Neville Hoad and Victor McWherter assured me that their garden was "where Queer Gardens meets Grey Gardens." The large corner lot on Lullwood Road in the Wilshire Woods neighborhood does seem to have two different personalities. The front yard is an impressive display of lawn that would have made a 1950s dad proud:
As you can see, Neville (left) and Vic (right) are among the gardens most attractive features. And that's Ruby, their Jack Russell/basset hound cross, who along with her sister Harley keeps the yard nicely pocked with holes. But more about Ruby in a moment.
Neville grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. He describes himself as a "vernacular gardener" who "started off trying to plant all the things my colonial grandmothers planted: camellias, azaleas, roses." He remembers a "huge bouganvillea outside my bedroom window" and says, "the thing that I really miss is a jacaranda tree."
When I asked him about the trend toward native plants gardens, he said, "I respect its practicality but I don't like its ideology. I think gardens should be cosmopolitan, and native gardens are a bit xenophobic." But along with the English garden flowers he loves, Neville has also planted and come to enjoy colorful natives like Turk's cap, butterfly weed, salvia in many colors, and flowering trees including crepe myrtle and a small but thriving Texas mountain laurel:
a lovely pair of flamingos,
One reason Neville loves the garden, he says, is because "I smoke." He doesn't smoke in the house, though, which means a lot of time enjoying one of their two outdoor seating areas. Does Victor smoke? "Not officially, and you can put that on the blog."
But I promised a Ruby story, and here it is. When the new Mueller development was being planned just across Airport Boulevard from Wilshire Woods, the planners decided that there was not enough room to put the new water pipes down Airport. They proposed to run them down Ardenwood instead, right past Ruby's house, which Ruby and her neighbors did not appreciate. One neighbor, an ecologist, did some research and discovered that Wilshire Woods was the last extant strand of post oak savannah in Austin. Post oak savannah is the only habitat of the endangered Texas red garter snake.
If the neighbors could find a specimen of a red garter snake to prove that it was still living in the area, the plans for digging up Ardenwood would have to be scrapped. One day Neville was in the yard and saw Ruby looking like she was wearing "a Fu Manchu moustache." He looked more closely and saw that she was carrying in her mouth a tiny snake with a red stripe. He took a picture, sent it to the proper authorities, and the pipes now go down Airport. And that, my friends, is How Ruby Saved the Neighborhood.