Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Register right now - 2 more lower rate Fling hotel rooms available!

Our special-rate rooms were snapped up quickly when registration opened for the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling May 3-6 in, Austin. The hotel has provided a few more reduced-rate rooms for those who registered at higher rates.  There are 2 reduced-rate rooms left.  If you haven't registered, you have a chance to get one of those rooms if you do it now.

How do I register? 
To register for the fling, please email your name, blog name, and URL, to and once we've verified that you're an active garden blogger (see attendance eligibility) we'll email you a secure registration code and a link to our registration site and the link to reserve a lower-cost room. 

How much will it cost?
The registration fee is $275 USD, plus a $6.50 PayPal fee (USD). Registration includes entry to all the gardens, bus transportation for three days, a banquet dinner on Saturday night, lunches on all three garden-touring days, an opening reception on Thursday evening, a BBQ Bash on Sunday afternoon, and 3-1/2 days of fun and gardens with your fellow bloggers. (We thank our generous sponsors -- listed in the sidebar -- for their support, which helps us keep the registration cost as low as possible.) When you register, the cost appears on the first page of the registration website - it won't appear again on the site.  Please note, you do not need to have a PayPal account or pay by PayPal.  The payment button on the checkout page will read PayPal, click on it and you will be taken to another  page where you will have the choice to login to PayPal, or just scroll down to enter your credit card without using PayPal.  Just pass the login button and go on to fill out the credit card details and submit. 

Do NOT use the hotel link at the end of the registration form for the reduced rate.  You will complete registration and skip that part.  Instead you will exit the registration once you have finished and go to your email to click the link we will provide you.

 For additional Fling Registration info, see our complete post with links here.

Join us for a fun-filled fling.  See you in Austin!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Friendly hippos ahead in the art-filled garden of Donna and Mike Fowler

Thirty miles northeast of Austin, the formerly sleepy hamlet of Hutto is growing as quickly as a hippopotamus in a lake full of duckweed. But the town still has a friendly, everyone-knows-everyone vibe, and its most congenial hosts have to be the former mayor and found-object sculptor Mike Fowler and his plant-loving, garden-creating wife, Donna Fowler. They own a beautiful, 100-year-old home on three large lots that they’ve turned into an art-filled garden, which we'll tour during the Garden Bloggers Fling next May.

Donna, who is a hospital pharmacist by day, says, "I come from a long line of farmers and gardeners on both sides. I'm originally from the Panhandle of Texas. Mike and I moved to Hutto in 1978, when there were only 500 people in town. We live in Mike's family home that was built around 1886. It has been a labor of love to restore it, add on to it, and make the grounds beautiful." 

What will you find in their garden? Well, hippos, naturally! Mike successfully lobbied for the hippo to be adopted as Hutto's official mascot, and you'll see colorfully painted concrete hippos all over town and throughout the Fowlers' garden.

But you'll also discover a huge vegetable garden with a tepee, Mike's playful garden art, and an exuberant mix of flowering perennials and palms, Texas-tough yuccas and hesperaloes, and native wildflowers. It's a welcoming, sit-and-stay-awhile garden with lots of seating plus a shady lawn, where we'll enjoy a tasty box lunch during our garden stop.

You'll visit this beautiful garden and many others next May if you join us for the Austin Garden Bloggers Fling. Don't miss out -- spaces are going fast. Register for the Austin Fling today! And by the way, if you want to see who else is already signed up, click here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Austin Flingers, stay and see more of Austin and Texas

When you come to Austin for the Fling, we can promise you lots of garden visits and fun with fellow bloggers. But it also gives you a chance to be a tourist in our weirdly wonderful city, and to make a day trip or two to visit other cool spots in central Texas. Over the years, I've added days to my Fling trips in multiple cities, with my spouse and kids joining me either pre- or post-Fling on tourist adventures. I highly recommend it!

The easiest course is staying on at the Fling hotel so you can walk or cab/rideshare to nearby destinations. Another option, especially if you're planning to rent a car to explore a little farther afield, is to switch post-Fling to a hotel outside of downtown. For example, the charming Lone Star Court, located in the Domain mixed-use development in North Austin, is today showing rates of $179-189 for the days after the Fling. I've done it both ways myself -- staying put or switching hotels -- and it really just comes down to what works for your budget and what you plan to see during your extra days.

But the real question is, how will you choose what to see? Austin has so much going on -- the music scene; beautiful parks, trails, spring-fed swimming holes, and lakes; museums for art lovers and history buffs; and the cultural dynamism that happens in a city composed of hippies and hipsters, artists and musicians, high-tech entrepreneurs, 50K university students, and a seasonal swarm of state capital workers and politicians -- and we're located right on the edge of the picturesque Hill Country, where roadsides bloom with wildflowers and towns settled by German and Czech immigrants beckon tourists looking for laid-back and friendly Texas charm.

Here are my top picks for local attractions and fun day trips. 

Things to Do: Downtown and nearby 

Live music on 6th Street and beyond: Look up club listings, and you're sure to find multiple options any night of the week. Iconic live music venues downtown, near the university, and in nearby South Austin include the Continental Club, Stubb's, the Saxon Pub, Cactus Cafe, and classic Texas dance hall the Broken Spoke. 

Good eats: Find our friend Sheryl's distinctively Austin restaurant picks here. And here are our downtown restaurant recommendations.

Shops on South Congress
Shopping: 2nd Street District has nice boutiques and is fairly close to our hotel. But for funky, colorful Austin shopping and people-watching, plus great views of the Capitol, you can't miss a stroll along South Congress Avenue. This is the uniquely Austin shopping/dining/hangout strip most people envision when they talk about Austin. It's a bit of a hike from the hotel (a 30-minute walk one way) but just a short cab/rideshare away. Don't miss it.

Bats: A large colony of Mexican free-tailed bats lives in the cracks under the Congress Avenue Bridge, and Austin has joyfully adopted them as the city's mascot, turning out in droves to watch them emerge each night in a black cloud and begin their nightly mosquito- and moth-hunting. You can watch them at sundown from the west side of the bridge or below along Lady Bird Lake, or take a bat-watching cruise to watch from the water.

Esther's Follies: Need a good laugh? Catch a live show at Esther's Follies, a mix of modern-vaudeville musical numbers, political satire, and hilarious (and a little naughty) magic acts. The theater faces a wall of windows overlooking 6th Street, pulling passersby into the acts. Sit at the front and you'll likely get pulled in too. Make a reservation to be sure of getting a seat, and go enjoy this beloved Austin theater troupe.

Texas Capitol: The domed Texas Capitol building is an Austin icon, and whatever your politics it's a cool place to visit if you enjoy history and architecture. Tours are free.

Texas State Capitol
Texas History Museum: Learn about our state's often rollicking and adventurous stories at the Bullock Texas History Museum.

LBJ Presidential Library: President Lyndon B. Johnson's history is preserved at the LBJ Presidential Library near the UT campus, just north of downtown.

Blanton Museum of Art: The Blanton is one of the largest university art museums in the country. Located north of downtown on the UT campus. Closed on Mondays.

Go Play Outside, Nature Lovers

Hike-and-Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake
Hike-and-Bike Trail: Take a stroll, go for a run, or pedal a rented bike on Austin's beloved Hike-and-Bike Trail and Boardwalk around Lady Bird Lake on the southern edge of downtown. There are 10 miles of trails, but bridges across the lake enable you to cut that into 3- or 4-mile round-trip jaunts. Check out this site for insider info about where to go. As for me, my favorite sections of the trail are along Barton Creek and across the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, and the Boardwalk portion of the trail over the lake. Both the Pfluger Bridge and the Boardwalk offer great views of downtown (selfie time!), but the north end of the Pfluger Bridge has the added bonus of a native-plant garden in the Pfluger Bridge Circle. 

Barton Springs Pool: This marvelous, 3-acre, spring-fed swimming pool is the heart and soul of Austin. Locals flock to Barton Springs Pool all summer to cool off in the 68-degree non-chlorinated water, but even in winter (when the water feels warmer than the air) dedicated swimmers will be out there doing laps. Go dip your toes just to say you did, or bring your suit and go for a refreshing swim. Closed for cleaning on Thursdays.

Mount Bonnell view of Lake Austin
Zilker Park: Barton Springs Pool is located within Zilker Park, an expanse of playing fields, rocky outcroppings, a big playground for kids, and a miniature train you can ride. The Hike-and-Bike Trail runs alongside the park on the south side of the lake near Barton Creek.

Mount Bonnell: You'll need a car to get here, but the view from Mt. Bonnell is worth it. Tucked in a cliffside neighborhood of high-end homes with killer views is a parking area at the base of a long set of stairs up the hillside. At the top you'll enjoy a sweeping view of Lake Austin and the iconic Pennybacker Bridge.

Hamilton Pool
Barton Creek Greenbelt: Take a scenic hike along a spring-fed creek with swimming holes and tall limestone bluffs on the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The greenbelt is hugely popular among Austinites of all ages and seemingly every dog owner in town. You'll find access points along Capital of Texas/Loop 360 and MoPac on the west side of town.

Hamilton Pool: One of the most beautiful hiking/swimming spots in the Austin area is at a collapsed grotto called Hamilton Pool, about an hour west of Austin. A 50-foot airy waterfall spills over the lip of the gigantic collapsed cave ceiling into a circular pool, which is open to swimmers, conditions permitting. It's a fairly easy hike around the pool and also out to the Pedernales River. Because of overcrowding, in the warmer months (like May) you'll need a reservation to enter, so plan ahead and reserve well in advance. 

See Texas! A Day-Tripper's Guide

Wildseed Farms poppy field
Go West: My favorite road trip, especially in spring, is west through the Hill Country to the charming German-settled town of Fredericksburg. It's located about an hour and 40 minutes from Austin along Highway 290 West, a scenic drive that takes you through rolling, rugged country where roadsides are often lined with wildflowers if we've had adequate winter rains. The famous Texas bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush will be pretty much done by early May, but you can look for pink evening primrose, blanketflower, Mexican hat, and more.

Vineyards and wine-tasting rooms line the route, and just before you reach Fredericksburg, you'll see Wildseed Farms on your right. Stop to photograph their wildflower farm fields and check out their nursery and retail store while you're there. You can easily spend a couple of hours in Fredericksburg exploring the main street shops and restaurants. At the town's National Museum of the Pacific War, established in the boyhood home of Admiral Nimitz, you'll find a Zen-style Japanese Garden of Peace. If you have time, push on about 20 minutes north on RR 965 to see Enchanted Rock, an enormous pink granite dome rising above scrubby ranch land.

Antique Rose Emporium
Go East: Head east from Austin into lovely, rolling farm country to visit Brenham and the beautiful gardens and nursery at Antique Rose Emporium. Located about an hour east of Austin, ARE's gardens contain bounteous roses but also plenty of other plants, especially grasses and perennials, with an old chapel as the centerpiece. Head to Brenham's town square for lunch and visit the Blue Bell Creamery for an ice cream sample afterward. For a true botanical experience, with rare plants from Mexico and China, push on (with an advance reservation for a private tour, ideally with a group; tell them you're garden writers and Pam sent you) to Peckerwood Garden in Hempstead, the garden of plant explorer and landscape architecture professor John Fairey, which is now under the stewardship of a nonprofit foundation.

Garden at Magnolia Market
Go North: All you Fixer Upper fans will want to head north on unscenic but speedy I-35 to visit Chip and Joanna's Magnolia Market at the Silos in Waco. An hour and 45 minutes later, and you'll be shopping amid the shiplap, eating at their food trucks, and visiting the market's adorable farmhouse garden.

Go South: Remember the Alamo! History lovers as well as garden lovers will find plenty to do in San Antonio, about an hour and a half south of downtown Austin. Head south on I-35 to visit San Antonio Botanical Garden, the Alamo, the famous River Walk, and Pearl, a fun and beautifully landscaped mixed-use site with shopping and restaurants built around the old Pearl Brewery. On the way there or back, detour to tiny Gruene (pronounced Green) for old-fashioned Texas charm with a handful of unique shops, wine tasting rooms, the Gristmill restaurant, and an authentic dance hall where -- if you're lucky -- a Texas swing band will be playing.

Hibiscus at San Antonio Botanical Garden

Monday, November 20, 2017

How to Eat Like a Texan, Part 2: Restaurants near our hotel

Last week our friend Sheryl gave you the scoop on distinctive Austin restaurants for foodies and those who want to eat like locals do, some within walking distance of our official hotel and others just a ride-share or cab ride away. Today, we're sharing restaurants right around the hotel, within a walk of a few blocks in any direction.

What meals do I need to cover?

You'll be on your own for dinner only one night, Friday, May 4th. Otherwise we have you pretty well covered with appetizers at the welcome reception on May 3rd (you may wish to grab a light bite afterward if you still have an empty spot), our banquet dinner on May 5th, and a BBQ Bash on May 6th. We will also feed you lunch on our tour days, May 4-6. So in total, you'll be on your own for breakfasts, dinner on May 4, and maybe a quick dinner on May 3 after the welcome reception. 

I don't want to eat alone!

Some bloggers arrange a dinner with friends before they get to the Fling, making a reservation in advance for their party so that they don't have to worry about figuring that out when they get here. That's a great way to catch up with old friends -- if you know anyone, of course. But if you're a newbie or relatively new to the Fling, don't worry. You need not eat alone, and you have lots of friends here -- you just haven't met them yet! We're planning to organize a Friday dinner reservation for anyone who's new and would like to meet other newbies, so stay tuned as we get closer to the event for more info about that. 

Where to get good grub

Here are our suggestions for restaurants near the hotel. There are plenty of others, but this will get you started. And by the way, it doesn't seem to matter how many restaurants Austin has: we love eating out, and there are often long waits. So put the Open Table app on your phone and make a reservation in mid- or late April. Or just wing it -- lots of Austinites do -- and be cool with relaxing on the patio with a drink while you wait for a table. We're all about our patios here! 


1886 Cafe & Bakery
604 Brazos Street
.3 mile / 7-min. walk
Classic American breakfast, with table service, in the iconic Driskill Hotel; also has a counter bakery
Opens 6:30 AM

Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden
709 E. 6th Street
.4 mile / 8-min. walk
Coffee, tea, and bakery breads/pastries in the AM; ultimate Austin-casual hangout with good bar food and sandwiches in the PM
Opens 7 AM

301 Congress Avenue #105, in center of the building
.2 mile / 5-min. walk
Breakfast bowls, bagels, breakfast tacos
M-F: opens 7 am

Houndstooth Coffee
401 Congress Avenue
.2 mile / 5-min. walk
Coffee, tea, pastries
M-F: opens 6:30 AM
Sat/Sun: opens 8 AM

300 E 4th Street - located in our hotel, Courtyard Marriott
Bakery, breakfast sandwiches, granola
Opens 6 AM

Taco Shack
402 Brazos Street
.2 mile / 3-min. walk
Counter-service breakfast tacos
M-F: opens 6:30 AM
Sat: opens 7 AM
Sun: opens 8 AM


1886 Cafe & Bakery
604 Brazos Street
.3 mile / 7-min. walk
Classic American fare in the iconic Driskill Hotel

The Backspace
507 San Jacinto Boulevard
.2 mile / 3-min. walk
Neapolitan pizza, antipasti, and Italian wine in an intimate space. Reservations recommended.

Chez Nous
510 Neches Street
.2 mile / 5-min. walk
Neighborhood French bistro and beloved Austin classic

The Driskill Grill
604 Brazos Street
.3 mile / 7-min. walk
New American fare with a seasonal Texas twist in the cattle baron-era Driskill Hotel

El Naranjo
85 Rainey Street
.9 mile / 17-min. walk
Interior Mexican food, Oaxacan-style (not Tex-Mex)

Emmer & Rye
51 Rainey Street
.8 mile / 15-min. walk
Farm-to-table in the lively Rainey Street district

605 Davis Street
.5 mile / 10-min. walk
Modern Southern-inspired fare; located on 4th floor in Hotel Van Zandt

Holy Roller 
509 Rio Grande Street
.7 mile / 14-min. walk
Diner fare with a punk-rock twist

123 West 6th Street
.5 mile / 10-min. walk
Italian farm-to-table

Le Politique
110 San Antonio Street
.7 mile / 14-min. walk
French brasserie

310 Congress Avenue
.2 mile / 5-min. walk
Regional Mexican dishes at this longtime Austin favorite

Moonshine Grill
303 Red River Street 
.2 mile / 5-min. walk
Upscale Southern comfort food

301 East 6th Street
.2 mile / 4-min. walk
Gastropub with seasonal fare and raw bar

Roaring Fork
701 Congress Avenue

.4 mile / 8-min. walk
American Western bistro

Second Bar + Kitchen
200 Congress Avenue

.3 mile / 6-min. walk
Small plates for sharing plus salads, pizza, and other entrees

Stubb's BBQ
801 Red River Street
.5 mile / 10-min. walk
Austin classic BBQ joint, with a live-music venue out back

Swift's Attic
315 Congress Avenue
.2 mile / 5-min. walk
Eclectic small plates in a stylish space

A note about safety in downtown Austin

Downtown Austin is generally a safe place to walk around, especially during the day and at the dinner hour. But later at night, particularly on weekends, it can get rowdier thanks to bar-hopping crowds along 6th Street. Also, like many large cities, Austin has a large homeless population downtown, and panhandling is common. Don't let any of that scare you; just be alert at night and walk with a friend. Also, we don't recommend crossing under I-35 on foot (the big elevated highway located 4 blocks east of our hotel); instead, take a cab, pedicab, or ride-share if you want to explore up-and-coming hot spots in East Austin. If you're driving and parking in a public spot, don't leave anything valuable -- or tempting, like a shopping bag -- visible; hide it beforehand in the trunk, and always lock your car. Stay in well-lit areas with plenty of activity, and you'll have a great time exploring our lively city!

Also, with regard to Austin's famous 6th Street, which is lined with bars and live-music venues, it's both loved and hated by locals. Of course you must see it while you're here, so go -- after 10 pm for best people-watching and live shows -- and check out this Guide to Dirty Sixth Street by for their take on what to see and do. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Who's Coming to Austin Fling? Plus a hotel update

Wondering who is attending Austin Garden Bloggers Fling? These awesome bloggers, that's who!

Here are the bloggers, plus a few select sponsors, who've already registered for our event next May 3-6, 2018, which includes 3-1/2 days of garden touring and socializing in fun, friendly Austin, Texas. We'll update this list continually as spaces are filled.

Currently we have bloggers from 27 states and 3 countries! Won't you join us? Click for info on how to register!

While you're here, we want to give an update about our official hotel, the Marriott Courtyard Downtown. As some of you know, our block of rooms at the special Fling rate was snapped up in the flood of registrations in the very first week. Austin Fling is a hot ticket, and we're 3/4 sold out already, which is wonderful! But that means if you weren't an early bird, you may be eyeing a hotel rate that's higher than we both would like.

We don't want anyone not to be able to attend because of hotel cost. We're pursuing two options: we're looking into whether any nearby hotels are offering rooms at less than the current rate at our official hotel, and we're encouraging bloggers to room-share.

Sharing a room with a fellow Flinger makes a hotel stay more affordable, plus it's a great way to make a new friend or reconnect with an old friend. We know that not everyone wishes to have a roommate, and that's totally OK. But if you ARE willing to have or be a roomie, we hope you will put yourself out there on our Facebook post about finding a Fling roommate or our blog post. We want to help facilitate room-sharing so that everyone who wants to attend the Fling can do so!

Oh, and if you're already registered, and you notice that a blogging friend is missing from this list, please encourage them to come. And if you're a blogger who's on the fence, or you see that no one from your state or region is listed -- hey, come represent and join the fun!

Registered Attendees

Mary Beth Shaddix -- Mary Beth Shaddix


Brenda Embry -- The Blonde Gardener

Gerhard Bock -- Succulents and More
Kelly Kilpatrick -- Floradora
Gail Lord -- Piece of Eden
Denise Maher -- A Growing Obsession
Kathleen Melikian -- Queen of the Dirt
Renee Pasman -- Gardening Turned Up to Eleven
Jim Peterson -- Garden Design
Kris Peterson -- Late to the Garden Party
Kathy Stoner -- GardenBook

Brandon Coppin -- Botanical Interests
Judy Seaborn -- Botanical Interests
Jennifer Spainhower -- Botanical Interests

Jenn McGuinness -- Frau Zinnie

Karin Hicks -- Southern Meadows

Mary Ann Newcomer -- Gardens of the Wild Wild West

Carol Michel -- May Dreams Gardens

Jean McWeeney -- Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog

Claire Jones -- The Garden Diaries
Teri Speight -- Cottage in the Court

Pat Leuchtman -- Commonweeder

Natalie Carmolli -- Spring Meadow Nursery
Stefanie Gilmour -- See Jane Dig

Jennifer Ebeling -- 6ft Mama
Mary Schier -- My Northern Garden

David Cristiani -- It's a Dry Heat
Teresa Odle -- Gardening In a Drought
Ellen Zachos -- Backyard Forager

Jim Charlier -- Art of Gardening
Kevin Gepford -- Fuchsias in the City
Elizabeth Licata -- Garden Rant
Theo Margelony -- Fuchsias in the City
Lynn Yenkey -- Sin City to Slaterville

Daricia McKnight -- A Charlotte Garden
Tonya Peele -- Plant + Shoot
Lisa Wagner -- Natural Gardening

Kylee Baumle -- Our Little Acre
Louise Hartwig -- Two Girls With a Purpose
Sue Heppeard -- Two Girls With a Purpose

Dee Nash -- Red Dirt Ramblings

Ann Amato -- Amateur Bot-ann-ist
Loree Bohl -- Danger Garden
Darcy Daniels -- eGardenGo
Jennifer Dennis -- The Rainy Day Gardener
Jane Finch-Howell -- MulchMaid
Alyse Lansing -- Garden Inspiration Blog
Tamara Paulat -- Chickadee Gardens
Heather Tucker -- Just a Girl With a Hammer

Layanee DeMerchant -- Ledge & Gardens

Julie Adolf -- Garden Delights
Janet Ledebuhr -- The Queen of Seaford

Gail Eichelberger -- Clay and Limestone

Vicki Blachman -- Playin' Outside
Jennifer Brown -- Victory or Death! the Garden (Bus Captain)
Shirley Fox -- Rock-Oak-Deer
Caroline Homer -- The Shovel-Ready Garden
Catherine Jones -- The Whimsical Gardener
Diana Kirby -- Sharing Nature's Garden (Austin Fling Chairwoman)
Linda Lehmusvirta -- Central Texas Gardener
Laurin Lindsey -- Ravenscourt Gardens
Shawn Michael -- Ravenscourt Gardens
Pam Penick -- Digging (Austin Fling Planner)
Susan Tomlinson -- The Bicycle Garden
Cindy Tournier -- From My Corner of Katy
Jennifer Trandell -- The Botanical Journey
Laura Wills -- Wills Family Acres (Austin Fling Planner)
Sheryl Williams -- Yard Fanatic (Bus Captain)

Wendy Hatoum -- High Country Gardens
Jenny Prince -- American Meadows

Lorene Edwards Forkner -- Pacific Horticulture
Grace Hensley -- Fashion Plants

Beth Stetenfeld -- PlantPostings
Anneliese Valdes -- Cobrahead

Helen Battersby -- Toronto Gardens (Ontario)
Janet Davis -- The Paintbox Garden (Ontario)
Liza Drozdov -- Hortus TV (Ontario)
Margaret Mishra -- Homegrown - Adventures in My Garden (Ontario)
Joanne Shaw -- Down 2 Earth Landscapes (Ontario)
Patterson Webster -- Site & Insight (Quebec)

Michelle Chapman -- Veg Plotting
Helen Johnstone -- The Patient Gardener
Barbara Segall -- The Garden Post 
Victoria Summerley -- Tales from Awkward Hill