Ready, Set, Go! The Springtime Race for What’s New in the Nurseries


by Tom Spencer / Soul of the Garden


Bamboo Muhly grass provides a feathery backdrop for a Bald Cypress tree in our garden.

When March approaches, I feel like a sprinter waiting in the starting blocks. My legs tense, my heart beats faster, and every fiber of my being readies itself for the hundred-yard dash to the nursery. Actually, my dash usually turns into a relay as I sprint from one nursery to another looking for the items on my shopping list. And who can blame me? Spring is when the nurseries load up for the annual flood of gardeners, both the amateurs and the, well, obsessed. And if you want the latest and coolest plants you better do your stretches, because the competition is fierce and the availability can be limited.

Every year, newly introduced plants tempt us with their novelty. They are advertised with all sorts of alluring adjectives: tough, unique, delicate, dependable, showy, fragrant, and spectacular. And lest you doubt my convictions, if not my obsession, I freely admit to buying into all of it. I’m a sucker for the latest thing and this spring I have done my homework. I have talked to the plant buyers and managers of my favorite nurseries and gotten their hot tips before making my first nursery run. Catch me if you can!

Sharon Truett, nursery manager for The Natural Gardener (, is excited about a variety of new shrubs and trees that she will be offering this springtime. The one that really piqued my curiosity is Vitex brevifolia “Purpurea,” a purple-foliage cousin of the familiar Lilac Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus) that is noted for its drought tolerance and dependable lavender blooms. Deep purple foliage and lavender blooms? Yum.

Another plant The Natural Gardener will be offering this spring is Walter Viburnum (Viburnum obovatum). This large shrub has great potential for Central Texas as an evergreen backdrop to perennial beds, a dense privacy screen or—for my fellow psycho-pruners—as a hyper-trimmed topiary. The dark green leaves are said to turn a reddish color in winter and the plants are covered with small white blooms for several weeks in early spring. A native of Florida, Walter Viburnum has proved itself to be tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions.

Berry fans will defintely want to take note of the new black and burgundy fruited Beauty Berries that The Natural Gardener will be selling. These relatives of our native American Beauty Berry (Callicarpa americana) promise to broaden our autumn color palette with their showy berries. The black-fruited variety also has interesting foliage with dark green surfaces and silvery bottoms.

Barton Springs Nursery has long been noted as Austin’s headquarters for native and well adapted plant introductions and this year is no exception. One of the newer plants they will be featuring is Nelson’s Blue Bear Grass (Nolina nelsonii), a drop-dead gorgeous Mexican import that resembles our native Blue Sotol (minus the Sotol’s razor sharp teeth!). This dramatic plant has great sculptural appeal and is destined to be a garden standard.

In the past few years, Barton Springs Nursery has been expanding its line of cold-hardy tropicals but this spring they are going bananas, literally. Banana fans will have fourteen different varieties to choose from, most of which bear edible fruit. These plants hail from all over the world and the folks at Barton Springs Nusery will be offering one to fit every garden size and style.

One plant that really caught my attention on the “what’s new” list from Barton Springs is the Pink Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua). This perennial is native to the high deserts of the American Southwest and can stand the heat and drought of a typical Texas summer as well as our occasional deep winter freezes. The blooms of the Globe Mallow resemble miniature hibiscus blossoms and the foliage is a cool grey-green.

The folks at The Great Outdoors ( are thinking “big and bushy” this springtime. Robb Hall, their plant buyer, is excited by the array of Acacias that they will be offering. These small trees, many native to Australia, offer striking foliage colors and free-flowing forms. Most are very drought tolerant and should prove well adapted in Central Texas.

Another new introduction at The Great Outdoors is the Yellow Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa “Lemon Yellow”). This is a large cone-shaped shrub that grows twenty-five to thirty feet tall. It has striking yellow foliage that has a distinct lemon aroma. Those looking for outrageous color and strong architecture in the same plant should look no further.

Bamboo Muhly is the grass of choice at The Great Outdoors. Although this plant has been around for a few years, Hall is convinced it is the superstar of the ornamental grasses and will prominently feature it in their nursery yard this spring. Bamboo Muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) grows up to six feet tall and is best known for its airy sprays of foliage that seem to be in constant motion. It is heat and drought tolerant and is about as big and bushy as an ornamental grass can get!

Yucca Do Nursery in Hempstead, Texas, is one of the country’s most respected mail-order operations. Run by dedicated plant collectors, Yucca Do has served as the US point of entry for dozens of new plant species since opening. When I talked with nursery manager Carl Schoenfeld, he told me about so many exciting new introductions that I almost jumped in my car! Unfortunately, Yucca Do is open to the public only occasionally so I had to be content poring over their on-line catalog ( The good news for you is that Schoenfeld will be the featured guest on The Central Texas Gardener’s Spring Gardening Special. His topic? “What’s new.” The program will air on Saturday, March 13, at noon, on KLRU-TV. Tune-in and get tuned-up for your own springtime dash to the nurseries!


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