Besides the fact that all of our lakes are currently sitting pretty at maximum capacity, this summer is turning out to be pretty typical for us. The humidity’s insane and temperatures have been pushing 100 more often than not, provoking us to seek out shady spots, snow cones, and of course, our favorite natural swimming holes.
We definitely encourage you to cool off by doing the aforementioned activities, but we also wanted to bring to your attention another amazing way to spend those hot mornings and evenings. For many Austinites involved in backyard and community gardening across the city, summer provides the perfect opportunity to plant trees, grow vegetables and flowers, and find satisfaction and peace in watching growing things thrive.
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You probably caught our recent story about East Austin Succulents, our friendly neighborhood suppliers of weird little plants that, in all of their squishiness and spikiness, make us super happy. Well, EAS shares space with an equally-amazing nursery called Tillery Street Plant Company, which is owned and operated by Jon Hutson, an Austin native and longtime horticulturalist who was willing to share his story with us.
Jon first fell in love with gardening in his youth, but he didn’t pursue gardening in a professional capacity until much later in life. “Like many teenagers, I had a particular interest in a certain leafy green plant that, in the end, my parents decided was not such a good idea for me to grow,” he said, laughing.
Jon built a career in the tech industry, which for him was “soul-crushing.” He experienced some nasty burnout before deciding to switch careers, earn a degree in horticulture, and co-found Tillery Street Plant Company with a group of like-minded plant lovers — “refugees from previous Austin nurseries which collapsed in the economic downturn of 2008” — in 2011.
At first, Jon and his partners provided plants and related goods to other landscape and nursery professionals, but the longer they conducted business in East Austin, they more passionate they became about directly enriching the community around them. Now, they fulfill those values by selling healthy, joy-inducing plants and top-of-the-line organic soils, fertilizers and other accessories to everyday Austinites and by treating each customer like the beautiful human being that he or she is. And East Austin adores them for it.
“One of the best indications that you’re doing right by your community is when your customers and neighbors drop by just to give you fresh produce from their garden that you helped them grow for the first time,” Jon said. “We get that a lot and we love it!”
Tillery Street Plant Co. carries just about every type of area native and non-native herb, vegetable, tree, shrub, perennial, annual, and cactus that is capable of thriving inside or outside in Central Texas. If you want it, chances are good that TSPC has it on hand or can order it for you.
In line with keeping Austin weird, TSPC also stocks as many rare plants and “horticultural oddities” as possible and they care for not one but three cats who have become beloved nursery mascots over the years.
“The grey one, Jedward was the first to find us and has been with us for years,” said Jon. “He was named after a rather ridiculous British boy band whose You Tube videos are a must watch. The small black and reddish female is Pamela. She is the cat most customers see and deal with on a daily basis. Her hobbies include slapping other cats, slapping small dogs, slapping customers and ritual lizard sacrifice. Lastly is Cow Cat. He is a black and white male who wants nothing more from us than to be fed — very much like a normal teenage boy.”
Through their selection, customer service, prices, and the friendly and inviting atmosphere that they cultivate at the nursery, Jon and the rest of the TSPC crew hope to open customers’ eyes to the many personal benefits of caring for plants, as well as the immense value of conservation in the larger Austin community. Not only does nature feed us, help us breathe, and provide humans and wildlife with housing and medicine, Jon says, but it also teaches us how to appreciate beauty like perhaps nothing else.
“You cannot put a value on the importance of green space,” he went on. “With the expansion of Austin, it can be a bit disheartening to see so many lush green spaces being razed to the ground to make room for more roads and buildings. Like any city with growing pains, we can only hope that local leaders can prioritize quality of life and preserve our green spaces for future generations over simply raising the tax base and filling city coffers.”
Now, if that resonates with you, but you’re the type who always seems to kill plants, Jon’s got some advice for you: chances are, you’re probably making one of two of the most common plant care mistakes.
“Start small and don’t give up,” he said. “The most common issues we see when it comes to killing plants, usually stems from two issues: too much water and attention or too little water and neglect. We can recommend plants that thrive on either.”
Sounds promising! Here’s the final word: if you do decide to pay TSPC a visit to try your hand at gardening or houseplant keeping, be sure to mention Austin.com — and this article specifically — for a 20% discount.
And seriously, give Jedward the grey tabby some love if you see him — he’s awesome!
All story photos: Rebecca L. Bennett