How is it that some people naturally have a green thumb? Are they born plant experts or did they learn how to make living things thrive over time?
I’ve survived a roller coaster of success and failure with plants of my own. More often than not, I can’t figure out what I did wrong or right. Am I destined for a life of silk flowers and plastic fronds?
That question has crossed my mind a time or two. But after picking the brains of two Austin plant experts at Barton Springs Nursery and Frond Plant Shop, I’ve decided a green thumb isn’t hereditary; it’s contagious.
Plant Parenthood: Harder Than a Goldfish, Easier Than a Child
If you’re going to learn about Texas plants, the best place to start is a place that nurtures its plants as if they were growing children. Barton Springs Nursery lives up to its name. Tucked along Bee Caves Road, this one stop shop for all things plant-related is a gardener’s playground.
I walked around the grounds greeted by hearty trees and sweet succulents. Tables were brimming with leafy stalks specially adapted to Texas. It truly felt like I was in a nursery school of children who had been taught the best manners and fed the best snacks. They showed off how much they’d grown at the hands of their teachers.
Colby Adams, the nursery’s plant buyer, led me around, proud of his flock of happy plants. He has ears lined with piercings, a cowboy hat and hands that look as though they were made for coaxing seeds to sprout. He smiles sheepishly when asked what his favorite plant is. “I’ve always been seduced by fragrance,” he chuckles, describing the Datura, a plant whose fragrant white flowers look like French horns and only bloom at night.
Even If You Aren’t an ATX Native, Your Plants Can Be
Adams explains that although the nursery has its share of exotics and easy indoor plants, like the cheekily named Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, its niche is plants that are native and well-adapted to Texas.
Some plants aren’t meant to grow in a climate like ours. You can’t go wrong with a plant whose roots are in Texas. According to Adams, the soil in Austin is as diverse as its traffic patterns. West of Mopac is sandy and dry, while to the east it’s dense and earthy.
When customers walk into Barton Springs Nursery, the staff will often give them an interview of sorts. Are they planting inside or out? If the plants are going straight into the ground, they want to know what side of town you live on to figure out your soil profile. With this level of attention to detail, these experts will find the best plants for you.
Have Your Plants and Eat Them, Too
There are customers who know exactly what they want when they come to Barton Springs Nursery, like four-foot topiaries they can sculpt into poodles, or a fiddle leaf fig for the front room. But not everyone is so specific. Thankfully, the nursery has something for everyone.
Every year, the City of Austin comes out with a Grow Green Guide that features hundreds of plants that grow well in Austin and don’t require an absurd amount of water. Adams notes that Barton Springs Nursery carries nearly every plant in the guide, in addition to its large selection of herbs, vegetables and exotics.
If you really want to get adventurous, Adams can offer a wide variety of ornamental edibles, like the Acerola Cherry plant, a bush with little berries whose flavor is often used in Vitamin C tablets. Two generations ago, it was much more common for people to know which plants you could eat when you were out in nature; now it’s rare. Adams laughed as he explained that microwaves and packaged foods made it much less important to have edible horticultural knowledge.
Frond Plant Shop: Plants in the City
If you’re not quite ready to break out the spade and plunge your hands into the soil, I have another plant shop for you. Four months ago, Cecilia Garza-Barnes opened Frond Plant Shop, a posh store on South 1st Street. Garza-Barnes admits that her background is not in horticulture; it’s in design–which is clear from the beautiful setup of her shop. Leafy greens happily sit in geometric ceramic pots and shiny copper planters.
Adventures in plant keeping began as a hobby for Garza-Barnes. When she began working on Frond Plant Shop, she was excited to offer others the opportunity to incorporate plants into their environments. Greens are swiftly becoming a key part of the design esthetic of any living or working space.
Just a Part of Growing Up
Garza-Barnes thinks of plant parenting as another step in the coming of age process. As you start a new chapter of life, learn to be a grown up and move into a new space, you can also learn to care for plants. And believe me, any plant from Frond Plant Shop, paired with a lovely pot, will definitely make that first apartment feel more grown up.
Unlike Barton Springs Nursery, the majority of Frond Plant Shop’s inventory is made up of indoor plants, a good first purchase for the novice gardener. Garza-Barnes also works with her customers to find the right plant for their specific space. For beginners, she recommends snake plants (the same thing as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue that I mentioned earlier), which reach up from pots like green striped fingers, excited to clean your air. Then there are air plants which, much like slow cookers, you can set and forget for awhile.
Whether a plant is low-maintenance or needy, Garza-Barnes reassured me that even plant experts accidentally kill a plant every once and a while. “The key is not to be scared,” she added.
After spending time with these different but equally enthusiastic Austin experts, their love for plants is beginning to rub off on me. With their encouraging words and advice, anyone can learn to be a plant parent and full-fledged gardener.
Keep reading: “Best Places in Austin to Outfit Your Fall Garden”
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