Visit to Living Desert cactus nursery

Before the roller derby, we spent part of a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon at Living Desert, a cactus nursery and gift shop out on Highway 71 West in Bee Cave. Living Desert is known for piles of colorful slag glass for sale in the back yard and a shop full of free-spirited, reclaimed-junk art works and creative cactus planters.

Darrell, Yvonna, and Jared Dunten run the place and make almost everything themselves, and their rustic, glass garden ornaments are particularly beautiful.

Here’s another example.

For thirty years, according to Darrell, they’ve rented the old house that is their store…

…and operated a cactus greenhouse in the back yard.

Another look

Obviously they’ve had some problems with cacti being shoplifted, as spiky as that is to imagine.

Times are a-changing, however, and rapid retail development along Highway 71 is encouraging the Duntens’ landlady to sell, which is forcing them to move their operation 10 miles further west, Darrell told me, although he wasn’t sure when that would occur.

Until then, business continues as usual. In an effort to protect their artistic creations from being easily duplicated, the Duntens have posted “No Photos” signs in their shop. But when I asked Darrell if I could take a general photo of the interior and some exterior shots for my blog, he said no problem. I offered to link to his shop to help people find it, but he just laughed and shook his head. “No website,” he said. They may be old-school regarding technology, but you can still find their address and phone number online with a quick search.

While my kids donned gloves to paw through the piles of glinting slag glass for a must-have treasure…

…I admired a line of potted golden barrel cacti…

…and agaves.

Glass-eyed faces attached to rebar make an intriguing garden ornament for those who like an audience when they work in the garden.

A close-up

Living Desert reminds me of old Austin, of South Austin, with independent-minded, friendly proprietors and a sense of creative, earthy fun. I’m glad to know they’re not folding up shop over the development issue but just moving west. Their unique creations and colorful, funky store will still be worth the drive.

Update: The store, renamed Living Desert Ranch, has moved to Spicewood and now has a website.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

27 Responses

  1. Nancy Bond says:

    The cacti are most impressive, but it’s the glass that would really claim my attention! What a really cool place!

    And glass will grow anywhere, Nancy. ;-) —Pam

  2. Linda says:

    I’ve been here. It’s a cool place. Lots of funky art and cacti. Used to be “way out” on 71. Now, they’re surrounded by retail. Too bad they have to move, after all these years. But, glad they’re not closing down.

    That’s how I feel, Linda. It must be difficult for them to have to pull up stakes after all those years though. —Pam

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    My wallet was trembling and my Charge Card was jumping at the thought of being emptied at this store. What fun. I love those slag glass creations. I would be a cactus collector if I lived in your zone.

    You would enjoy this place, Lisa. Maybe you can stop by on your next bird-watching excursion to South Texas. —Pam

  4. Gail says:

    I could happily spend a little time and part of my budget there! My list of places to visit when I get to Austin in late spring is growing! gail

    There are a LOT of fun nurseries here, Gail. You might have to bring a new credit card and a pickup truck with you when you come. —Pam

  5. April says:

    That has to be hands down one of the most amazing places I have ever seen! So unique. They have amazing things. Right up my alley!

    I hope you get to visit it one day, April. Thanks for your comment. —Pam

  6. Nicole says:

    Thanks for the tour-cool place, and nice to see people who can still manage to do what they enjoy for a living.

    That’s true, Nicole. They’ve managed to make it work for them for 30 years and counting. —Pam

  7. Loree says:

    And I thought I would never read a post that mentioned both Roller Derby and a Cactus Nursery! If anyone can pull it off though I guess it had to be you Pam…what a fun day!

    I try to keep it interesting over here, Loree. ;-) Glad you enjoyed it. —Pam

  8. Lori says:

    I’ve never heard of this place, but it looks like it’d be fun to visit. I usually love faces in the garden but I can’t decide if those faces with glass eyes are too creepy even for me!

    Yeah, they’re too creepy for me too. Imagine how May Dreams Carol would feel about them! I love the glass though. —Pam

  9. Bren says:

    Those blue Garden Stakes are amazing!!!! You are so lucky to be so close to a fabulous shop like this one. I have been blogging about local greenhouse / retailers too. I think it is great to help out other gardeners in our area by sharing our thoughts and ideas.
    Happy Spring – Hope you are staying dry. I hear it is super wet in Austin.

    Hi, Bren. Thanks for visiting. It’s dry again in Austin and has been since last Friday. Maybe you’re thinking of Houston, which got deluged? —Pam

  10. Brenda Kula says:

    Those faces are both ghoulish and priceless! They look like something I would definitely have in my garden. And I’d love to paw through that colorful slag glass!

    Yes, the glass is irresistible, Brenda. I have smaller chunks in container plantings. —Pam

  11. Layanee says:

    How did you get the barrel cactus in the backseat with the kids? Sacrifices must be made.

    Ouch, that would hurt. No, I tied it on the hood of my car, like a hood ornament. ;-) —Pam

  12. Jenny says:

    Doesn’t it make you mad? All those changes over there, the Backyard being driven out and all the other little businesses which were so interesting. (I remember sitting under the stars at the backyard listening to Hal Ketchum. It was a magic night.) And what was it all for? That horrible shopping center (in foreclosure) and the one across the road which you only see the roofs of as you drive by. I hate it.

    I saw Willie Nelson at the Backyard a number of year ago. It was a special place, wasn’t it? —Pam

  13. Randy says:

    OH I would so be digging through that pile with the kids! I am a major glitter bug. I’m as bad as a raven when it comes to things that sparkle.

    I remember your Christmas tree, Randy. You have a talent for decorating your nest with sparkly things. —Pam

  14. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Pam, I’m putting Living Desert on my must see list for my next trip to Austin! I love those faces … I think one is destined for my garden.

    Oh yeah? I think you’re the first commenter who hasn’t been ambivalent about the faces, Cindy. Then you really should get one. I wish I could have shown more of the inside of the shop too. —Pam

  15. AngryRedHead says:

    Oh wow, I need to find this place. I hadn’t ever heard of it. Doh!

    I hope you get to see it before they move. It’s a cool place. —Pam

  16. Oh what fun! The place looks so delightful– great browsing!


    Yes, it’s a fun place. —Pam

  17. chuck b. says:

    Wouldn’t it be great to have one’s own nursery?–without all the real-world issues, of course. I would love it.

    I do, Chuck. It’s at the Unsold House—the one upside. :-) —Pam

  18. I love their art. We have a family at the farmer’s market that does something similar. I do love glass. Don’t know about those masks though. They’re scary. :) ~~Dee

    Their glass creations are so pretty. I really should get one. —Pam

  19. How long have you been waiting to begin a post, “Before the roller derby…?” The blue glass wrapped in copper wire is gorgeous in the sunlight. And golden barrel cactus–one of my favorites. Too bad to hear they’ll have to move. Moving is stressful enough without even when huge numbers of cactus aren’t involved. Ouch.

    Yes, that will be a sticky situation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the move made them a bit prickly. —Pam

  20. cindee says:

    I love this place! I wish they had online shopping. I bet they could sell a lot of stuff that way! The glass is so cool! The masks hanging there are very unique too.(-: If I lived closer I would go there all the time(-:

    Hi, Cindee. I don’t get the feeling that the Living Desert folks will have an online presence anytime soon—or ever. :-) It’s a cool place though. —Pam

  21. What a wonderful place, but how sad to spend 30 years and then have to move! We once had a large golden barrel cactus stolen off of our back porch. Her name was Hortense! We always figured it was someone from a student party a couple of houses over who could see our garden from the upper porch. We also figured they had to be drunk to try to pick up that big prickly babe!

    Oh, my heart breaks for your loss of Hortense, Linda. Bad enough to have a plant stolen off your porch, but for it to be a treasure like a large golden barrel is tragic. —Pam

  22. Donny Slidelle says:

    Hey – my wife and kids love this place.
    We just found another great cactus nursery just a little further west of the Living Desert, in Spicewood – it is called Spicewood Spines Succulent Nursery and Art Gallery. I have never seen a bigger selection of cacti and succulents and they are all so healthy and beautiful. They also have a very nice art gallery and gift shop with lots of local artists represented. They are in this really old house built around 1900.
    Believe me – it is worth the drive.
    After you visit Spicewood Spines, head to Marble Falls for a piece of famous pie at the Bluebonnet Cafe!

    Donny, thanks so much for your comment and the tip about Spicewood Spines. With pie at the Bluebonnet Cafe as an added enticement, that sounds like a road trip that needs to happen soon. —Pam

  23. Succulent Sally says:

    I just found your blog and love how you promote local nurseries – I go to all of them I can!
    I am a longtime visitor to the Living Desert. I buy lots of glass for art projects.
    What a coincidence…..
    Just this past weekend I drove out west of the Living Desert and I, too, found Spicewood Spines. I love old houses and this one is a nice example of early 1900’s Texas Americana. Walk through the house filled with lovely art and wonderful smells and enter a succulent eden out back. They have a splendid selection of cold hardy cacti and succulents for your Austin area garden, and a greenhouse stuffed full of all sorts of exotic cacti and succulents from around the world. I did not know they made so many wild, crazy succulents.
    I will be going back for sure.

    Thanks for visiting, Succulent Sally (I love your name). I’m glad to hear a second recommendation for Spicewood Spines. I’ll definitely make time for a road trip this summer. —Pam

  24. Aiyana says:

    This is my kind of place! I really like the glass garden ornaments–something new for me. I could probably spend hours going through all the stuff at this place. Wish it were closer.

    Those glass ornaments would really catch the desert sunlight. Maybe a road trip is in order. —Pam

  25. Jane says:

    What a wonderful resource and such a sense of spirit to the place. Wish I were closer. The glass is amazing!

  26. Denise K says:

    Places like this are really what inspire gardeners. I love the piles of tumbled chunks-o-glass. What a charming setting. There’s no way Home Depot can immitate. Hooray for the independent garden center! Thanks for sharing.