Considering the increasing popularity of xeriscaped lawns and our probably eternal obsession with Plaid Pigeon’s friggin’ awesome dinosaur planters, it follows that we Austinites are quite enamored with succulents.
With that in mind, we recently sought out some friendly conversation with Eric Pedley and Julie Patton, the owners of East Austin Succulents. EAS is a kind and colorful succulent and cacti nursery that shares space with Tillery Street Plant Company and a number of resident critters, including a personable gray tabby named Jedward, and a stately elderly pug named Frank, in artsy East Austin.
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Let’s just put it this way: if you’ve ever dreamed about being surrounded by adorable vibrant little succulents while a sweet kitty rubs against one of your legs and everywhere you keep finding cute messages like, “Thank you for being a person,” then you seriously need to take a stroll through EAS’ greenhouse. Like, today. Right now.
Eric describes himself as a lifelong succulent addict. He earned a degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Utah and spent several years with the Peace Corp in Jamaica, where he befriended two Austinites who invited him to stay in their home for a time if he ever wanted to relocate. He took them up on the offer and, after working several different jobs, decided to begin selling succulent arrangements.
“Selling arrangements quickly turned into selling wholesale, as well as Craigslist sells at our house,” said Eric, adding that business exploded after he and Julie began marketing their products on social media — so much that they began getting in trouble with neighbors as their street began filling up with customers.
“Then John Hutson of Tillery Street Plant Company said that they were setting up a retail location and invited me to rent part of it,” Eric explained. “It worked out perfectly and serendipitously because they grow everything and we just grow succulents — as long as people realize that there are two separate nurseries and checkout areas.”
The nursery is split into two sections, with Tillery Street Plant Company occupying the right side of the venue, featuring a silver, submarine-esque trailer for checkouts, and with East Austin Succulents’ products and clearly-labeled greenhouse on the left.
Eric, Julie, and their team of growers believe very strongly in the benefits of plants in general, but of course, they’re all big fans of succulents in particular. Our very own Lady Bird Johnson, former first lady and the namesake of our esteemed Wildflower Center, believed that beholding nature is “one of the great needs of man” by which we receive “strength and renewal.” Eric’s own view builds on Lady Bird’s perspective.
“It’s real hot in Texas, so we do our best to offer quality plants and arrangements that provide more oxygen and air filtration inside people’s homes, as well as biodiversity and beauty in people’s yards,” he said. “The kingdom of succulents is so infinite and interesting, and I admit that I am very biased towards them.”
Unlike many other types of plants, succulents and cacti are incredibly easy to grow and keep alive. With just a bit of education, even poor unfortunate souls with whatever-color-is-the-exact-opposite-of-green thumbs can learn to help a succulent thrive.
As Eric explains, water, light, and airflow are the three most important key factors to keep in mind when tending to any plant, and he was kind enough to break down how those plant care components apply to succulents and cacti in particular:
WATER: “If the dirt is wet, don’t water. Healthy succulents with plenty of water will look good and shiny or plump. If your plant feels soft when you touch it, it’s thirsty. Remember: when in doubt, drought.”
LIGHT: “If you’re putting plants inside, always put them by your highest windows with the most light; it’s better outside on your porch, though. They need light to thrive and suck up water.”
AIRFLOW: “If you’re inside with low light and low airflow, you might only need to water once a week. If you’re outside with good airflow and high sun, maybe twice a week is good. If you have them inside, the soil will not dry out as fast as it would outside.”
With an emphasis on providing great customer service, the team at EAS takes great pride in their ability to offer their customers a huge variety of unique and yes, often very “odd” and exotic plants. “We are on a constant search for new weird plants,” said Eric. “I buy every new plant I see to propagate them through grafting and other techniques, so we have the biggest retail selection of succulents in Texas.”
Now that you’re thoroughly convinced that you need some succulents in your life, head over to EAS and buy yourself some weird little plants. Then, once you’ve selected your new squishy or spiky friends, rest assured that you don’t have to fret about where and how to plant them. EAS’ staff would be happy to explain things to you and they sell a bunch of fun planters on site, including Plaid Pigeon’s dinosaur creations.
And get this: if you spend $40 or more, you’ll get to spend the Living Prize Wheel, where you can score a some pretty rad freebies and possibly even a slobbery kiss from Frank the Pug, depending on how lucky you are.
All story photos: Rebecca L. Bennett