Nursery tour: Natural Gardener

In the spirit of my recent Open Days tour, I took my camera along during an afternoon trip to Natural Gardener nursery for a pot of oxalis. It was a simple enough errand, and the cool, gray skies made a tour of the nursery’s gardens very appealing. I love fall’s cool, cloudy days, though I won’t complain about bright blue skies either. Cool is the key.

A giant mockingbird with a worm in its beak perches on the chimney of the building that houses the sales desk. Quirky details like this make a trip to the nursery lots of fun, especially with children.

Aside from a great native- and adapted-plant selection, what I really love about Natural Gardener are its grounds and gardens. It’s a long drive out to Oak Hill (just forget about it during rush hour) from my house, but I can easily spend an hour poking around once I get there. Everywhere you turn, enclosed gardens display beautiful Hill Country plants, and the rolling, cedar hills around the nursery—rapidly filling up with apartments and new homes, I’m afraid—add to the country appeal. Pictured above is the entrance to the butterfly garden, located right off the parking lot.

Inside the cedar arbor, you see a small pond and hear the trickle of a fountain. I read somewhere that this garden is shaped like a butterfly, as viewed from above. It’s beautiful no matter the season . . . thanks to deer-proof fencing.

A Mexican buckeye steals the show with bright yellow leaves. Austin doesn’t usually see much fall color, which makes me want to run right out and buy one of these trees for my yard.

Around the bend, bamboo muhly feathers up around fall aster and Salvia leucantha

Flowers like this one keep the butterflies happy.

Looking back toward the entrance, you can see the yellow foliage of the buckeye again.

The nursery has a great selection of pots, eye candy for the garden.

Large agaves that would make Tom Spencer sigh with envy stand like living sculptures.

These agaves are absolutely enormous, making me wonder how long they’ve been growing here.

A sense of New Age spirituality is on display in the gardens. That’s not my thing, but it works fine here and makes for interesting explorations. Among the statuary, several different kinds of buddhas, angels, St. Francises, and Madonnas are for sale, and many of them have been placed throughout the gardens, along with Tibetan prayer flags and a Native American tepee. A labyrinth accented with diminutive buddhas culminates the display.

A shrine to Madonna with candles and cut flowers is tucked under some junipers near the labyrinth. I saw a rabbit dart into the brush right here as I approached.

I love the homemade cedar arbors, gates, and fences that accent the gardens. This is the entry to the labyrinth and the tepee area.

My kids’ favorite feature—they love to run (not reflectively in the least) the labyrinth. Tufts of sedges outline the maze-like path that turns back on itself many times before leading you to the center. If you walk it as you’re meant to—slowly and thoughtfully—it can take a good fifteen minutes to follow the path into the center and then out again. You pass buddhas with small stones or coins in their laps.

It’s a lovely garden feature in its own right. Along the side, Will Fleming yaupons provide vertical lines, and morning glory drapes the deer fence in blossoms, shielding the labyrinth from the driveway on the other side.

A good-sized olive tree grows nearby.

The tepee is adult-sized and presented next to the labyrinth. It’s quite dramatic. I imagine drum circles occur here.

Heading into the main part of the nursery, you pass this lovely vignette. The colors, the textures, the river-like sweep of it—I’d love to have this in my garden, buddha and all.

In the succulent garden, a cheerful display of colorful pots line the walls of a shed.

A chicken coop adds a little cock-a-doodle-doo to the grounds. Kids of all ages can be found here, poking blades of grass, roly-polys, or their own fingers through the chicken wire.

The orchard contains grapes, plums, and . . .

. . . this mystery tree persimmon in full fruit.

Bright orange fruit, cloven like a peach. Anyone know what this is? An oriental persimmon, according to the commenters below. (Thanks, guys!) I should probably know but . . .

The herb garden not only smells good but looks good in concentric circles, the center one raised. I also love the cedar post fencing behind the garden.

A child’s swing hangs from a large juniper (what Texans like to call cedar) tree by the herb garden, offering old-fashioned swinging pleasure for restless visitors.

Herb garden textures

Amaranthus and angel. Remember this plant from the Hornickle garden? I sure do.

The Microb Brewery is where you can get compost tea for your garden. I’ve never tried it, but the sign is cute.

Two vocal donkeys add to the country ambiance. Let’s see, that makes chickens, donkeys, several cats, wild rabbits, and numerous birds and butterflies common sights at the nursery. No wonder my kids love to visit.

A cedar shelter and benches provide shady comfort for both plants and shoppers.

A help desk (shed, really) stands amid the cacti and succulents. This beautiful door is just one more accent I enjoy at this lovely nursery.

I always like coming to Natural Gardener, but seeing it through my camera lens made me conscious of what I really love about it. My other favorite nursery is Barton Springs Nursery, and I think I’ll do a photo tour there the next time I go.

Which nurseries in your town inspire you?

16 Responses

  1. susan says:

    Good God, if ONLY one of my local nurseries were as inspiring. Great job, Pam!

    Really, not even one? How is your area on inspiring public gardens? That could make up for not having a great nursery nearby. —Pam

  2. bill says:

    I have seen advertisements for this place, but had no idea it was like this. I don’t think I have ever seen donkeys at a nursery before.

    Although I love living where I do, I miss places with the kind of cool factor that you have in Austin.

    It’s definitely a destination nursery, like the Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, where I may make a pilgrimage this weekend. Now you know where to visit the next time you come down to Austin.

    Austin may have a cool factor, Bill, but it’s a big city now. Meanwhile, you’ve got a lovely natural view outside every window, I bet. I’m sure that’s worth the trade-off. —Pam

  3. June Tarr says:

    I think that fruit tree that you didn’t know the name of looks like a persimmon tree. The fruit looks like a large persimmon anyway. The fruit of a wild persimmon ripens after the first frost so I’m not sure I’ve guessed correctly. I’ll be waiting to see if anyone else might know for sure. jt

  4. Jenn says:

    I thought persimmon, too. But I don’t know for certain.

  5. Susan says:

    I’m almost positive it’s a persimmon. I’ve seen trees around the neighborhood with that fruit and I’ve always believed they were persimmons.

    I’d have to say Barton Springs is probably where I shop the most but I love going to Big Red Sun to see their plantings out front, which always inspire me. But the Natural Gardener probably has the best display gardens locally. I also love the Rose Emporium, both for selection and for the display gardens.

    June, Jenn, and Susan, I think you’re right. An oriental persimmon, I believe. Not to be confused with our native Texas persimmon tree, which has black berries. Thanks for solving the mystery!

    Susan, I love Big Red Sun too. That will be another spot for a photo pilgrimage. —Pam

  6. When we were first considering the move to Austin in 1999, our relocator/Diva friend was smart enough to make sure I visited the Natural Gardener. We bought no plants the first time, but I picked up an Austin garden book. Just the other day my husband said it’s about time for another trip down past the Y at Oak Hill, and I am so ready!

    You really captured the essence of this place, Pam!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Thanks, Annie. It was called Garden-Ville back then, wasn’t it? —Pam

  7. pmo3ws says:

    I would love to tour this garden. Your pictures are wonderful as usual! The fountain is what we have in mind for our garden. I can’t wait for spring already! I’ll show my husband the picture. Thanks for your won-der-ful blog!

    Thanks, Illinois! That fountain is pretty—good luck with yours. But hoooold off on wishing for spring. We here in Austin are just catching our breath after a long, hot summer. —Pam

  8. Julie says:

    Beautiful pictures, Pam.

    An Austin nursery that I like is It’s About Thyme way out Manchaca. It’s one of those old timey places, very quiet, kind of a jumble. I was the only person shopping there on Saturday and found a beautiful Mrs. Oakley Fisher rose.

    On one visit I came across a huge brugmansia that had grown all the the way through its pot and through the webbing floor of the greenhouse, a giant, for $6. It’s wintered over twice in a big pot here at my house and right now is covered with buds. Also found Hoja Santa there. It’s a discovery kind of nursery and inexpensive, too.

    All good wishes

    I’ve heard of that one but never been there. I’ll add it to my list of places to go, along with Yucca Do, which is open to the public only a few times each year. —Pam

  9. Staci says:

    Thank you for the pictures of Natural Gardener Pam. I live in Dallas and actually got to visit the Natural Gardener back on Oct 25th. I drove down for the conference so I could explore Austin’s great garden centers. My schedule was tight, and Natural Gardener was scheduled for Wednesday morning and back downtown by 11am. Rain that morning and an emergency trip to Lowes cut short my visit so I did not get to see the display gardens. I walked around the perennial area with my umbrella, and left with several plants, but I sure wish I could have stayed longer. Your pictures showed me what I really missed out on.

    I also made it to Shoal Creek, Barton Springs, Big Red Sun, Gardens, and Great Outdoors. I came back with the back of my CRV loaded with plants – mostly from Barton Springs. The prices and selection in Austin is so much better than Dallas!

    You went to some good nurseries. What kind of conference was it? —Pam

  10. Staci says:

    Thanks, my choices were based on recommendations from here and other places on the web. I am a lurker who thoroughly enjoys your blog and was glad to find a section here with recommendations.
    The Annual Conference for the Texas Municipal League – doing booth duty for my company. As soon as I decided to drive down and squeeze in the garden visits, I started looking forward to it though. I spent lots of time planning when I could squeeze in each of the nurseries over the 3 days and finding great places to eat. And my suite at the Stephen F Austin was gorgeous with a view of the capital. Not much better than Austin, beautiful nurseries, shopping, and great food.

  11. […] This is a smaller muhly, but I’m not sure what kind. When I bought this many years ago at Natural Gardener, I thought the nurseryman told me it was a dwarf Lindheimer muhly, but I can’t find any information on such a plant, so who knows. […]

  12. […] I love these old signs. Not many nurseries in town specialize in native plants. BSN and the Natural Gardener are my go-to places for native plants. […]

  13. Nercy Thomsen says:

    I loved it all it remind it me of Arizona that I miss.
    Keep it going, it is all beutifull and so creative.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the “visit,” Nercy. Thanks for commenting. —Pam

  14. Uncle B says:

    Thank you for this lovely page. After browsing through, I feel restored!

    You are most welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for your comment. —Pam

  15. Angela Greene says:

    OMG……………You have my dream keep it up……….one day I’ll be there too…………
    You’ve done a beautiful job………Thank you for sharing…………..

    My pleasure. I’m glad you enjoyed the visit. —Pam

  16. Wow that is my dream garden there, I’ve never been to the southwest before but that is lovely. I especially love the herb garden

    Yes, the herb garden is one of my favorite parts of this display garden too. Thanks for visiting, Marsha. —Pam