Nursery tour: Barton Springs Nursery


BSN’s modest sign welcomes visitors, along with roses tumbling over agave and prickly pear. Hmm, I wonder where I picked up that roses-and-cactus aesthetic?

With sunny skies and warm, humid temperatures promising a typical spring day in Austin, I decided to pay a visit to an atypical nursery. To my favorite Austin nursery, in fact—Barton Springs Nursery. Why do I love thee, BSN? Let me count the ways.

1. An awesome staff who can answer your questions about their terrific selection of native and adapted plants. They’re friendly, approachable, and will always ask you if you’re finding what you’re looking for. If they don’t have it, they can call you when it comes in.

2. A terrific selection of native and adapted plants! According to one of the nursery employees I spoke with today, BSN buys only about 30% to 40% of their nursery stock from outside growers. The rest they propagate and grow themselves. These folks really know their plants because they not only sell them, they grow them.

3. Huge labels among the gallon-sized plants, with growing information plus a kind of “review” about each plant. The labels are attached to 3-ft-tall stakes set in 1-gal. pots filled with concrete, so you don’t have to crouch low to read them, they don’t blow over, and the nursery staff can move them around as needed.

4. Pots that are clearly marked with plant name and price. This should be standard at every nursery, but sadly it isn’t.

5. Huge oak trees. You’ve got to have shade in Austin, and they’ve got it.

6. Casual Texas ambience with lots of cedar structures and funky garden accessories. It’s fun to poke around.

In fact, the only negatives I can think of regarding this nursery are the lack of parking and mosquitoes. Their long, narrow lot fills up quickly on weekends or even sunny weekday afternoons. I usually avoid the crowd by going on weekday mornings or rainy days. And mosquitoes just seem to be a fact of life in shady spots in Austin, so wear bug spray or prepare to slap.


As you walk in, you see the old house that contains the nursery’s gift shop and register, where you bring your ticket to pay. There’s good browsing inside: garden books, indoor and outdoor decorative objects, organic fertilizers, a few garden tools, and some kid stuff.


Heading to the sunny perennial beds, you pass a huge palm shading a little pond (behind the pots). Parked close by are the green wagon-carts you’ll need as you stroll around, because you’re sure to purchase more than you intended. Each cart has a goofy chalk name fading away on its rear. Some of the ones I remember: Cart Attack, Mr. Carty Pants, Shark Cart (my kids’ favorite).


The sun-loving perennial aisle


Another view, looking back toward the store


Display gardens edge the grounds, and these poppies caught my eye.


The poppy seed heads are even better.


Antique Roses A-Z. BSN gets their antique roses from the Antique Rose Emporium, another wonderful nursery out in Brenham.


A whole aisle of antique roses, and yet I rarely give them a glance, preferring to save my rose money for a pilgrimage to the Rose Emporium. No offense, BSN.


A giant agave and prickly pear screen busy Bee Caves Road from view.


Cedar structures are a signature look and, more important, provide shade for both people and plants.


Another view


A huge, blue pot for sale amid pink bougainvillaea


Here’s where I do my economical shopping, among the flats of 4″ pots. Perennials, herbs, annuals—it’s all here. In the winter, they roll down plastic walls to keep it warm.


I am coveting this blue bistro set under the pomegranate tree.


Heading to the shade beds in the rear, this towering oak greets you. Its canopy spreads over the back deck, where glazed pots and garden furniture are on display.


Perhaps you’ll be tempted to start your own collection of Xi’an warriors, in concrete rather than terracotta. No? Me neither. But I do like those mercury-glass orbs.


Casual but effective signage


Great oak trees keep this section cool and shady.


A shade-loving perennial aisle


Here’s one of the things I love about BSN. Plant information and “reviews” on large signs among the plants. What more could you need to know? Well, maybe a laminated photo of a mature specimen would be nice, but really, it’s hard to ask for more.


One of my favorite spring plants


And another


I didn’t get a good shot of this today, so here’s an old photo of their aviary. Parakeets and small parrots rule the roost.


They used to keep chickens in there too, but I didn’t see any today.


Shed with blue pots


Ivory pots with large palm. BSN has a large tropical section with lots of palms and palmettos. These never interest me very much. They must be sold to all those West Austinites with negative-edge pools overlooking Lake Austin.


Arbor with bike. I love these massive, sinewy cedar posts.


A couple of raised ponds offer goldfish-watching opportunities.


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.


Out by the cacti in back, an orange shed blazes next to a golden-ball lead tree in bloom.


BSN stocks a good cactus selection out past the shade plants. Cacti like agaves, yuccas, and prickly pears make good evergreen “shrubs” for the caliche hills of West Austin, for modernist gardens in town, and increasingly, for my own prairie cottage garden.


A brilliant cactus flower


Twin columns


Pots line the path back to the shop.


Colorful porch baubles entice you as you head to the register inside. I resisted, though that bistro set—in red this time—caught my eye again.

Archaically, Barton Springs Nursery lacks a web presence.* While they don’t seem to be hurting for business, it looks like they’d want to at least have an online information page with hours of operation, a map to their location, and a few pretty pictures. Until then, they can rely on positive word-of-mouth from various Austin bloggers, who are happy to spread the word about a great local nursery.

*Update: In October 2007, I noticed that BSN had finally created a webpage. Check it out for more information.

16 Responses

  1. I’ve been to this wonderful nursery before, Pam, but next time will “avoid the crowd by going on weekday mornings or rainy days”. The clearly marked prices and plant names sounds both attractive and logical so why do we seldom find them? The guessing game thing can be a real drag.

    Annie

    Yes, indeed, and a time waster, as you try to track down sales help to ask. Much better to have it written on the pot, as BSN does. —Pam

  2. Nicole says:

    Thanks, Pam, for this wonderful nursery “visit”. My island is too small and labor expensive to have anything like like this-maybe a good thing, I don’t know how I’d resist not buying tons of stuff. Some of the larger islands like Trinidad and Puerto Rico have large, lovely nurseries.

    Where do you buy your plants then? I’m curious . . . —Pam

  3. anna maria says:

    What an incredible nursery. Thank you for the great tour, I could almost feel that nice warm sun – glad I couldn’t feel the mosquitoes though!

    Thanks for stopping by, Anna Maria. Yes, it’s a terrific nursery that has taught me a lot of about gardening in Austin over the years. —Pam

  4. Layanee says:

    Pam:

    Thanks for sharing that nursery! I am on the East Coast and have posted a couple of pictures of nursery displays and they are so very different from the casual exhuberance of this lovely nursery. What did you bring home?

    Hi, Layanee, thanks for visiting. I found a few goodies at BSN that I’ll show in a post soon. —Pam

  5. Susan says:

    Pam — I think that blue table and chairs — and those mercury orbs — would be fabulous in your garden. Your pictures have me craving a trip out to BSN. Oy! I think I better stay home and work but right now plants are looking more attractive than the story I’m trying to write.

    Yes, they would! It’s just not safe on the wallet to go there, is it? —Pam

  6. Nicole says:

    Pam, I buy some plants from the small but growing nursery and some from the (again small) agricultural center and a few from the garden club members. Availability of some things eg roses, orchids, anthuriums, grafted fruit trees is often ONCE A YEAR, so you really have to catch them when you can. A few months ago the nursery ordered a shipment from Miami and the ship was delayed at sea and all $30,000 in plants arrived dead.
    I grow some plants from seeds and have grown at least 50% of my plants from cuttings and offsets-taken from friends’ gardens in California, as well as from various islands in the Caribbean. (It was until a few months ago legal to bring in cuttings without a permit).
    You should see the looks I sometimes get in various countries when on the way to/from work I stop the car and proceed to pick up/collect seeds from roadside trees (Mad foreigner LOL). My orchid trees, cassia and royal poinciana are grown from these. Last year I stayed at this inn in Grenada that’s a little nature resort and I asked the gardener for some cuttings-he did them for me and was really happy when I tipped him $20 for his troubles. I now have a lovely rangoon creeper from this batch. Needless to say my variety of plants always amaze people here. I do adore all the lovely containers in your pics-those I can’t stash in my luggage!

    You sound like an enterprising gardener. I’m impressed by the measures you’ve gone to to create your beautiful garden. But, boy, does your comment make me more grateful than ever for Austin’s several top-notch and convenient nurseries. —Pam

  7. Chandra says:

    Pam — I can’t believe I’ve lived in Austin almost my entire life and never visted BSN. We visited this Sunday and yes, we bought way more than we had planned — artemesia, ornamental grasses, asian jasmine, fig vine, and more! — all for a bed that we just built in the back yard. Thanks so much for the write up about BSN as I’m not sure I would have heard about it otherwise!

    Well, I’m very glad you enjoyed your first visit. It sounds like you got some good stuff for your garden. Thanks for commenting about your experience at BSN. —Pam

  8. I must have been there just about the same time you were this week. I’m still cleaning out my shed and I went to see if they’d recycle my old plant containers. Yep! Yay! Thanks to you taking my blue bottles and BSN taking my plant containers, the old shed is almost cleaned out and ready for renovation.

    By the way, looking at all those containers, I’d say 80 per cent of my plant purchases over the last 12 years have been from BSN. They are my favorite Austin nursery for buying (although Gardens is probably my favorite nursery for browsing).

    Did you tell BSN that you were blogging them?

    Yes, I did. I went inside to make sure it was OK to take pics for my blog, and the two gals who were working the register gave me the OK. I didn’t see Colleen that day, or I would have mentioned it to her too. I wonder if someone from BSN will see that they gained another satisfied customer from my post on them. I’m just happy to do my part to keep them in business—not that they seem to need any help—for a purely selfish reason: I love to shop there. —Pam

  9. Dawn says:

    What beautiful photos, Pam. I love those poppies and agree that the blue bistro set & urns would look terrific in your garden. Thanks for introducing another wonderful nursery I haven’t visited yet. Woohoo! I’d better put the plants I bought at the Wildflower Center into the ground before I visit BSN and buy some more. Once this rain stops I’ll start digging again.

    :-)
    Dawn

    I look forward to hearing about your first visit sometime, Dawn, and to reading about what you bought at the Wildflower Center. —Pam

  10. Eva Van Dyke says:

    hi pam,
    i loved your tour of bsn. yes, it’s my favorite nursery in town. i came here from germany five years ago and pretty much had to unlearn and relearn all my gardening practices. i have become a huge fan of texas natives and gardening to invite wildlife. monday is my grocery day, and on the way to central market i always veer off and stop by bsn for some little plant or ten. i got my butterfly garden started last fall with their great 4-inch plant sales. this spring, the plants have already grown a lot and are attracting bees and butterflies and even some caterpillars (plant fennel, dill and parsley for monarch babies, passionvine for gulf fritillary, and dutch man’s pipe for the exotic looking pipe vine swallowtail caterpillar)!
    greetings, eva
    ps – does anyone love our native groundcover calyptocarpus vialis as much as i do? did y’all know that it is by family a miniature sunflower?

    Hi, Eva. Thanks for commenting. I’m not that familiar with the native groundcover you mention. How do you use it in your garden? —Pam

  11. Eva says:

    hi pam,
    this is so cool, your wonderful website got me to blog about my love for native plants for the first time. …i try to encourage calyptocarpus vialis in my backyard in place of a lawn. it takes shade, some foot traffic and doesn’t mind being mowed. it also goes by the common names of horse herb and lawn flower. some people call it a weed because it comes up on its own and performes so well in our climate and soil (funny, i thought that’s what we expect from our landscape plants). i love the tiny yellow flowers.
    oh, does anyone know where i could get a crataegus (texas hawthorn) that will grow in my blackland prairie clay type soil? i read that cardinals love to nest in them.
    – eva

    Thanks for commenting, Eva, and good luck with your native plants! —Pam

  12. […] Twining up the post is my new Mexican snapdragon vine, which I bought at Barton Springs Nursery. I’d never seen it before this year and had to give it a try. So far I can report that it’s growing like a weed and blooming beautifully. Its ivy-like leaves are also quite pretty. […]

  13. […] Then it dawned on me. This is October weather right now! It’s been in the mid-80s rather than the usual mid-90s or 100s. It’s been raining steadily for weeks. (In fact, we got almost 3 inches more this morning.) No doubt Austin’s real summer will return from wherever it’s gone on vacation, but until then, I’m getting out the shovel. So I ran right out to Barton Springs Nursery and bought a trunkload of plants. […]

  14. […] Still, the pavonia is a pretty addition, and, hey, it was on sale at BSN. I just learned all I could want to know about it from Zanthan Gardens—thanks, MSS. (Don’t ya just love garden blogs—all that practical information, right at your fingertips!) […]

  15. […] sinewy cedar arbor offers a shady welcome to customers at Barton Springs Nursery—and provides a handy bike […]

  16. […] Flame’ bearded iris, which I purchased on a whim from Barton Springs Nursery several years ago, produces a profusion of lovely purple flowers in early spring as reliably as […]

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