Nursery tour: Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery

A naturalistic stream chattering around boulders and splashing into a large pond is the centerpiece of my garden—that is, the garden I dream of having one day. In reality, my small, flat garden is never likely to support this vision, so I make do with a 100-gallon container pond and keep thinking of a way to shoehorn another water feature—some sort of fountain—into the front garden.

My source for plants and fish for my container pond for the last 6 years—and inspiration for the future—has been Hill Country Water Gardens in Cedar Park (a suburb north of Austin). It’s the best water-garden resource center in the Austin area. Although the drive from central Austin takes about 30 minutes (longer in rush hour), it’s worth it for the service, selection, and ideas presented by the display ponds and fountains. Before you go, check their website to make sure of their hours. They close on Monday in the off-season, as I once discovered the hard way.

What makes this nursery worth the drive? The selection of water lilies and other pond plants is very good. I can always find anacharis (Egeria densa ) for sale here, a submerged plant that helps clean the water and which my two goldfish polish off several times a year. They even have quite a few Texas-native pond plants.

You can also purchase fish here—from big koi like this one to inexpensive comet goldfish.

The selection of decorative objects for your pond or garden is fantastic, from classic to fun to kitschy.

But the displays of pots and other containers for fountains or just decoration is what always gets my attention. I have a weakness for glazed pottery, though I try to be selective and very restrained in adding more to my garden at this point.

When you pull into their gravel lot and start looking around, you see these friendly signs inviting you to explore and ask if you have a question. If you do ask for help, the staff is always friendly and helpful, and if they don’t know the answer they’ll ask operations manager Christopher Howell, who is knowledgeable and service-oriented toward the do-it-yourselfer. Every Saturday at 11 a.m. he hosts a free seminar at the nursery; upcoming topics include “Installing Disappearing Fountains,” “Building Disappearing Streams,” “Container Gardening,” and “Pond Building.”

I like to stroll around the display ponds and streams, watching the fish and seeing what new plants and decor are in stock.

Seating nooks are tucked in near the display ponds.

For a more somber note, how about this column-like bust? I think this is “Summer,” and the other seasons were available too. I don’t know—it kind of reminds me of a cemetery.

This sculpture is more playful.

And this chicken is just plain goofy and fun.

Or how about putting this guy on a stone column in your garden? Noisy kids? The gargoyle will sympathize.

A classic choice. If only I had an old brick wall covered with ivy to put it on. In Savannah.

I thought this was pretty—papyrus in a simple “container bog.”

Another tiny container pond, this one intensely green thanks to the duckweed covering the water’s surface.

Here’s where I bought the dwarf yellow water lily ‘Helvola’ for my container pond. There are all sorts to choose from, and they’ll be blooming soon.

Here’s the fish shed, which contains long tanks of koi and goldfish separated by size and price.

A staff member scoops out a half dozen with a net into a large bucket, and then you make your selection. The fish go home with you in a plastic bag filled with water and compressed air; remember to bring a large bucket or other container to put the bag in for the drive home, or it’ll roll around and scare your fish.

These raised pond beds hold marginal (shallow-water) and bog plants.

When my children were younger, this was a key feature at any nursery I frequented—a play area. A wooden swing hangs from a tree nearby. But with all the ponds around, you couldn’t leave a young child unsupervised here, even for a minute or two. Still, it’s a great spot for your spouse and kids to rest while you promise “just one more minute” and stroll off with a smile on your face and a full wallet in your purse.

Just look at these colorful, glazed fountain vessels. Wouldn’t they be great in a tropical garden?

With a stool or table to match.

At the back of the nursery, an enormous number of containers are displayed in tiers. You could turn any one of these into a fountain. Or plant it. Or just tuck it unplanted into your garden as a focal point.

Tropical-loving gardeners can go whole hog with a tiki umbrella, carved furniture, and…

…mask-like carvings.

Chocolate-streaked canna, bamboo, and glazed, reddish-brown pots play well together.

If you like a more rugged water feature, try one of these stone fountains, like Annie in Austin installed. The manager told me that 70% of their fountain sales are to do-it-yourselfers like Annie and Philo. HCWG installs the other 30%, which amounts to about 2 or 3 fountains a week. After reading Annie’s post about their installation, I admire their handiness (and muscle!) but think I would have to get mine installed.

I haven’t even mentioned the selection of non-pond plants the nursery sells. Every time I visit they have an expanded selection, particularly of native and adapted perennials, including interesting plants like the Australian knife-leaf acacia and the red ‘Lady Margaret’ passion flower pictured above. When I commented on this to the manager, he told me that they plan to be a full-fledged nursery by next year, selling trees in addition to the perennials, shrubs, and pond plants they already carry. Their nursery staff could be a little more knowledgeable about the plants they do carry (two employees weren’t sure whether they carried plants I asked about on the day I visited, though it turned out the nursery did have them), but friendliness and a desire to help counts for a lot, and they always have that going for them.

Picking up that red passion flower and the anacharis I needed, I headed to the gift shop to pay.

More temptations appeared inside…

…including a nice selection of books about ponds and fountains. But I resisted and left with my plants and inspiring ideas for a future fountain.

All material © 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

23 Responses

  1. Layanee says:

    What a great place to browse and spend an afternoon dreaming and shopping. Great displays and wonderful pottery. Thanks for taking us on the trip.

    Thanks for joining me on the tour, Layanee. —Pam

  2. germi says:

    Pam, I wish we had a nursery as incredible as this one in LA – a great nursery can really be the grounding point for an expansive and expanding gardening community. We used to have one called Hortus that was so amazing, but alas, it folded due to overly rapid expansion. I miss it every day. In my part of the country, independant nurseries are a dying breed. Basically, it’s Armstrong or nothing. If I wasn’t part of the trade, I don’t know how I’d get my plants! You Austin gardeners are very, very lucky – I’m jealous!

    I MUST have that passionflower!

    Germi, I thought of you when I was buying this passionflower! I remember seeing a redder red passionflower on your blog a while ago, and I know that you have a collection. I hope you can find ‘Lady Margaret.’

    And you are quite right that we Austinites are very lucky to have the number of independent nurseries that we do. There are six good ones (two are excellent) within a 20-minute drive from my house, plus this one north of Austin. —Pam

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    OMGosh, this place looks great. I would love to have one each of all those big jars.

    Aren’t they tempting? There were so many more that I didn’t even take photos of. —Pam

  4. I definitely want to add a pond or water feature, sometime. This post makes me want to do it sooner rather than later. Hmmmm… maybe I’ll duplicate the garden in the first picture! Ha!

    But I won’t be getting one of those sculptures with the heads on top, they give me the heeby-jeebies.

    Thanks for this great tour. I would love to have a nursery/water garden center like this near me.

    Everyone needs a water feature of some sort, Carol. It’s easy to start with a container pond, and having a fountain installed by the nice fountain folks would be easy too, if expensive. One of these days I do plan to have a real pond in the ground, somewhere, somehow. —Pam

  5. cindee says:

    Wow what a wonderful visit! We don’t have anything like that here. I really appreciate you sharing the pictures with us. That place is amazing!

    Thanks for visiting with me, Cindee. —Pam

  6. eliz says:

    The late Beverley Nichols felt that a garden was not a garden without some type of water feature, no matter how small, and I tend to agree. The sound is the thing.

    I love the sound of a fountain. But a still pond is magical too, so the reflection of light is also important. —Pam

  7. Great photos – Ireally want to visit that nursery. I love the glazed pots I wish we had something like that over here in the UK – ours are so conversative

    Is that so? I guess there’s always mail order for the out-of-the-ordinary, but I’m sorry you don’t have a source that you can visit. Everyone’s comments are reminding me not to take places like this for granted. —Pam

  8. Frances says:

    Thanks for a tempting tour, Pam. The pots alone are worth the drive. This is something I have heard, and believe to be true, no matter how large you design and make your water feature, it is never big enough. Your red passionflower is stunning. We could drop some serious cash at that nursery, don’t alert the financier!

    I won’t, Frances, or he may not let you come back to Austin again. Next time you visit, we’ll hit the nurseries. —Pam

  9. Gail says:

    Now I want to visit Austin again, this time with a truck! Pam, this was a wonderful tour (and photos) with so many temptations. Thanks for the link to Annie’s fountain installation.

    It seems we need another Spring Fling with more nursery tours. Everyone and their trucks will be invited. ;-) —Pam

  10. Brenda Kula says:

    I went on a garden tour yesterday and one house had many, many water features in her yard that I admired. Loved the tour you gave for us. I wish I had a place I could visit close by like that. I have to drive all the way to Dallas, which may only be 90 miles. But the traffic keeps me from taking to the highways!

    Where do you like to go in Dallas, Brenda? I pass through there from time to time and wouldn’t want to miss someplace good. —Pam

  11. That’s one kick-ass garden center. It’s better than half the garden shows everyone’s been reporting on since February.

    I never quite “got” the garden show thing until I realized, finally, that in the north the nurseries close up shop for the winter. No wonder everyone craves an indoor gardening fix while winter drags on. Here in Austin, our many independent and incredible nurseries stay open and well-stocked all winter, so there’s no need for the garden show. At least not to my mind. —Pam

  12. Kathleen says:

    What a fabulous place and feast for the eyes. I drive at least that far to the greenhouses I frequent and they aren’t even comparable, you’re so lucky to have it nearby!

    Thanks for reminding me, Kathleen. I tend to take Austin’s numerous independent nurseries for granted, but your comment and others are reminding me to appreciate them even more than I do. —Pam

  13. Cinj says:

    What a fun visit! It looks like they’ve got a little something for everyone there. Those koi are so beautiful, if I weren’t so lazy I’d think about making a pond of my own.

    The koi are indeed beautiful. But I find goldfish to be entertaining and pretty too, and you don’t need a complicated, fancy pond to have some. A large container pond will do. —Pam

  14. chuck b. says:

    Looks like a fine establishment for some retail therapy.

    You bet, Chuck. —Pam

  15. Cindy says:

    Hi Pam! Great photos of that garden center…makes me want to move to Texas just to frequent that place. You’ve got some really great stock shots…I particularly like the sculptures (especially the one of the girl holding up her hands…5th photo from the top…great composition/cropping the head). Enjoyed the posting!

    Thanks for the comment, Cindy. The photo of the girl with the shell is my favorite from this series too. —Pam

  16. laxpat says:

    Wow! Our local water garden nursery and Koi seller doesn’t compare.
    How hardy is that passion flower? The red one I bought last year (from Home Depot) didn’t survive the winter.

    I don’t know how hardy it will prove, Laxpat. But I am growing it in a protected location next to my garden shed, on a south-facing exposure, and I hope it’ll survive our few freezes. —Pam

  17. Lisa Askew says:

    Wow, Pam, this place is amazing. I could spend days just walking around looking at everything. Thanks for taking us along with you!

    It is certainly a fun place to stroll around in. Thanks for visiting with me. —Pam

  18. Karen says:

    What a beautiful and fun journey! I just LOVE those pots!

    Aren’t they tempting? Thanks for commenting, Karen. —Pam

  19. Terra says:

    What a place for dreaming and inspiration that you have captured so well in your photos.
    I love the symphony of glazed pots on display.

    It’s quite a lovely nursery—lots to see. Thanks for your comment, Terra. —Pam

  20. Chandra says:

    Pam – I so appreciate your nursery profiles! As a newbie to gardening it’s so nice to learn about all of these hidden treasures. I never would have imagined this place existed way out in Cedar Park! We finally visited this weekend and what an inspiring place! We’re planning on attending at least one of their DIY seminars. Thanks again!

    HCWG is a hidden treasure for many Austinites. I’ve been shopping there for years for plants for my container pond, but lately I’ve been visiting for non-water plants too. I’m glad you enjoyed your visit also, Chandra. Thanks for letting me know. —Pam

  21. Christopher says:

    Pam…Thank you so much for your kind words about our Destination Nursery. One of your readers visited our gardens today & told me she found us through your Blog.

    I must say I am digging “Digging”. It is beautifully written and photographed. You have a good eye. You really captured the essence of our place.

    Update: We have expanded yet again & now have a beautiful 20’x 40′ Memorial Pond & a Garden Scale Train set running on the new property behind our new Gift & Garden Center. We have more than doubled the “Nursery” side of the business. Our “Nursery Manager” Nathan Unclebach is a Horticulturalist out of SFA. He has specialized in Hardy Hard to Find Plants for Central Texas and trees grown in this area. While some of our people are weak with plant knowledge, we have made arrangements to have someone on staff who can give as detailed information as one needs; everyday of the week. And we are working on improving that aspect of our training.

    We are so pleased that you have enjoyed our place & I look forward to meeting you again.

    Thanks for stopping by, Christopher. I always enjoy my visits to your nursery and have learned a lot about water gardening there, so I’m happy to spread the word. As always, I look forward to my next visit. —Pam

  22. Jan White says:

    Hi Pam – love your blog – and vicariously enjoyed your trips to find things to beautify your garden – it must be fabulous! Jan White

  23. […] …and this plant generically called “pond lily” by the guy who helped me at Hill Country Water Gardens. […]