Michael Eason’s desert garden retreat

August 14, 2023

While in West Texas a couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting designer and author Michael Eason‘s garden in Alpine. Michael had lined up some wonderful gardens for me to visit there, ones that he’d designed, but it was nice to see his own personal garden too.

Alpine sits at an elevation of 4,475 feet, and it’s part of the Chihuahuan Desert, with an average of 17 inches of precipitation. Most of that comes in the summer monsoon, and it’s dry the rest of the year. So desert plants like agave and yucca make natural choices.

I love this laid-back patio and fire pit with old motel chairs and tree stump seats. It’s almost a camp vibe. This is the central open space in Michael’s back garden. Notice, no lawn here to water or mow.

He has a shady ramada along the fence, smothered with native vines…

…and gourds!

At this point Michael darted into his shed and pulled out this monster — a gargantuan gourd that he grew last year.

It’s a prize winner!

The monsoon has been delayed this year, and the garden was still awaiting the rejuvenating rains. But sunflowers don’t mind the wait and look fresh and sunny despite drought and heat.

Whale’s tongue agave looks great too, of course.

And spiny, spherical yuccas

The agave and yuccas grow in a raised bed that provides better soil, drainage, and added height for privacy.

A wider view gives you a sense of the enclosure provided by that raised bed as well as a shed and desert trees around the perimeter.

Sunflower leaning over a stock-tank pond with horsetail and other water plants

A section of coyote fencing separates the back garden from what used to be a long driveway along the side of the house. Michael shortened the driveway and turned the rest into a side garden with another stock-tank pond, more planting beds, and space to grill. Gourds inserted neck-first into the steel pipes that frame the fence add a decorative element.

Nature’s finial

Another fence near the front of the house provides separation from the busy street. This one is made of leftover metal-mesh panels and ocotillo branches. Seedpods of devil’s claw hang from the fence like long-antennaed bugs.

A massive prickly pear greets you here, so vigorous it’s busting out of its terracotta pot. That’s one happy plant!

Thanks, Michael, for sharing your garden with us! Readers, Michael is the author of the excellent field guide Wildflowers of Texas, which I reviewed in 2019. He also designed the lovely Wallens Garden in Alpine, which I shared here. And he’s a passionate plant-hunter and conservation advocate for native Texas plants. Currently he spends most of his time in San Antonio, where he’s the associate director of plant conservation and research at San Antonio Botanical Garden.

Back in town

After visiting Michael’s garden we wandered around Alpine, checking out its art-filled shops. Along the main street, my friend Cat spotted this tile mosaic doorstep that announces its pride of place.

We had a good time in charming Alpine!

Up next: Exploring native plants at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center in Fort Davis. For a look back at the darkly wonderful art of Julie Speed at her studio in Marfa, click here.

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