The Natural Gardener Nursery: Garden Blogger's Fling, Austin

 Go organic! That's the motto for this fabulous nursery.
The Natural Gardener in Austin is next up on the Austin Garden Blogger's Fling series of blog posts. This first day, the rain really didn't let up until the afternoon. The photos are pretty soggy, but we all carried on nonetheless. Stick with me for a look around this iconic nursery, rain or no rain. Let's go.

Welcome indeed! I know that's a garden blogger by the oh-so-stylish poncho that we all donned. Mine was blue, for the record.

I had not heard of The Natural Gardener until the Fling itinerary was in place. And what I learned is that this is a destination nursery, complete with free classes, teaching gardens, a store, houseplants, veggie starts, a veggie garden, a butterfly garden, a retail nursery and all around good vibes. Opened in 1993, the grounds were amazing, despite the soaking rain. Come along and meet John Dromgoole, a pioneer and celebrity in the world of organic gardening.

The nursery has won many awards in Texas over the years, including "Best Nursery in Austin" for 10 years. In addition to the nursery, John is the host of America's longest-running organic gardening radio show, Gardening Naturally on KLBJ AM 590. He is also a television personality and public speaker spreading information about the benefits of organic gardening without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. I subscribe to his and the nursery's way of thinking so this was a special treat. Let's look around the nursery to gain a glimpse into this Austin institution.

The staff was not only very knowledgeable, they were extremely welcoming.

I know many of us on this grand tour of Austin gardens were very pleased to see all these wonderful spikes.

Agave ovatifolia 'Vanzie'. Would this have been a smaller plant, I would have taken it home.

Golden barrel cactus or Echinocatus grusonii.

Opuntia 'Bunny Ears'

They have an amazing selection of perennials, herbs, grasses, vines - you name it. Many or most seem to be native to Texas. Such selection!

 Spineless prickly pear or Opuntia cacanapa 'Ellisiana' would be a plant we saw at so many gardens we visited. I would really love to find one here if it is available. Those spines are really quite rubbery, hence its common name.

 Spiny close-up.

A Pennisetum - like 'Vertigo' but not the same color, likely a perennial for folks in Austin, but more of an annual for us even though we're technically the same zone - 8a-ish.

"Microbe" brewery. Ha ha . . . I had not caught that until I went through my photographs. I think I was paying attention to those metal sauguro cactus.

Agaves and spiky things. Great selection.

Classes! Education is a wonderful thing. It's great to see such huge and important topics being covered here. Well, the one about snakes might not be so huge but is very important for Central Texas, I imagine.

Salvia 'Wendy's Wish'

Calylophus drummondianus var. berlandieri, a Texas native otherwise known as sundrops. Works well as a full-sun ground-cover. Deer and drought resistant, great rock garden plant.

This is actually what we saw driving up in the bus. My heart was racing. 

Oh, the agaves. Were I to live in Austin, I think I'd come home with one a week. At least.

Hesperaloe varieties and Yucca rostrata.

They have a wonderful selection of grasses. Not all are native to Texas but many are. The Muhlenbergia species were numerous; I was very impressed.

I wandered around a little past the nursery to a couple of the display gardens. The butterfly garden was lovely, full of pollinator plants.

A Passiflora - passion flower vine up front on the gate.

This photo reminds me of a conversation I had in this garden with Fling planner Laura Wills (Wills Family Acres blog) who lives in Austin. We were discussing our zones and soils in our respective regions. Even though Austin and Portland share the same hardiness zone, the soil and drainage are much different. This means some plants do well for us and not Texas, and vice-versa. They have limestone under just a few inches of soil in some cases - and everything seems to drain away very quickly vs. our clay-like soil that drains slowly. This is why I believe so many desert like plants do so much better than they do for us. It's not so much the cold or rainfall, but the combination of cold and wet soil that doesn't drain as well. We mitigate this by adding crushed gravel and compost to help break up our soil and facilitate drainage.

Moving along through the butterfly garden I spotted this display. Just a few butterflies! Central Texas has a great many, according to this poster.

This is cool. Watch your step indeed!

The limestone in Texas is a warm color, used in much of the architecture, too. It all feels warm and welcoming, even on the chilliest, wettest of days.

Back to the nursery, more agaves illuminate a gray day.

And more jumbo Yucca rostrata.

Indeed. Well said. Let's get planting!

Last but not least, the man himself, the visionary, the very kind soul, John Dromgoole. He welcomed us all as we ate our lunch, told us a few stories about working with Lady Bird Johnson herself and his journey that brought him to be a leader in organic gardening. I have a lot of respect for him and what he is doing for Texas, for the gardening world in general and for the planet.

As most of you know, I work for a nursery myself. I know how much work goes into even getting one plant grown in the greenhouses out on the table looking great, priced and labeled correctly and displayed in a pleasing manner. Then there's maintenance, watering, etc. - and keeping the place looking great. There is so much more to it than that, and most nursery people are not in it for the money, for there really isn't much. We tend to be in it because we love plants and want to share them with others. I'm so thrilled then to say that this nursery, The Natural Gardener, is so successful on many levels. The nursery is immaculate, the employees helpful and friendly, the plants are gorgeous and really well-priced and all the extras - classes, advice, seeds, products, display gardens are done with flair. I am not surprised they are a destination nursery for Texans. I would go here all the time if I lived anywhere near it. On that note, I want to encourage you, the gardening public, to continue to support your local nursery. We tend to grow plants that you can't find elsewhere, staff is knowledgeable and can help you find the right plant for the right place and we depend on you to stay afloat. From one nursery employee to The Natural Gardener, it was an honor to visit. I will be back someday when it's not raining.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting, and happy gardening one and all!


  1. I agree what a treasure, a great local resource. Thanks so much for the re-visit!

  2. I love your post about this place -- such an awesome local nursery for us Austin gardeners. We are lucky gardeners indeed! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about it during our visit at Austin Fling.

    1. Thank you Pam! You are so lucky indeed - thank you for taking us to this wonderful place. It is a gem.

  3. I'm glad to see that someone (you!) did right by The Natural Gardener. I took some photos, most of the demonstration beds in the back, but I didn't produce the photographic coverage this wonderful nursery deserved. I was just too wet to persevere at that point. You captured a lot and your photos are clear. Thanks Tamara!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Kris. At the time, I was also soaking wet but thought that I better take the opportunity while I was there. I photograph the gardens and the nursery at Joy Creek Nursery where I work every week rain or shine, so I guess I just kicked into that mode. What a great

  4. A fun tour. Your last statements are well said for the local nursery trade. Let us go shopping...

  5. I love this garden center. Whenever we visit Austin we try to stop by. You did a great job documenting it.

    1. Yay! I'm pleased that I did it (sort of ) justice. Although a sunny day photographing and exploring would be lovely ;)

      I'm glad you get to stop by and have such a wonderful resource in Texas.

  6. What a wonderful post. This place is incredible, I would love to visit it and take some of those classes. I started doing organic when we moved here and had room for a garden. The soil was hard and not the best, but each year I have added tons of steer manure, buried my kitchen scraps directly into the garden and used grass clips and leaves around and between my plants. This is my fifth year and what a difference this year bought. All of a sudden my soil is filled with earth worms and the soil looks rich and crumbly. I'm just a beginner gardener, but I now swear my going organic. I do have problems with some pests . . . so I have some learning to do, but then learning is a never ending process. Thank you so much for all the beautiful photos. I have never seen a passion flower vine before, it is gorgeous!
    Your blogging sister,
    Connie :)

    1. It is incredible, for sure, Connie. You sound like you have been hard at work doing it right in your own garden, kudos to you! Organic gardening is so much better for the soil and the results can't be beat - plants thrive when you take care of them like you have. Hooray for earth worms and rich, crumbly soil. We all have learning to do, I sure's nice to have a community to share. Thanks, Blogging Sister!

  7. You knocked this post out of the park! I was in awe of the gorgeous garden displays and plant selection at the Natural Gardener. As an organic gardener myself, I was so pleased to see a destination gardening center encourage, teach and highlight the importance of these sustainable gardening methods. I'd love to back there!

    1. Aw, thanks, Jen! Wasn't it a treat to be in this place - knowing the care and love and organic-ness that goes into every plant? Loved it. I would love to go back, too - hint hint ;)

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