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A Warm Welcome and a Literary Scoundrel: Pre-Fling Austin

I arrived in Austin a day early for the Garden Bloggers Fling and took a quick look around town. Nearly adjacent to the hotel was a neat little surprise: the house, now a museum, where William Sydney Porter — a.k.a. the (in)famous writer, O. Henry — lived with his family in the 1880s and ’90s.

O. Henry’s life story is truly interesting. He was born and grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, but it appears that he “got to Texas as fast as he could,” a cute refrain I heard several times while I was in Austin. William tried out lots of jobs and at times was a pharmacist, a ranch hand, a cook, a store clerk, a draftsman, a musician, a bank teller and bookkeeper. He was also an embezzler who once convicted was so freaked out by the idea of prison that he left his young family and fled to Honduras (he is credited with coining the phrase “banana republic” while there).

Becoming a fugitive didn’t help William’s situation, but did give him lots of fodder for stories. He began to use the name O. Henry when he eventually did his time at a prison in Ohio, so he could continue to write for magazines and newspapers and remain anonymous.

O. Henry is probably known best for “Gift of the Magi,” and for the surprising “twist” endings to most of his stories. Among his friends he was probably better known for being an “adult beverage enthusiast.” The QR codes in the photos below actually work if you scan the screen of your computer with your phone. Videos will then pop up to tell you more.

milkweed GBF Austin Vicki's Garden

Look at the incredible flowers on this antelope horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula) in Vicki’s front yard garden!

Convinced before noon that Austin is colorful, and maybe also weird, I met up with Janet and we ubered to north Austin for a gathering at fellow blogger Vicki’s house. It was a nice time of reacquainting and just hanging out in the pleasant verdure of Vicki’s artsy backyard garden. Nothing weird (unless you count that antelope horns milkweed!), just pretty plants, delicious treats — almond cake with strawberries and yogurt and a wonderfully fragrant tea, and then a friendly ride back to town.  It was a pleasant easing-in to what would be an intense weekend of non-stop garden touring.

Austin Public Library and Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail

Public Library, Austin, TX

The Kickoff Welcome Party for this year’s Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin, Texas, was at the new public library in downtown Austin. Although I’m a total nut for libraries, you really don’t have to be to appreciate this one. Among a long list of pluses is exciting artwork, a large and growing collection of zines, and varied types of reading spaces for all ages, including a rooftop garden with an impressive view of downtown and the hill country surrounding Austin.

The Austin Central Library was designed to reflect and support the local culture while providing flexible spaces to learn and congregate. I loved hearing that rainwater is collected and used in the bathrooms and to water the landscape plants. What’s not to like about native plant landscaping, award-winning architecture, half a million books in mobile stacks, and native plant landscaping? (It’s worth saying twice!)

After joining the rest of the pre-Fling garden bloggers for a taste of Texas (fajitas), I hit the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail, accessible just a few steps away from the library entrance, and explored this beautiful natural area before returning to walk through the library atrium and up to the rooftop garden.

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