Visit to Big Red Sun’s reopened boutique nursery in Austin

Like a go-go dancer at a small-town prom, Big Red Sun‘s theatrical streetside display garden stood out from the crowd of surrounding businesses at its original location on E. Cesar Chavez. Its gift shop—jammed with garden books, hip furniture, clothes, jewelry, and home decor—was as enticing as the garden, and I shopped there for birthdays and holidays. Outdoors, the nursery offered a small but interesting selection of plants and gorgeous, if pricey, succulent arrangements. I brought out-of-town visitors here.

When the nursery abruptly closed in 2010, I mourned its loss. (Another location in Venice, California, remained open.) Today, happily, Big Red Sun’s boutique nursery is back, albeit in a new location, sans gift shop, and under new ownership. Located just down the street from the original (the old display garden is still there, though it looks sadly neglected), the new Big Red Sun still knows how to have fun with creative vegetable-garden displays, sales tables of healthy looking succulents, cacti, and other xeric plants, unusual containers, and a few decorative items. I can only hope in coming years they’ll plant another exciting display garden.

The first thing you see as you stroll into their outdoor space (the building at left is the design studio) is an impossibly green and healthy lawn.

Surprise—it’s artificial. This is the only synthetic lawn I’ve run across in Austin, and it looks pretty good for fake turf, especially with fallen leaves scattered across its surface. Up close an unnatural shininess and whisper of feet across its surface give away the truth. Still, no one is having to water, fertilize, edge, or mow.

Stroll across the lawn and you’ll find beautiful plants for sale…

…as well as contemporary, slanted metal planters. Would you try one of these in your garden? I would.

The nursery’s selection of pots is not extensive, but those offered are certainly intriguing, like this amorphous, oyster shell-like planter.

Another view

Cylindrical sunny yellow pots

And classic Italian terracotta

A Grecian-style head planter sports a squid agave hairdo.

The cactus table is Dr. Seussian.

Big specimen plants offer those with deep pockets instant results.

More succulent goodness for sale, in affordable 1-gallons and smaller sizes

I like these blue Moroccan lanterns. Can’t you imagine them, candlelit, hanging from a tree near the patio on a summer’s evening?

Chunks of blue slag glass are for sale, perfect for a garden accent or lining a path, Lotusland style.

An ocotillo’s sinuous shape complements the pattern of a concrete-block wall.

A wider view

Another view. I like this wall. Can you tell?

Across the lawn, a mid-century modern fountain is the focal point.

But stealing the show is a temporary vegetable garden wittily planted in a stacked cinderblock wall. Click for my post with more-detailed images of Big Red Sun’s vertical edible garden.

More uniquely planted edibles—this time in a large, fabric pocket.

Inside the design studio you’ll find a few pieces of furniture and a succulent arrangement or two for sale. But your eye will be drawn upward by crazy, wandering crocheted antlers on faux deer heads hanging on the wall.

This one really has a rack.

Outside a simple streetside planting of castor bean offers beautiful color.

Big Red Sun, I’m glad you’re back. To see Big Red Sun in its original location, click here.

Update: Big Red Sun’s nursery closed to the public in December 2012. The design studio is still open.

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

17 Responses

  1. Thanks! Though I really dislike the very pricey, short-term lifespan of faux-turf – it is all over the desert SW – everything else looks great, including the clever displays. As in inspiring to help make (good) hort hip! This is an example of what turns people on to being outside in a garden, not to mention *more like* what a retail nursery should be. Next time, I shall visit…when it is open, that is!

    Big Red Sun has regular business hours again, David, so next time you’re here you should have no trouble seeing it. Then you can stop at nearby Iron Works BBQ for lunch. —Pam

  2. katina says:

    Okay, so I’m a dork – I’ve driven by the new location at least three times (as I’m coming back from my mentoring at one of the local elementary schools), and I’ve never made the connection that it’s the garden center Big Red Sun. I even kept telling myself “I like their name done like that on the building. I should google what’s there”.

    Too funny, Katina! I bet you’ll stop and take a look next time, eh? —Pam

  3. Jenny says:

    Thanks for the visit Pam. Lots of fun things and the head planter I covet. Wonder how much it is? May have to go and see.

    I didn’t look, Jenny. Give them a call to ask. On the other hand, it’s more fun to go take a look in person and see everything they have. —Pam

  4. Cat says:

    I’m glad they’re back too! Love them for inspiration.

    They’re a great source of ideas, aren’t they? —Pam

  5. Bonnie says:

    OK…I’m confused. Are these photos of the new location or old? Love, love it. Where is the new location? I live in N. TX but would drive down for this!!

    These images are from the new location, just down the street from their old store on E. Cesar Chavez in East Austin. —Pam

  6. So new ownership? Not at all related to the previous owners? They just bought the name? (I know…too many questions, but I’m curious!). This version seems to lack the WOW factor of the old store. Just my observation. Of course I’d still love to visit and there are a lot of beautiful things, but somehow it seems tame. The Venice store is still the old owners? (of course I had to end with a question…)

    Why did I not think to ask Julie Blakeslee how she came to own Big Red Sun in Austin when I talked with her recently? On Big Red Sun’s blog, Julie and original owner Selena Souders are both listed as owners, and they co-write the blog, so there seems to be some connection still. Reading back through the blog, it sounds as if Julie had her own design practice before taking part-ownership in Big Red Sun.

    The original Big Red Sun in Austin was started by Selena and her then-husband Dylan Robertson. After they parted ways he started his own design firm in Austin, called D Crain, and she moved to Venice to run the California store. Big Red Sun’s Austin nursery and gift shop closed; I’m not sure whether the local design studio kept operating. Today Julie operates the Austin store and design business. —Pam

  7. Donna says:

    I do like those contemporary planters. But I am not a fan of the turf, but do understand why it was installed in Austin.

    Those planters are great, aren’t they? I am undecided on the faux lawn myself. —Pam

  8. oh my gosh…I would so try one of the slanted boxes in my gardens….beautiful, another Austin treasure to add to my list! Thanks for sharing! Pamie G.

    I hope you get to visit BRS sometime, Pamie. —Pam

  9. Those yellow pots look like chimney inserts! Still loving looking at The Big Red Sun! I, too, saw this name when I was visiting my son and never thought it was a nursery, darn!
    Happy Planting! Pamie G.

    It’s not very obvious from the sign, that’s for sure! —Pam

  10. Although those slanted metal planters are a total departure from anything in my garden, they are really cool. I think you do need one planted with cacti, succulents, and blue glass scattered in it and you need one of those blue lanterns, too. They would both fit perfectly in your garden. If that concrete wall came in smaller sections, it would be pretty mixed in with your concrete succulent planter wall :-) Just sayin’…

    Oh yeah! —Pam

  11. Gail says:

    What a delightful shop~and yes, I would use those angled steel planters in my garden! gail

    I know you would, Gail. I’d love to see what you’d do with it too. —Pam

  12. Cyndi K. says:

    “Like a go-go dancer at a small-town prom….” NICE, Pam! Rick Bragg-esque.

    The planters are all so tempting…thanks for the tour and the scoop on the ownership history- I was curious.

    I had to look up Rick Bragg, Cyndi. Ha! I’m glad you enjoyed my opener. —Pam

  13. TexasDeb says:

    SO much to covet in all this. Too bad local nurseries keep copying your best ideas, Pam. Imitation, flattery, etc, right? I actually laughed aloud when I saw the cinderblock posited as a summer veggie garden solution here. You’re right -somebody’d have to be out hand watering about every two hours.

    I used to turn my nose up at cinderblock AND artificial turf. Done the correct way however, clearly both have their uses. And Big Red Sun does know how to present an idea in its best light. Those slant planters and that fountain, though. No pickiness there, they are both in Swoon Plus territory.

    Thanks for the heads up about BRS being open again!

    Deb, I’d be honored if Big Red Sun ever saw anything of mine that they wanted to riff on! But of course I borrowed the succulent wall idea myself. Sharing ideas and making them your own is what it’s all about. —Pam

  14. Scott Weber says:

    While I’m not usually one for overtly “contemporary” design, I have to admit I’m loving those slanted planters too!

    There’s something about them, isn’t there? I like the Cor-Ten metal look—it’s warm and rugged, not sleek and cold, while still being contemporary. —Pam

  15. Lea says:

    Thanks for the wonderful Big Red Sun tour. Great photos! I like that wall, too, but I think my favorite would be the blue glass. What marvelous garden accents it would make!

    Yes, slag glass makes such a pretty garden accent. I have a few small pieces in mine, but I covet those large chunks. —Pam

  16. […] 2010: Big Red Sun no longer operates in Austin. This shop is closed. Update 2011: Big Red Sun has reopened a few doors down from its original location, at 1311 E. Cesar Chavez Street. Comments […]

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