Austin: ten years later and even better

Cecropiamoth caterpillar at the Wildflower Center

More than 90 garden bloggers got together for three days of garden touring in Austin last weekend. It is a return to the first such get-together, which took place in April, 2008. I was one of those Austin, 2008 bloggers, organized a similar weekend in Buffalo in 2010, and have attended other Flings, as they’re called, in Chicago, Seattle, Asheville, Toronto and the DC region. (I missed the ones in San Francisco, Portland, and Minneapolis.) So there was no way I could miss the return to Austin and boy, am I glad I didn’t.

Pam Penick’s pool area—we saw many great pools

The great thing about these Flings is that they are pure garden-viewing pleasure. No sessions, few (if any) talks, and lots of time to hang out. There is always at least one group dinner with raffles and a couple short speeches. One can spend an entire weekend with professional colleagues without once having to sit in a poorly lit hotel seminar room with inexplicable carpeting. Instead we sit on the steps overlooking a fabulous pool or a jaw-dropping burst of perennials and discuss the garden or just catch up on each others’ lives. That’s the way it should be.

Our discussions included:

From one Stocker garden area to another

• After viewing the amazing Jenny Stocker garden, which is one of the truest and best example of how to create “garden rooms” that I have ever seen (you won’t be able to tell from my images, sorry), fellow Buffalonian Jim Charlier and I had an interesting talk. He said he liked the garden all the more because the couple who lived there had done much of the labor themselves. I objected to this—what if they simply directed other (younger, stronger) people to do the work according to their original design? Why would that be not as admirable? We never resolved this. In any case, I would never be able to do it, but the rockwork here is spectacular. Hard to photograph really well; you’d want a drone.

• One of the few talks was given during lunch at the Natural Gardener by the founder of this wonderful nursery. John Dromgoole (above) fought the good fight against a pesticide-prevalent gardening culture back when it wasn’t popular to do so. He did it through gentle persuasion and beautiful display gardens grown without unnecessary chemicals. I was moved by his sincerity.

This garden had fabulous Cor-Ten hardscaping

• One of my favorite companions during the tours was longtime friend Layanee DeMerchant (Ledge & Gardens), who is part of a group that first met in Austin, 2008. We’ve all stayed in touch but actually see each other in person far too little. Layanee and I kept up an ongoing discussion of the garden critique. Her view (and I suspect most of yours): if it works for the gardener, it’s OK. I see the value of this perspective, but the critic in me refuses to be suppressed. I’m happy to say that critic made scarcely a peep while touring these gardens—the point of the Flings is to show off the best as well as provide good variety. Austin succeeded magnificently in this regard.

Congratulations to the Austin planners Diana Kirby (Sharing Nature’s Garden), Pam Penick (Digging), Laura Wills (Wills Family Acres).

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Elizabeth it was great to see you as well and I enjoy our discussions-they always make me think harder about garden related issues. As Helen, The Patient Gardener said, “There is a great difference between critique and criticism”. I think this, ‘Garden Critique’ is a worthy Rant topic so get to it! LOL There are certainly Prinicples of Design in gardening as in Architecture which can be applied to a garden. I have to say I agree with Jim concerning having the gardener do all of the work in the garden or most of it anyway. The ‘sweat’ of the gardener adds the 18th ephemeral essential element to the soil. All of the gardeners who shared their gardens with us were obviously well invested in their garden work. There is nothing so great as sharing a beautiful garden with people who can appreciate the hard work and challenges of an individual site.

  2. Your post captured this year’s Fling perfectly. It was an excellent one, among many wonderful experiences.

    What I like best about the Fling is the wonderful companionship of other gardeners who write about gardens while visiting wonderful gardens, with no talks or windowless hotel rooms. I had enough of that in my work life!

  3. It was such a great fling and so much fun to catch up. We must see each other more often. My favorite chatting memory was our discussion of all the fling gardens we’d seen over the years and memories of various flings.

  4. I just recently subscribed to and enjoy it tremendously. How do I get info on the Fling times and places. I regret missing the one in Austin. Sincerely, Annie Guebara

    • The Fling website is linked in the post, above. There won’t be dates for the 2019 Fling for a bit, but it is in Denver. You must be a blogger. Otherwise, all the info you need on the Fling website.

  5. Elizabeth, since you’re one of the original Flingers, it meant a lot to have you return to Austin for the 2018 Fling. Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for the event, and for all the time you’ve devoted to the advisory committee over the years too. See you in Denver!

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