September is for Shopping: A Guide to Area Nurseries


by Tom Spencer / Soul of the Garden


September is supposed to be the beginning of autumn, but here in Central Texas, it simply marks the final full month of our half-year-long summer. Despite the lingering heat, when Labor Day has passed, my green thumb starts to itch and I cruise my favorite nurseries looking for the plants I have been dreaming about during my summer hibernation. Late October is when fall really arrives, and in our area, it is the best time of the year for planting. So, when the first true cold front blows through I’ll be ready and all of that cruising will pay off with a big splurge followed by a planting party.


Where do I go to shop? I often get asked that question. Many of you know, because you see me out perusing the plants. But, for the rest of you, here is my short list of favorite local nurseries:


Barton Springs Nursery—This has been one of my favorites for many years. Famous for its selection of Texas native plants, Barton Springs offers just about everything that can be grown in our demanding climate. In recent years, I have found myself drawn to its extensive collection of rare (to the nursery trade) desert plants from all over the Southwest and Mexico. But Barton Springs also offers old-time favorites along with the latest introductions. Since October is tree planting time, be sure to check out the selection of native and adapted species. You’ll find all of the must-have supplies here and a very tempting selection of ornaments and pots too, so be prepared to linger in this relaxed and very Austintatious garden center.


One of the things I most appreciate about Barton Springs Nursery is its staff, from owners Conrad and Bernadine Bering to the folks at the front desk. If you want to meet some of the area’s coolest and most knowledgeable gardeners simply strike up a conversation with one of the salespeople here—they are great! Barton Springs Nursery is located at 3601 Bee Caves Road, about halfway between MoPac and 360.


The Natural Gardener—This is much more than a nursery and supplier of excellent soils and composts; it is a garden destination. Home to a beautiful herb garden, an outdoor labyrinth, a butterfly garden and more, The Natural Gardener is the creation of renowned garden guru John Dromgoole. In addition to all of the inspiring garden spaces, this is probably one of the finest organic supply sources in the nation. You’ll find everything you need here to garden in the greenest of fashions, from ladybugs to the Lady Bug Natural Brand of organic fertilizers. In recent years, the nursery side of the business has really begun to shine with an outstanding selection of high quality native and adapted plants.


Note to the perpetually prepared: one of my favorite things about The Natural Gardener is their selection of built-to-last tools, which make perfect gifts if you have a gardener on your holiday list! The Natural Gardener is located in Oak Hill at 8648 Old Bee Caves Road. Call for directions or view the map on the web site at


Gardens—This is Austin’s most famous nursery outside of Austin! Celebrated in national publications, Gardens is a nursery for gardeners who crave unusual plants and style. Every time I visit Gardens I find a plant that I can’t live without and about twenty design ideas that I want to steal. For gorgeous presentation and incredible plants this nursery and interior shop is a must-see. For years, Gardens had a reputation as the garden center for the well-heeled only, and that others were less than welcome. However, on all of my recent visits I found the staff to be enthusiastic, knowledgeable and helpful. All that I can say is that you have to go. If not, you’ll be missing out on one of the best garden centers in the nation. Don’t let the prices (which are really quite comparable to other nurseries on like-items) or presentation intimidate you. You’ll find something your garden will thank you for!


Gardens reflects the design savvy of owner James David, who also happens to be Austin’s most famous garden designer, and is located at 1818 W. Thirty-Fifth street, just a few blocks east of MoPac.


Big Red Sun Nursery—The new kid on the style block for those with a sense of ultra-cool. Owners Dylan Robertson and Selena Souders are the remarkable design team behind this nursery. Step through the gate at Big Red Sun and you will be transported to a different realm where gardening in our extreme climate all of a sudden looks like a gift, not a curse. Bold sculptural agaves and swaying grasses blend in with hand-crafted pots and garden objets d’art. If you are looking for inspiration along with the perfect plant (or perhaps a vintage ’fifties urn) then this is your place.


Big Red Sun is located at 1101 E. Cesar Chavez St., just three blocks east of I-35.


Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery—This one’s in the far-north country (to those of us who are denizens of the central city) but is worth the trek out to Cedar Park. They have an exceptional selection of bog and water-garden plants, fish, and a full line of landscape favorites. Owner Steve Kainer is one of the nicest guys in the local nursery trade and runs a great operation. Hill Country Water Gardens is not just for “ponders,” but it would be hard to imagine water gardening here without them. Located at 1407 N. Bell Blvd. (US Highway 183).


And don't forget about It's a Jungle, The Great Outdoors, and Park Place Gardens... all locally owned and operated by gardeners!


Happy September! See you in the garden centers!


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