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Garden Diary of Life’s Progression: Colleen Belk

woman and dog on gravel path around backyard pond“When I first started, I didn’t know really what I was doing. I just love plants,” Colleen Belk told us when we visited on a cloudy day in May, gregarious pup Jellybean at her side.
gravel paths around gardens and small pond
Her 40-year journey on rocky land in deer country led to a new career and a garden that evolved in philosophy, design, and lifelong friendships. I met Colleen when she worked at Barton Springs Nursery, enthusiastically guiding me and so many other new gardeners.
covered patio deck to pea gravel paths and island garden beds and small pond
Starting from scratch on land above Lake Austin, she and husband Brad delighted in building gardens and the deck that’s hosted family and hundreds of friends over the years.
large casual wooden deck patio with red furniture and kitchen along one wall
When Brad, an engineer, watched Colleen struggle with a water hose after work, he designed and built a 4600-gallon rainwater collection system. That barrel to the left in the picture houses a gauge for what’s flowing in. Any thunderstorm meant a rush to the deck to whoop and holler as it inched its way up.
wooden deck and vintage containers view to garden
When we first taped her garden in the late 90s, the concept of cottage gardens had been eclipsed by the soldierly shrub and lawn regimen for decades. Colleen and I had both grown up with yards like that, but gradually got away from it. At first, our dads weren’t too sure about what their daughters were up to, but soon jumped on the bragging bandwagon!
woman and dog coming up staircase
To navigate the steep cliff, Colleen and Brad built a staircase and eventually a greenhouse.
cute dog looking up from island bed
Like many of us, she started with a few plants in a small island bed. Soon she had her eye on growth opportunities.
pink flowers lots of green foliage silvery blue short palm tree
Colleen’s ideas grew as she hopped from one nursery to another, reveling in the community of plant enthusiasts. She became president of the Austin Herb Society. Then, she landed her dream job at Barton Springs Nursery with founders Conrad and Bernardine Bering. “I was given a lot of plants and my paycheck didn’t always come home,” she laughed. She started designing vignettes, like this one with native coneflower, blue Mediterranean fan palm, and Queen Victoria agave just out of view.
small beautiful pond framed with stones, small plants and an arching small orchid tree
In 1992, the Austin Pond Society introduced backyard ponds for hands-on gardeners. Colleen worked with BSN colleague (and later designer) Scott Thurmon to craft a naturalistic pond using stones and boulders from around the property.

Colleen ventured into another design dimension, one that further populated her garden with beneficial wildlife. Various flowering plants join framing anacacho orchid. The sweet foreground plant is Eastern star sedge (Carex radiata).
gravel paths around island bed gardens
At first, she used crushed granite to create paths. When someone suggested pea gravel for a brighter look, she went for it. “And it did change the whole look of my garden,” she said.
view across plants bordering pond to old metal bench
Every wander in every season invites a different view in sun and shade. Braced by foliar structure, flowers come and go against layers of leafy texture.
pea gravel path bordered with plants and containers
This one features Texas sabal palm, Will Fleming yaupon hollies and crape myrtle.
gravel path bordered by palms, crape myrtle and low growing plants
pea gravel path framed by low-growing perennials, sculptural Will Fleming yaupons
tire planters on short stone fence
Brad encouraged boundaries to distinguish garden spaces. BSN colleagues built a stone wall at one end, and she topped their entrance with tire planters.
gravel and stone paths with roses and island beds
Colleen’s garden lies in deer country, and as much as she loves deer, she doesn’t want to share all her plants with them. Fencing the backyard spared roses and other favorite yummies.
flagstone path to low fence and front yard
In front, she sticks with plants that aren’t so tasty.
yellow flowered small tree pale pink white rose deep pink oleander
She does include a durable Sally Holmes rose along with retama and oleander, but deer can’t reach its topmost flowers.
greenhouse beyond rock bordered garden bed and succulent plant containers
At BSN, Conrad got her hooked on plant propagation. In the greenhouse she and Brad built, she grows up new plants from cuttings or seeds. Nary a visitor leaves empty-handed!
smiling woman and man wearing bike helmets text says "Kerrville 30 Miles In"
In 2020, Colleen lost Brad to one of those unexpected conditions that you never knew even existed. Her loving stories go deep with us all, and our hearts are with her.
smiling woman and cute black and white dog
Since then, garden therapy’s taken on a far deeper significance. “I just want to garden and be here and that’s what I’ve been doing.”

Visit in person on The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour on November 4!

Watch her story now!

Thank you for stopping by! Linda