The gardens of The Antique Rose Emporium on the southern edge of Independence, just north of Brenham, assault the senses like a heavyweight boxer pounding your face with punches that you can't escape. The overwhelming number and beauty of the plants and flowers leaves you staggering the narrow paths like a punch-drunk fighter struggling to keep your balance and your paycheck. Fortunately, there are plenty of benches in the garden to give you a moment to regain your composure.
If you are even remotely a gardener, there is no way you're going to leave the Antique Rose Emporium without a little red wagon full of potted plants or at least one in each hand. You won't have to leave behind your children's college funds in order to secure these botanical beauties.
Despite the nursery's name, the garden is full of plants besides roses. The Emporium specializes in antique roses and native plants, but also carries a wide variety of exotic and extraordinary plants.
Antique roses are extraordinary in their own right. Loosely defined as any hearty variety of rose that thrives with a minimal amount of care, antiques dropped from commercial favor when the more perfect blossoms of modern hybrid teas began to become popular. In recent years, the antique roses have recaptured the hearts of the horticulturists, professional and amateur, because they are more disease-resistant, weather-tolerant, fragrant, and have more blooms.
The Antique Rose Emporium is a direct result of two events that collided in the state during the 1980s. The downturn of the economy dried up the market for foreign plants that required a lot of care and the resurgence of the popularity of old roses.
Wholesale nurseryman G. Michael Shoup took advantage of both events at his greenhouses in the historic community of Independence. Aided by Texas A&M horticulturist William Welch, he weaned the business from relying on exotic plants favored by the landscape artists of Houston to become leaders in the introduction of native plants for landscaping.
As you walk into the garden, the first bed of roses contains pots of "found" roses, old survivors which have been brought back from possible extinction. Cuttings from the Canary Islands and North Carolina mingle with other varieties. There is even one found in a nearby community called the Old Gay Hill Red China.
Opened in February 1986, the Emporium has restored a Texas pioneer homesite. The old stone kitchen, the only remains of the original house, is surrounded by herbs, vegetable plants, and other plants from the 1800s. The sales office is a converted barn and an old corn crib houses gardening implements. Two other antique houses serve as gift shops and show rooms with a Texas windmill churning above the stream that feeds a small pond surrounded by a jungle of plants. There also is a shaded picnic area, wildflower meadow, and conference center.
The Antique Rose Emporium is about 88 miles east of Austin in one of the most scenic and historic areas of Texas. The town of Independence was settled in 1824 and was the home of Sam Houston for a time. His wife, Margaret Moffette, returned to Independence after his death and died here in 1867. Sam was baptized in the creek behind the Baptist Church on FM50.
Independence was known during early statehood as the "Athens of Texas." At one time the town had a thriving public school, two colleges, and three churches. Baylor University opened here in 1846, but moved to Waco in 1886. The columns of Baylor Female College still stand in the park west of town on FM390.
Once a part of the La Bahía Road from Louisiana to Goliad, FM390 is the only road in the state that is classified as both scenic and historic. From US290 the road goes from Burton through Independence to FM105 north of Brenham in what is the cradle of Texas settlements.
Not much remains of the once-thriving community. The Baptist Church operates a small museum of the area that is open Wednesday-Saturday, 10am-4pm and Sunday, 1-5pm. Several historic buildings still stand in town, including Margaret Houston's house, but none are open to the public. Lueckemeyer's Store east of the highway intersection sells convenience store items and gas.
The Antique Rose Emporium is less than a mile south of the intersection on FM50. The nursery is open Monday-Saturday, 9am-6pm and Sunday, 11am-5:30pm. For more information, call 409/836-9051. For mail orders, call 800/441-0002.
For more information on Washington County, call the Visitor's Center at 888/273-6426.
Coming up this weekend...
Kerrville Folk Festival, Texas' premier music festival, runs May 21-June 7. 830/257-3600.
Ft. Martin Scott Weekend honors the first federal fort in Texas with historical demonstrations in Fredericksburg, May 22-24. 830/997-9895.
North Lake Travis Music Fest at Lago Vista on Lake Travis combines music with barbecue and a good time, May 23. 800/288-1882.
"Whodunit?" The Science of Solving Crime, runs through Sept.13 at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, giving visitors hands-on tests of their powers of observation. 210/357-1900.
Scissor-Tail Celebration at Rancho Richey Refuge near Belmont honors the winged flycatcher with a weekend of camping on the Guadalupe River, June 19-21. 444-4550 or http://www.io.com/~zow/gogo.
National Trails Day is June 6. For a list of local and national events call 888/766-HIKE or http://www.ahs.simplenet.com.
Weikel's Bon Ton Restaurant in La Grange has reopened after a brief absence from the culinary landscape. According to Richard Zelade, Texas Monthly Guidebooks author, the food at the TX71 landmark is better than ever. Hours are Sunday-Thursday, 5:30am-9pm; Friday & Saturday 5:30am-10pm. 409/968-8875.
Day Trips, Vol.2, a book of the second 100 columns, is now available $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, P.O. Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.
366th in a Series. Collect them all.