sometimes up close and personal are possums and raccoons. Just this very week I have had a young raccoon removed from where it had been making a messy nest under the eaves of the back porch. One morning when I came out to get the newspaper, I surprised some skunk kittens on my front porch. A neighbor had just demolished the deck at the back of her house, evicting them. I had a family of opossum kittens living in my garden for a while; four of them, who seemed to like the cat food that I put out for the timid semi-feral cat that I was trying to tame. I was eventually successful with the cat, but not the opossums.

Birds now – egrets in the creek bottomlands, rails and ducks in plenty, and wherever squirrels are in plenty, there will be hawks. There are several nesting pairs in my neighborhood alone, performing the office of chlorine in the squirrel gene pool – in two instances, sitting in the mulberry tree in the back yard, chowing down a nice bit of tender squirrel al la plein air. The wild kingdom is all around us, even in the middle of the city.

When the Railway Came to Town

Choo choo ch’boogie

by Celia Hayes

From the earliest days, San Antonio was strategically located at the meeting of two major roads – the Camino Real, the roughly east-west road between Monclova and Mexico City and Natchitoches in Louisiana, and the Camino Del Norte, roughly a north/south route with many variations, but generally running between San Antonio and Laredo and points south. Strategic indeed, in the days of mule trains, ox-drawn freight wagons, horse-drawn stages and messengers on horseback, with goods and settlers arriving by sail and steam in coastal ports in Mexico, along the Texas and Louisiana gulf coast.

It took more than a decade after the end of the Civil War for San Antonio to be connected by steel rails to the rest of the country. The railway arrived in early 1877, much longed-for and received with much civic rejoicing. San Antonio was the very last major American city left un-served by a railway. The upper mid-west, east of the Mississippi-Missouri rivers had been thickly interconnected, even before the Civil War, the south less well so. Within four years after the war, the steel rails connected east and west, with the driving of the last spike at Promontory Point, Utah. From that year to the end of the century the railways ruled. Travel to far places in the west was made easier, faster, safer and cheaper. Goods and people flowed west – and the change which the railway brought to San Antonio is made clear to me in comparing a pair of city views of San Antonio in a style very popular at that time birds-eye views, half panorama and half city map. The Amon Carter museum has a good collection of such views of Texas cities. Artist and map-maker Agustus Koch made the first map of San Antonio in 1873; I have a copy of it hanging over my desk at this moment. In that year, the River City was what it had been for the previous two decades or so: a tight-packed cluster of Monopoly-shaped houses around Military and Main Plaza, lining a few blocks of Soledad and Flores, much of the length of Commerce street down to Alamo Plaza, where the Long Barracks and the old Alamo chapel are clearly identifiable. All the rest of town is a scattering of more small houses along straight-ruled avenues and open squares, rectangular and triangular plazas, all of them surrounded with gardens, orchards and open meadows. King William is marked out, to the south and east, and the first glimmerings of Southtown are clear; but the town unravels into rural within six or eight blocks in any direction from Commerce.

After the railroad arrived, Agustus Koch returned in 1886 to create an updated map. Those spaces which were gardens and relatively open fields were filled in; the streets presented an aspect of side-by side urban businesses and residences, taller and more imposing than the old single-story or two story structures that once had lined the city streets. A mule-drawn streetcar system connected the railway station on one side of town to the pleasure-grounds around the original San Pedro Springs on the other, shifted the business district north to Houston Street, and allowed residential neighborhoods to spread in every direction. The Army, finding that what remained of the historic presidio and the plaza before it was just too small for their needs, had decamped to a new establishment, Fort Sam Houston, on the low hills north of the city. The 1886 map shows the Quadrangle, and the parade grounds – and most clearly of all, the rail lines which had made all the difference between being a small and rather remote town, and a city of local and national significance.

Halloween for Dogs

Halloween for Dogs

by Celia Hayes

Since our household does not contain any small children, we normally make an effort to dress up the dogs in costumes instead. Cats are normally reluctant to cooperate in this kind of amusement, although I do wish that we could get some of the black cats to pose fetchingly with pumpkins, cauldrons, brooms and witch’s pointy hats. This would so take care of decorating the front porch for tricker-treating. A couple of years ago we did borrow the grandson of our next-door neighbor when he wanted to dress up like the Prince of Persia and our neighbor confessed herself quite unequal to that particular challenge. We fitted him out in a tunic and sword-belt and turban, and I roughed out a sword and dagger from thin plywood, and he was so pleased with the whole effect that his grandmother had the greatest trouble in getting him to take it off and put on his pajamas to go to bed. This is not a problem we have noticed with the dogs.

They don’t seem to care one way or the other, although Spike the Shi Tzu – who craved attention from anyone at any time and for any reason – seemed to like a costume for the attention it gained. She had a whole collection of costumes, hats and accessories, mostly because there are a lot available and on sale at reasonable prices in small-dog sizes. Connor the Malti-poo has inherited the gender-neutral costumes from Spike, and wears them with panache. This year we will dress him up in a purple cloak and fabric-sculpture crown, I think. He’s not particular – he likes everybody and everybody likes him, costume or not.

The Lesser Weevil is a large and rawboned boxer mix, and her costume wardrobe is not as extensive. The bigger sizes in dog costumes are rarer and more expensive … and compounding that is the fact that she is a dog who is as sensitive to being laughed at as your average thirteen year old girl. Given the wrong sort of costume, and the wrong public reaction to it, the Weevil would be hiding under the bed and crying her eyes out. My daughter sometimes amuses herself by dressing the Weevil in a ballet tutu skirt and gauzy fairy wings, but I believe the Weevil has begun to figure out how comic this appears. I think that she probably prefers to just appear as a dog. We’ll probably just dig out the enormous black spider costume for her again; better to be slightly scary than totally ridiculous.

We have seen some very clever dog costumes in past Halloweens and at the Buda Wiener-dog races this spring, where many of those who brought their dogs had made an effort to dress them up – some even as hot-dogs, with fabric ‘buns’ strapped to their sides like long saddle-bags. There were some very clever costumes on display at the yearly dog costume parade at the Christmas celebration at Goliad on the Square, including one white standard poodle who was colored green – to be the Grinch, of course, and a pair of Pekinese dogs dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus.
So, that’s our costume epic for this year – how is yours?

Hill Country Road Trip

Road Trip: Fredericksburg by Bulverde, Sisterdale and Luckenbach

by Celia Hayes

Some time ago, my daughter and I discovered the back road route from our North-East San Antonio home, to Boerne; basically, going up 281 to Route 46 and then west to Boerne. This last weekend, we went a step farther, by going north up Bulverde Road and bypassing the horrendous 1604-281 nexus entirely. Really, as they get closer and closer to completing the interchange, traffic just gets worse and worse. And once we got to Boerne, we decided to take Ranch Road 1376, or the Sisterdale Road north to the Pedernales Valley – this turned out to be a fantastic way to get to Fredericksburg; scenic, little traffic and just about as rapidly as by the highway … except for being tempted to stop at so many interesting places – even if it were only to take some pictures.

The first of these temptations was just outside old Bulverde, proper; a charming Victorian cottage painted in bright yellow with aqua-blue trim and shutters, with a low stone wall in front, and some old stone buildings behind. It’s actually the remains of the old Pieper homestead. Behind the cottage is a the original stone farmhouse, which has barely held on to it’s original shake roof, and the stone barn beyond it, which has not. The current owners are in the midst of restoring the Pieper house, which when first built was the largest stone house around. The house and barn, and the backyard – shaded by an immense oak tree – is currently being used as an event venue and the pretty cottage is a bed and breakfast. We pulled in to take some more pictures – and wound up getting a tour of the whole place. I only wish that I had enough money from my books to buy a place like it; it’s spectacular in a low-key kind of way.

On to Boerne – with a pit-stop at the Squirrel’s Nest for my daughter’s weekly thrift-shop fix – and into the Hill Country by way of Sisterdale. Sisterdale was one of the original German settlements founded by the Adelsverein pioneers – one of whom was the Baron Westphal, Karl Marx’s brother-in law. Today Sisterdale is a little string of a hamlet spread out for several blocks along the road, and distinguished by Sister Creek Vinyards, housed in an old cotton gin building, and the Sisterdale Dance Hall and event center. My daughter was more interested in the swap meet going on next to the Sisterdale Market … and I was interested in the market because it was housed in one of those old 1920’s era peak-roofed cottages, with bead-board paneling throughout – and it actually seemed to be a very complete and efficient little one-stop grocery. So – discouraged my daughter from making a bid for either of their two shop cats – and on up the road.

Luckenbach is the next hamlet of any distinction, mostly because of Willie and Waylon and the boys. Besides the dance hall and concert venue – another destination in itself, the Armadillo Farm campground sprawls alongside the road. It seemed pretty crowded this last Saturday, although since it was a long weekend, I should not have been surprised. We were tempted to stop in at Uptown Luckenbach, mostly so I could take a picture of the towering old factory building – mostly gone to rust, but still spectacular. There was also a souvenir shop on the grounds, but a hand-painted sign noted that sometimes it was a self-help arrangement. That afternoon was one of those times.

We did eventually get to Fredericksburg – but that is another story.

For all your San Antonio Real Estate needs, call Team Randy Watson of Mission Realty at 210-319-4960

Guten Tag – Oktoberfest and Wurstfest

Guten Tag, Y’All – This is Texas!

by Celia Hayes

When I first came to Texas, at the express request of the US Air Force some (mumble) seventeen (mumble) years ago I thought I knew all there was to know about the place: the Alamo of course, and the Riverwalk, too. I knew that Houston had a Grand Opera, that Lubbock was a flat as a pancake griddle with some Monopoly houses set on it, I had read Edna Ferber’s Giant, and I knew about cattle drives and the King Ranch, and that Texas was called the buckle of the Bible Belt … I knew pretty much what any well-read traveler could pick up through the medium of pop culture and the base library.

What I did not know, until well after I got here and began to look around – was how very much more there was. Like all those other ethnic and cultural groups who came to Texas and make their mark – of which the Germans were the largest and most distinctive part. Who knew that Gillespie, Kendall, Comal and Kerr Counties had been almost exclusively German-speaking since before the Civil War and well up into the twentieth century. Now I do know – having spent the last few years researching and writing about that fascinating anomaly, as well as partaking in a good few of those local and particularly German celebrations. Right now we are coming up on Oktoberfest, as celebrated here in Texas. The original and still-ongoing Munich Oktoberfest began in the first decade of the 19th century, as celebration of the marriage of King Ludwig (then Crown Prince) of Bavaria to suitably Germanic princess, to which the general public was invited to attend. Once in the mood to celebrate, everyone was keen on keeping it on, and so it metamorphosed into agricultural fair – since this would be about the time that the yearly harvest was completed – a horse race, a parade … and all sorts of other things, to include beer, music, and partying.

So, it’s an honorable tradition, now having been celebrated for two centuries, almost without interruption, and those parts of Texas settled by Germans have taken to celebrating also, with suds, wurst, gusto and enthusiasm. No, really – you may see more funny hats at these bashes than you would have ever thought possible. In the main, they are local festivals, where outside enthusiasts are warmly welcomed; just as everyone is Irish for St. Patrick’s Day everyone is German for Oktoberfest – or in the case of New Braunfels, Wurstfest.

The most conveniently located Oktoberfest is in San Antonio, on the verge of Southtown, at the sprawling venue and gardens owned by the the Beethoven Maennerchor. One of the other big enthusiasms brought to Germany by German settlers was an appreciation for music, specifically choir-singing. The Beethoven Maennerchor Oktoberfest organization has a lovely outdoor terrace, where the revelry will continue for two nights; Friday and Saturday, October 5th and 6th – and Friday is coincidental with First Friday in Southtown.

Fredericksburg Oktoberfest, a short hour’s drive north in the Hill Country also has theirs, beginning on Friday, October 5th, but it continues through Sunday, on Marketplatz, in the heart of downtown Fredericksburg. This year, organizers plan for a mass performance of the chicken dance on Main Street, among other entertainments and diversions.

And finally – ever the non-conformists, New Braunfels’ big autumn German bash celebrates for sausage and beer rather than beer and then sausage … Wurstfest New Braunfels takes place later than everyone elses’, starting on the Friday before the first Monday in November; this year it all kicks off on November 2nd, at the permanent venue in Landa Park. So, get out the lederhosen or the dirndl, put on those cowboy boots, and get ready to party this month — German-style, in the heart of Texas.

My Dream Texas Garden

Now My Dream Texas Garden

by Celia Hayes

In my last post I outlined what I would like to have as my dream Texas dream retirement home; a lot about the houses and some generalities about the landscape. I’d like a slightly rolling property, oriented towards the west, and studded with a handful of oak trees and a bit of a wildflower meadow at a slight distance. I didn’t put in much about the garden around it … just that there would be one. Being that I would like this dream home in the Hill Country someplace, I’d have to take care of the tender plants during those cold winter snaps when it gets down to or below freezing. Plants that scrape through a cold snap in San Antonio would not do as well during the winter in the Hills … so I would have to have some kind of accommodation for them. A permanent small greenhouse would be a graceful addition to my notion of a compound of small cottages – especially one of those ornate Victorian style ones.

I’d actually look to having a good-sized vegetable and herb garden; what I have now but expanded at least four times. I have read good things about straw-bale gardening – that is, raised beds constructed of straw-bales. In any case, raised beds, and filled with good soil and the proper nutrients. A good-sized kitchen garden would have to be surrounded with a stout wire fence, though. It is exasperating to have a good crop of tomatoes or squash coming in, only to discover that hungry rodents have helped themselves. I’d have a good variety of kitchen herbs, too – hanging from baskets, of course. Herbs seem to do incredibly well in coconut-fiber lined baskets; this year I have one with a thyme plant spilling over the side and hanging halfway to the ground – and I’ve never before gotten thyme to thrive in a terra cotta pot. Perhaps I’d connect two of the cottages with an arbor of unpeeled cedar poles, to hang the baskets of herbs from.

I’d add a scattering of trees to the oaks on my dream property; at least a couple of almond verbenas, which start as shrubs and with any encouragement at all turn into medium sized ornamental trees. They are not much to look at, but the clusters of tiny flowers have the most amazing sweet almond smell. I’d have some redbud trees for the look of them, and finally a couple of bearing fruit trees; peaches, or plums most likely, and a good pecan tree, too. The trees would bridge the gap between the practical vegetable garden, and the ornamental garden – which would be heavily tilted towards native and native-adapted plants which look after themselves, pretty much.

There would be roses, though – I couldn’t get along without roses, although they would also be the hardy sorts, and picked out more for their scent than their appearance. There would be shrubs to attract birds, butterflies and bees, much as I have now, only spread out a little more generously. I’d have a large area close to the entertainment kitchen and the grill paved in brick or stone … and that is where the main garden ornament would be; a fountain; a good-sized tall stone one, rather like the ones that adorn the private courtyards in the old houses I used to see in Spain, with a wide enough ledge to sit on surrounding the lower pool. And when I had a party, the guests could enjoy the sound of trickling water, the scent of almond verbena, and look at the late afternoon sun setting in the distance …

and that is my dream Texas Hill Country garden – what is yours?