Organic sculptures by Steve Tobin at Houston Botanic Garden

February 22, 2023

When I escaped to Houston after the snow storm in Austin earlier this February, I visited the Houston Botanic Garden with the family. Even in zone 9 Houston, palms, grasses and many other plants are not spared during the winter. Nevertheless, an art exhibition by Steve Tobin was called Interconnected: Exploring Nature’s NetworksPlus the exquisite winter beauty of the garden, makes for a lovely walk.

the cloud

Tobin’s the cloud The series was my favorite of the show. Melted mirrored steel capsules on plinths reflect the blue sky and cottony clouds floating on the grass.

Seen overhead, it takes on anthropomorphic qualities. I see a prostrate human figure, head forward, lying in the grass and looking up at the sky.

dry garden

While we’re in the dry garden, let’s take a moment to look at the grasses in their gray winter glow, outside of them like ants.

Golden barrel cacti add a little winter color

Wheeler’s Sotol, Yucca rostrataPrickly pears, and giant blue agaves sit like mermaids on rocks — an amazing amount of desert garden goodness in swampy Houston!

A few prickly pears are broken from that cold spell in December, but they’ll be fine. Frozen-brown palate? I’m not sure about them, but hopefully.

Lots of shiny round plants

Another salute to Wheeler’s Sotol

An oval pond, with a sad palate

Bronze roots

One of Steve Tobin’s Bronze roots The sculptures add a tent vibe to the dry garden.

Another creates a focal point in the culinary garden. It is underplanted with mint Aztec grass (or variegated liriope) and red-flowered bromeliads for a pop of color.

Culinary garden

A mint-green water wall in the culinary garden, with water-loving papyrus growing at its base.

Behind the walls, painted putty-pink, fruit trees are epaliered on a bamboo grid. In raised beds, lettuces look ready to be turned into a salad.


A monumental SteelrootsAnother sculpture by Tobin, dancing on the lawn at the end of the entryway.

The shed arch

It wasn’t particularly hot this early February, but I always enjoy the space age design of the long shed arcade. A pocket green set against a creamy stone wall.

Ming fern and ‘Soft Cares’ mahonia make a textural pairing.

One more scene

Butterfly creeper shows off its butterfly-shaped spores.

the nest

In the garden, a the nest Tobin’s sculpture has a glam-globe quality, which makes for a fun selfie.


Tobin’s Twistys Adds colorful, upright squiggles to an open lawn. The black-stained structure is a hands-on, exploration space for children called the Cabinet of Curiosity.

Cabinet of curiosities

Inside, cut grass, trailing plants and shells provide a tactile nature experience for children.

In another cabinet we found animal bones, horns and even a small framed bat.

Lots of interesting items to pick up and check out

sentence structure

Tobin’s sentence structure The sculpture—thousands of metal letters encased in a swirling orb—caught my eye.

Verdigris letters appear swirling in the vortex.

What is it trying to say — or spell out?

What an interesting body of work! Steve Tobin’s interactive exhibit runs through August 13th at the Houston Botanic Garden.

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dig deep

Learn about garden design from the experts here Garden Spark! I host private talks with inspiring designers, landscape architects, and writers several times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Just click on this link and ask to be added. You can find this year’s speaker lineup here.

Plan to join Budding Plant Sale and Festival March 18 at John Fairy Gardens in Hempstead, TX. There will be rare and unique plants, as well as art, ceramics, jewelry, food, drink, music and other entertainment for the whole family. Members have early access and get free. Non-member admission is $5. Children under 12 are free.

Experience a surreal garden at the Zilkar Botanical Garden, with an enchanting neon-art display throughout the park, food and drink, music and dance, surreal performers and interactive art sculptures. Surreal costumes are encouraged! 25% of event proceeds benefit the Zilker Botanical Garden Conservancy. April 6 (VIP Night), April 7-8 and April 13-15 runs from 6:30pm to 11pm.

All material © 2023 by Pam Penick for Excavation. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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