Day Trips

Xeric and native plants from the nursery in the hills west of New Braunfels are well-suited for landscaping experiments.

photograph by Gerald E. McLeod

Schumacher's Hill Country Gardens west of New Braunfels has one of the most unique collections of plants and the largest array of xeriscaping plants you are likely to find anywhere. From weeds to roses, the assembly of more than 500 different kinds of plants is sure to amaze.

Fall is an ideal time to plant shrubs and trees, says Chip Schumacher, owner and head plant guy at the nursery, especially freeze-tolerant varieties, because November to March tend to be wetter months than the rest of the year in Central Texas. "Soak the daylights out if it and that's it. Sit back and let nature do the rest," he says. By the time the dry, hot summer comes around, the plant is established well enough to survive without the garden hose.

Schumacher moved to the New Braunfels area in 1980 from Chicago. His nursery opened in 1992 on a country lane off of TX46 west of town as an extension of a "hobby out of control." His driveway was so full of plants that he couldn't get a car into it, he says.

As a "roadside botonist," Schumacher couldn't resist collecting samples of plants wherever he found them. On a trip to the San Antonio Zoo he collected a pocket full of seeds. A drive through the countryside with Schmacher can be a stop-and-go affair as he stops to gather samples of unusual plants growing in the ditches. "It's totally ridiculous," he says with a dry sense of self-deprecation. He always carries bags and labels for the chance of finding something new.

What got him out of the construction business and into the plant business was his ability to propogate plants. It is a skill that he calls more of an art than a science. As his reputation grew so did the number of nursery and landscape businesses that came to him for help with growing plants that no commericial nursery was selling.

Through experimentation, Schumacher has found plants that grow well in Central Texas. He has found plants native to an area from Louisiana to Arizona that grow well here. All of the plants he sells have the ability to adapt to Texas' soil and rainfall. For instance, he tried the Indigo bush, a native of the coast between Houston and New Orleans. It wasn't supposed to grow here, but he found that it grew better than some plants that were supposed to grow in Central Texas.

"He who kills the most plants wins," Schumacher says, "because that is who has tried to grow the most different kinds of plants." The nursery's motto is: "We do our best to kill our plants, the ones we can't kill we sell."

"Unless you do testing, you don't know what a plant will do," he says. "That's part of the education. You never stop learning with plants." His nursery caters to growers who are looking for plants that survive in the local environment and "plant nuts" who are looking to try growing something different. Schumacher's Garden is in the plant education business as well as the business of selling plants.

A welcome by-product of the nusery business has been the conservation of several native species that were becoming hard to find. Schumacher was the first commercial grower of Lindheimer Muhly back in the days when he worked out of his driveway. The fountain clump grass grew nowhere but on the Edwards Plateau and was named by Ferdinand Lindheimer, "the father of Texas botany" who immigrated to New Braunfels and was the first to classify much of the native flora in the mid-1800s. The two-foot tall grass with long flower spikes is now a popular landscaping grass from California to Lousiana.

Not all of Schumacher's plants are from Texas, but they do have the largest collection of native plants of any nursery in the state. They have supplied native plants for the San Antonio Botancial Gardens, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the cities of Austin, San Antonio, and New Orleans.

Because they propagate their own plants in large greenhouses on the property, Schumacher's prices are low enough that weekend gardeners can afford to experiment to find the right unique plants for their individual conditions. They are the only nursery in Texas where you can buy sage bushes in four-inch pots. Their gallon pots often contain earthworms as well as the plant. You won't find any chemicals on their plants, though.

Schumacher's is seven miles west of I-35 off of TX46 on FM1863. For a longer but scenic drive from Austin, take US290 west to US281 and go south to TX46 and then east to FM1863. The nursery is open Monday through Saturday 8am-5pm and Sunday 10am-5pm. For more information, call 830/620-5149. Instead of coupons, give the person at the cash register a big smile and receive a free plant in a four-inch pot.

Coming up this weekend ...

Hogeye Fest in Elgin turns the cows loose for a game of "cow pattie bingo" while the bands play, kids play games, and everyone enjoys the favorite food of the "sausage capital of Texas," Oct. 24, 10am-6pm. 512/285-5721.

Food & Wine Fest in Fredericksburg celebrates the culinary good life of Central Texas' wineries and restaurants with a chance to sample their wares at Market Square, Oct. 24, noon to 7pm. 830/997-8515.

Texas Gourd Show at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton showcases the uses of gourds for art and function. There will be a gourd show and sale, a chance to carve and decorate your own gourd, and free gourd seeds, Oct. 24, 10am-5pm. 817/249-1365.

Ottine Swamp Fest at Palmetto State Park features a day of hayrides, a costume contest, a swamp monster parade, food, music, and arts & crafts at one of the state's prettiest parks along the San Marcos River, Oct. 24, 10am-sundown. 830/672-3266.

Coming up ...

All Hallows' Eve at Lake Somerville State Park/Birch Creek Unit takes visitors on a spooky walk through the haunted woods, ghost stories, and a hot dog dinner, Oct. 31. Reservations required. 409/535-7763.

Day of Remembrance at the Landmark Inn in Castroville brings back the days of the 1840s with a medicine show, Coahuiltecan Indians, Tejano cowboys, and a snake program, Oct. 31. Get reservations early for the one-man show, Edgar Allen Poe at the Inn, Oct. 30 & 31. 830/931-2133.

Twilight Flyer Steam Train Halloween Run is taking reservations for a murder mystery fun ride from Cedar Park, Oct. 31. 477-8468.

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