Nursery tour: The Great Outdoors


For a nursery located within spitting distance of downtown, on South Congress Avenue, The Great Outdoors is surprisingly large, which befits a place featuring a nearly life-size topiary elephant as its mascot and another on its sign.


From the street you glimpse a colorful mural, a screen of ornamental grasses, cannas, Pride of Barbados…


…and a rainbow of flowering purslane.


The nursery is situated on a sloping, live oak-shaded property, with shady paths leading to well-marked plant sections.


The succulent and cactus area is always tempting.


Mmm, look at all that agave goodness.


They’re all so gorgeous.


This is one of my current faves: Agave americana mediopicta ‘Alba.’


Down the hill, a gift shop surprises with a green roof.


Smaller cacti and succulents are offered here.


A lot of these are tender in our climate, but they can be treated as annuals or brought inside for the winter.


Fun garden decor abounds.


Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.


Tempting displays of glazed pots. I like the way they mix them up with plants, although these African iris are not too inspiring.


Some of the pots have been made into fountains.


Here’s a nice combo: white echinacea and silver artemesia. This would be perfect for a moonlight garden, and it’s visually cooling during the day.


Now this is inspirational: silvery plants (acacia, silver ponyfoot, gopher plant) paired with white pots.


The sun-loving perennials and butterfly-attracting plants occupy the main part of the nursery, with a vegetable section under the pergola.


My daughter found a few queen butterflies sucking the dregs on a Mexican flame vine.


Pots for those hot-hued plants


And when the August sun is trying to kill your gardening joy, it’s time to display your grim reaper garden art.


More pots—there’s a rainbow of choices.


These metal roosters would be the perfect decor for all those Austin hen houses, and they’re quiet too.


Zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa) in lemon-yellow pots


An eye-catching wall display near the checkout counter


The Great Outdoors carries a good selection of natives and well-adapted perennials, as well as clumping bamboo, semi-hardy Australian acacias, tropicals, and agaves and other succulents. The garden art is fun and mostly of the kitschy variety, and you can find lots of glazed pots and a few water features for sale. A cafe with a shady deck sits at street level and overlooks the nursery, providing a great spot to take a break and ponder your plant list, which you’re about to deviate from with some impulse buys. And who can blame you?

All material © 2006-2010 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

17 Responses

  1. This is such a great nursery. I don’t think I’ve ever been there, that I left empty handed.

    So, what was it you bought?

    A few extras of plants I already have, which I need to fill in some bare spots, like Mexican oregano, silver ponyfoot, blue sage, and gopher plant. Plus I got a few fun succulents for a new planter my daughter is gardening in. —Pam

  2. David C says:

    Been there, done that, and got the tee shirt…er, took many pics while there in ’04! Very inspired nursery, and I remember the massive live oaks over part of their displays, as well as a cafe near the street (Congress?) where I sipped some good joe and a cookie. Pondering combining elements of Big Red Sun, the Great Outdoors, and the Antique Rose Emporium in “San Antone”.

    Your area has so many great horticultural places, so unique from other places…your reward for August!

    Yes, we are lucky to have so many great independent nurseries in Austin. I’ve posted about the Antique Rose Emporium in San Antonio and the ARE in Brenham, as well as Big Red Sun, which, sadly, no longer offers retail in Austin. —Pam

  3. Wow what a great (dangerous) place! So interesting to see the different container selection from what we have here in Portland. And those agave, cactus, yucca….oh my!

    You’d enjoy a visit here, Loree. Lots of agaves and other dangerous plants! —Pam

  4. Beautiful pictures of a great nursery. A great relief from removing grass to make 200 square feet of garden beds in Galveston with a current heat index of 110. But you forgot the best part. You can eat a really delicious sandwich on the back porch of the sandwich shop while enjoying the overview of the nursery.

    Whew, that sounds like hot work, Marilyn. But won’t you have fun with planting when fall arrives! As for the cafe, yep, I mentioned it in my last paragraph. :-) —Pam

  5. Donna says:

    What a neat garden center. This is what I would like to see around my area. A fun and color place to visit and shop. Looks like many handmade garden ornaments and even spotted a garden gnome. They have really nice displays and love the graphics.

    It’s a fun place to shop, Donna, with a very nice selection of plants and pots. —Pam

  6. Les says:

    That looks like a great garden center, but when I saw the title and the first photo, my brain said miniature golf.

    You are so right, Les! They seem to have a good sense of humor over there. They’d probably think it funny. —Pam

  7. Gail says:

    Pam, This nursery looks like a great resource~You lucky folks in Austin! Our most similar nursery closed a few years ago~Now all the nurseries are offering the same old same old 10 shrubs and perennials. gail

    Oh no, Gail, really? That’s just not right when there are hard-core gardeners like you living in Nashville. You deserve better than the same-old same-old. —Pam

  8. Denise says:

    I can only assume from the size of this nursery and the selection that there’s a strong market for these plants in Austin. Is that true, Pam? Is Austin mad over these plants? Here in SoCalif there’s a succulent section in every nursery, with the selection growing bigger every year, but I only know of one nursery, the California Cactus Center, that devotes its entire inventory to these plants. Thanks for the tour. How neat the butterfly was so calm for your daughter.

    Oh yes, there’s a big demand for these plants, Denise, even though our freeze-prone climate requires winter protection for the tender ones. The trendier parts of town tend to appreciate them more than the more-traditional neighborhoods. Every independent nursery I can think of carries a selection of succulents, and you can even find them in the big-box stores’ garden centers. —Pam

  9. Germi says:

    COLOR ME JEALOUS!!!
    Oh Austin, how I love you!
    Pam, this looks like a place that would cause me to go totally broke – but damn my garden would look good! I wish we had great nurseries here in LA! I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s so TRUE! Like Denise said, only California Cactus Center (my home away from home) has this kind of a selection of succulents … but I want a place where I can get awesome succulents as well as all the supporting players – the salvias, the euphorbias, the grasses… I want it ALL!
    I guess I have to move to Austin!
    Gorgeous photos! XOXO!

    You would LOVE the nurseries here, Germi, although I’m still flabbergasted to think that L.A. doesn’t offer this sort of thing. By all means, move to Austin! It would be great to visit the garden centers with you, looking for goth plants and fabulous agaves. One downside though, for succulent lovers like ourselves: it does freeze here. :-( —Pam

  10. Lola says:

    Hi Pam,
    Hope all is great with you. I would like to know the name of the succulent that is in the right side of pic 9. I had one for yrs till this past winter. I bought it at a flea market in N.C.

    It’s hard to tell, Lola. Are you thinking of Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’? —Pam

  11. Carol says:

    We just do not have garden centers like that in my city. It hardly seems fair! Or if we have them, they are wayyyyyy on the other side of the city & I haven’t been to them!

    That’s NOT fair, Carol. Every gardener should have access to at least one great local nursery. Indianapolis, it seems, is underserved. Maybe the Garden Writers Association meeting next year in Indianapolis will excite enough interest to induce someone to start one. —Pam

  12. Abbey says:

    Hi Pam, I was checking out the Re-nest blog today and one of your stock tanks was featured with a link to your 2007 entry. Cool. http://www.re-nest.com/re-nest/planttherapy/galvanized-stock-tanks-as-planters-124689

    Thanks for the heads-up, Abbey. —Pam

  13. Darla says:

    Thanks for the tour, I love visiting nurseries!!

    My pleasure, Darla. Me too. —Pam

  14. […] the Great Outdoors last week, I spotted this shriveled, dying agave holding up a 12-foot flower spike covered in bulbils, tiny […]

  15. Weeder says:

    OMG! I would go into serious debt if I got in there! Good thing Austin is a long ways from Sacramento! :>) Thank you so much for the tour!

    You’re welcome. Thanks for commenting! —Pam

  16. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Pam, I’m determined to make a trip to Austin in October so I can do the rounds of the nurseries. This one’s on the list! I’m laughing to keep from crying at the timeliness of that Grim Reaper. The Weather Underground station in my subdivision is currently showing 103.8 at 5 pm.

    Are you going to come for the Garden Conservancy tour, Cindy? East Side Patch’s garden will be on the tour, as well as the David-Peese garden we visited during the Austin Spring Fling two years ago. —Pam

  17. Pretty amazing looking place. Did you succumb to any of the blue pots?!

    I resisted, Linda. I got a few plants and one giant metal agave that I haven’t showed on my blog yet. I’m looking for just the right spot for my big fake plant. Yes, really. —Pam

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