Visit to Thompson+Hanson nursery and Tiny Boxwoods cafe

Can you travel to another city to see gardens without visiting a local nursery? Yes, but why in the world would you? While Diana and I were in Houston last Saturday for the Open Days tour (pics coming soon), we stopped for lunch at Tiny Boxwoods cafe, which is operated by and located on the beautiful grounds of boutique nursery and elegant garden shop Thompson+Hanson.

Thompson+Hanson’s reminds me of now-closed Gardens in Austin. As with Gardens, T+H’s primary business is a design-build landscape architecture firm (which, I was surprised to learn, has an office in Austin too). Their retail nursery, located on Alabama Street, invites you in through a massive arbor topped with what appears to be a rainwater-collection tank. It’s playfully adorned with a collection of sparkly disco balls.

I’m a little infatuated by the idea of disco balls in the garden now.

This is central Houston, mind you — land of urban infill, no zoning, and less parking, but look at the spaciousness of this nursery!

And the classic elegance of its structures and decor

Perfuming the air, a white wisteria is carefully trained along an arbor by the garden shop’s doors.

Elegant pots of flowering plants occupy tables set up throughout the nursery, along with classic or tastefully whimsical garden art and decor.

Everything is beautifully displayed.

The nursery grounds feel surprisingly large for inner Houston, but with a limited selection of plants this is not a nursery for all your gardening needs. It’s where you go to “freshen things up” or add a striking focal point or make your front porch the envy of the neighborhood.

All the plants I saw were healthy and happy — not inexpensive, mind you, but well cared for and temptingly beautiful, like this flowering broom.

Their pot selection is simply stunning…

…with planted examples on display to purchase or just jump-start your own creativity.

There is even a small succulent table…

…and this striking potted aloe for sale.

I’m not sure what this structure is for — maybe classes, maybe parties? The grounds are rentable for weddings and other events.

A gift from my sister, I have a couple of smaller grapevine balls like these.

I noticed a nest-building house finch was treating them like a Home Depot.

More nursery views, with burgundy-leaved Japanese maples standing out amid the fresh greens

What a backdrop the Japanese maple makes for this Quadricolor agave.


This orange-spined potted cactus is pretty cute too.

Potted herbs

And potted, pettable moss

I was quite taken with this fiberglass, faux-concrete star but couldn’t bring myself to splurge on it.

Three sizes included this small one on the brick terrace, artfully surrounded by fallen wisteria petals.

Perfect for the Sissinghurst-inspired white garden

Adirondacks by the door invite lounging. Two women were sitting here with glasses of wine when I first walked by. Now that’s the way to garden shop!

Inside, cool elegance and friendly salespeople

Table settings for garden parties…

…playful decor…

…timeless ornament…

…and pretty faux flowers.

At the other end of the nursery from the garden shop, an inviting lawn surrounded by cafe seating had attracted casual Saturday brunchers, some with small children and smaller dogs, and a line stretched out the door for the upscale cafe Tiny Boxwoods.

Diana and I dithered about it but then got in line. We envied the lucky loungers with their mimosas on the patio on this perfect day.

We feared no one would ever leave so that we could get a seat.

But at last we got through the line, ordered our salad and sandwich, and even found a table indoors by the window. Each table was set with a tiny boxwood, naturally.

Lunch was delicious — totally worth the wait. Although I mostly window shopped, I enjoyed this place. It’s an elegant fantasy, as the Open Days tour gardens were, but it’s fun to dream. And you can enjoy a nice lunch on a beautiful terrace while you’re at it.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Fall Festival 2013 at Antique Rose Emporium: Arbors, labyrinth & garden shops

On a perfect fall day last Saturday at the Antique Rose Emporium near Brenham, Texas, after I’d given my Lawn Gone! talk, I strolled around for an hour taking pictures in the golden light of late afternoon. Felder Rushing, the final speaker of the day, was entertaining a crowd in the speakers’ hall, so I had the display gardens largely to myself.

The gardens occupy several acres of former farmland — wide, open space that can dwarf a garden that lacks sufficient structure. A handful of old houses and other buildings have been rescued and revived as gift shops, speaking venues, and information booths, providing structure and quaint charm. Large-scale arbors also add structure — not to mention vertical space to grow roses and other climbers — as we’ll see below. The wall pictured here, however, is cloaked in tidy fig ivy, with a classic spitting fountain and circular basin. I love this.

The wall is part of an old stone house that contains garden decor, bulbs, and gift items. No employees ever seem to man the little shops scattered around the grounds, relying on the honor system for customers who want to buy. The trust is so refreshing.

Lattice screening stands tall along a side path…

…and helps to shelter a blue bistro set on a small patio.

‘Fireworks’ gomphrena blazing alongside a picket fence

The central part of the display gardens is quite open, given over to a winding, brick labyrinth. Enormous shrub roses and arching arbors give definition to the space.

A gravel walk curves beneath a series of arched arbors planted with roses.

Hot-pink roses like these

You exit the arbors into the labyrinth, whose narrow, brick path meanders around several treelike metal rose towers.

This is a big one.

There’s so much rural Texas charm in the old farm structures that adorn the property. I’ve never peeked in the windows to see if it’s an occupied or rentable structure. ARE does rent out the gardens and buildings for weddings.

Another look from a more open viewpoint

I have this same rooster sculpture, a gift from my sweet husband, in my own garden. Here it’s elevated to sculptural prominence on an overturned pot inside a larger, planted pot.

This spiraling, terracotta-pot archway greets visitors entering the nursery.

How many pots do you reckon make up this arch?

Just inside the arch, a statue of a young gardener kneels in a flowerbed, with an audience of meditating frogs for company.

The frogs are funny, but something else has caught her eye.

A tin-roofed gallery — another gift shop — enclosed by a picket fence and cottage garden, beckons visitors.

Flame-tipped celosia beckons the butterflies as well.

Porch chairs and rockers invite you to sit a spell.

On this day, white mistflower was attracting queen butterflies, skippers, and bees by the hundreds.

Leaning in for a photo I caught its spicy fragrance, a distinctive and pleasant autumn smell in central Texas.

The butterflies were frenzied for it.

Pillowy pink roses offered their own sweet scent as well.

Near the gallery, a log cabin contains bagged soils and other gardening supplies for sale.

And in back, red roses clamber across a picket fence…

…as a metal rooster stands sentry.

Yes, ARE does have nursery display tables. Here they are, filled with colorful perennials and cool-season annuals. I imagine this woman is thinking, “How can I ever choose?”

At one end of the nursery space, a wooden arbor is absolutely smothered in exotic-looking blue sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora).

I love these showy, purple flowers with deep, pale-yellow throats.

Aren’t they stunning?

And so were the roses, flowery and full thanks to recent rains and cooler weather.

ARE offers plenty of roses for sale, of course, though I neglected to photograph them (potted roses lined up in rows aren’t particularly scenic). After your shopping and garden touring is done you may wish to rest a while. It must be pleasantly shady here on hot days…

…cooled by a towering bald cypress and winding stream.

By this time it was getting late, and it was time to grab a bite to eat and then hit the road back to Austin. What a lovely day it was. Thanks again, ARE!

For more Rose Emporium goodness, check out my other two posts about the nursery this week:
Fall Festival 2013 at Antique Rose Emporium: Country Girl mums, grasses, and chapel garden
Fall Festival 2013 at Antique Rose Emporium: Beatrix Potter garden, bottle trees & cottage charm

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Fall Festival 2013 at Antique Rose Emporium: Country Girl mums, grasses, and chapel garden

What happens when you get a gorgeous fall day in Texas, with sunny, blue skies, a cool breeze, and every perennial in the garden flowering its head off? If the 25th Annual Fall Festival of Roses is going on, you set your own garden aside for the day and head to the Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas (two hours east of Austin), for a day of garden talks, leisurely strolls through the bucolic display gardens, and, of course, plant shopping.

The twist for me this year is that I was one of the festival’s speakers. What an amazing experience! Thanks to ARE’s location, centered amid several major Texas cities, I met gardeners from Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin as well as from nearby College Station and numerous smaller towns.

More on the talk in a minute. First I must regale you with the sweetness of ‘Country Girl’ mums, which were sprawling onto pathways and leaning against their companions in their eagerness to show their blushing, pink faces.

I was captivated, and so were the bees.

Of course roses aplenty were blooming too, like these bodacious crimson ones. (Don’t ask me for any rose IDs; I didn’t write down a single one.) In ARE’s display gardens, roses grow in mixed borders like this, rubbing elbows with native Lindheimer muhly and flowering perennials. You won’t find boring rows of thorny sticks with unreal looking, chemically sprayed blossoms. These are tough, old cemetery roses, shrub roses, and antique roses that can survive with little attention in the garden, if given plenty of sunshine and reasonably friable soil. If you don’t like traditional rose gardens, come see how they’re meant to be grown. And if you think you don’t like roses, ARE’s gardens will convince you otherwise.

Cuphea micropetala mingling with Lindheimer muhly, a pretty combo for autumn

And a wider shot, with the red roses adding more warmth

On the outside of this border, native white mistflower, also known as shrubby white boneset (Ageratina havanensis), was a froth of spicy-scented, ivory flowers.

Clouds of skippers and other butterflies and bees flitted around the blossoms like the paparazzi around Kim Kardashian.

These guys are fast, but I finally sneaked in close enough for a photo of a skittish skipper.

I wish my blog had smell-o-vision. White mistflower in bloom smells like autumn to me.

ARE is located in the scenic, gently rolling countryside of east-central Texas, and the grounds cover several acres. Part of the display gardens’ charm comes from several rescued old buildings that have been converted into gift shops and galleries (more pictures of these in upcoming posts). This old red chapel is where garden talks are held.

Inside there was a full house to hear my Lawn Gone! talk. They were such good sports about being blogged about, and even said Cheese! when I pulled out my camera. After my talk I signed books and chatted with folks about their own lawn-removal adventures. Fun!

I wasn’t the only speaker on Saturday afternoon. Gardening humorist Felder Rushing was on hand to sign his books and give the final talk of the day.

And Chris Wiesinger, “The Bulb Hunter” of Southern Bulb Co., was there to speak about his adventures in collecting bulbs from old homesteads and sign copies of his new book. It was so nice to meet both Chris and his wife, Rebecca, who was rocking a fabulous pair of cowboy boots (wish I’d gotten a picture!).

Huge thanks to owner Mike Shoup for inviting me to speak at the Antique Rose Emporium, and to everyone who came out for my talk and/or bought a copy of Lawn Gone! Hearing from some of you about your own lawn-gone efforts is inspirational to me, and good luck to those of you who are just starting a new garden in place of lawn. The gardens at ARE provide plenty of inspiration in that regard. I’ll have more pictures from my visit in the next couple of posts, with lots of gorgeous fall blooms. Stay tuned!’

Update: Click here for my post about ARE’s Beatrix Potter garden, bottle trees & cottage charm.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.