Prominent artist Dale Chihuly has his traveling installation on display right now at the Dallas Arboretum. It is also a gorgeous time to visit the lush gardens of Big D, so last week I took a couple of days to visit there.
I chose to go on one of their advertised “Chihuly Nights”. Arriving at 6:00 p.m., we first wandered the gardens in daylight so I could ooh and aah at the hydrangeas, ferns, trial gardens, hanging baskets, ponds, waterfalls, lake, fountains, water walls (there’s a LOT of water here) and so much more. Funny, when I lived in the DFW area (my first 35 years), I had fantasies that Austin was much more lush, green and wet than north Texas. With the rolling hills and evergreen Live Oaks of the Hill Country, it has a character that north Texas is missing. I didn’t realize how different the climates really were.
One of the biggest things I miss here is the lack of wild thunderstorms that I grew up with; here I’ve rarely gotten to enjoy that electrical ozone-charged smell in the air following an adrenaline filled night of storming. North Texas is just enough farther north to be in Tornado Alley; I can remember a few times of the tornado sirens going off, but only once was the tornado close enough that I took animals and loved ones and rode out the storm in an interior bathroom.
As excited as I was to see the amazing Chihuly exhibit, I was equally as thrilled to get a taste of the type of gardens I grew up with. When I first started gardening in Austin 6 years ago, I naively imagined that I could have a similar lush, Southern garden. I spent a lot of money, time, blood, sweat and tears in that fruitless effort. Our soil, climate and rainfall patterns are just not conducive to “lush”.
It was also lovely to see the people strolling through the gardens into the night. In Dallas, you don’t wear khaki shorts and flipflops everywhere. Ladies were wearing hats, sundresses and strappy high-heel dressy sandals for the event. Men were in slacks or nice jeans. Of course, I’ve now succumbed to the Austin casual style of dress; combine our extra humidity, hotter nights and longer summers, and shorts and sandals have to be the standard.
Most of Chihuly’s works were nestled into beds of annuals, perennials, or water. There were a few that were so huge they signaled an entrance into a different area of the park. This tall yellow icicle tree was created specifically for the Dallas show. Chihuly creates one piece of custom glass sculpture unique to each different city of his tour.
The Dallas Arboretum is nestled next to White Rock Lake. There are many plantings and water features that take advantage of that expansive view, with even an infinity-edged pond at one point. Water abounds in this park, and each vignette has its own personality.
The Chihuly exhibit goes until the Fall. I may return again after the summer heat wanes a bit; I’d love to see the Arboretum in its Autumn cloak and get more plant combination ideas. It’s a season that needs more nurturing in my yard. Okay, we don’t really HAVE Fall here, so maybe that’s why I haven’t embraced fall annuals to spruce up the garden after the summer’s brutal spanking.
There are several planting ideas that I jotted down in my notes; the Arboretum is a privately-endowed, well-funded garden, and the plantings are in a grand abundance. I saw many combinations that I can use here on a smaller scale in my own garden.
At 66 acres, the park doesn’t feel huge. In fact, until I just now looked it up, I thought it was smaller than Zilker Gardens (30ish acres here, half the size!). In the nationally acclaimed Dallas arboretum, with much money pledged to it in private funds, all of the park is utilized with vignettes, water features, seating areas, concert amphitheaters, dining options, allees, bridges, natural and formal settings and everything in between. It’s a great place to go for ideas. The ease of movement throughout and small, intimate areas reduce the vastness to an easy scale. I wish we had a similar program for the upkeep of Zilker, something the Austin City Council apparently just nixed. Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center is a great example of what a reasonably well funded Hill Country garden could look like, though I know it could use more infusions of cash for their programs.
Tickets are $2o for adults, which includes parking. It wasn’t overly crowded, though I did make it a point to attend before school has let out. You can bring your own picnic, which many people did. I loved seeing the well-dressed couples sitting on blankets with candle- lighting and bottles of wine.
The gardens do a fabulous job of showing off plants; I think I finally learned the lesson of taking one plant and planting swaths and swaths of it in a large group to make a statement. It made common begonias and impatiens become beautiful focal points with a lot to say. Just because they are common doesn’t mean they aren’t pretty; they just need to be used correctly.
It’s worth the trip to Dallas for an overnight vacation to witness this world-class exhibit. I hope you get to see it!