I’ve met many horticulture people I love, admire or both, but few I admire more than Beverly Welch who, together with her husband, Max, owns The Arbor Gate. No matter how many times I visit, I’m always taken by her hospitality, kindness and composure even on one of the busiest days in her calendar.
My sweetheart lectures there, so I don’t claim to be impartial. I’m a fan. It’s my favourite plant centre outside the UK and I suspect there aren’t many better ones in the world. I love wandering around, admiring the plants and marvelling at the garden art while trying to avoid being taken off guard by the Texan sun.
My sweetheart is lecturing at The Arbor Gate as I write, while I’m back in England, feeling nostalgic and making up for not being there by sharing a much overdue gallery of pictures from my visits over the last few years.
One the plant front, visitors can expect to find roses, perennials, annuals, succulents, trees, shrubs, vines and a big collection of herbs.
Did you notice that one of the yellow flowers was metal? That brings me to the remarkable range of garden art and accessories The Arbor Gate overflows with. Beverly supports local artists and craftspeople and I’ve met many there over the years, most of them regulars at The Arbor Gate’s annual celebration of art in the garden.
Even if you’re there on an ‘ordinary’ day, wherever you look, you’ll see hundreds of eye-catching artworks. My first few visits I found it almost overwhelming, not ever having seen anything approaching this sight in May in England. Once your eye and your mind settles, you’ll be able to explore a range of garden art in a garden setting, from small pieces to big ticket items in a wide range of materials, especially glass, metal, ceramic, textiles and wood.
Art glass is everywhere, hanging from trees and seemingly growing from the ground in twisted, rippled, organic shapes. Glass mushrooms of various sizes cover the floor arranged by colour group from pure yellows, blues and reds to subtle sheeny shades.
The Arbor Gate has a great selection of sturdy garden benches and swings too, mostly for sale. Over the years I’ve spent quite some time sitting in the shade on one or another of these, watching people buying stuff, people trying to resist things they are tempted by, people helping people.
Plants and whimsy go hand in hand at The Arbor Gate – there’s something in every corner to make you smile. Expect to hear people with overstuffed trolleys observing, more to themselves than to anyone else, ‘I keep saying I’m NOT going to pick up more stuff.’
Good luck with that! If you’re determined not to buy anything, you’d perhaps better not go as there’s so much to tempt you here. The wide but carefully selected range of plants is always in tip-top condition, displayed with cultivation advice tailored to the local climate and conditions, extending or in some cases contradicting the generic advice wholesale companies print on plant labels that must serve for Minnesota as well as for Texas.
Texan gardeners have had significant weather issues to contend with in recent years – drought, wind, floods. We’ve visited The Arbor Gate after storms that would have left a place with less dedicated staff looking sadly dishevelled so I always think of the strength required to hold it all together and keep it looking so bright, cheerful and uplifting.
It’s always a treat for me to see tropical plants in flower or in leaf: Plectranthus amboinicus (variegated Cuban oregano), for example, which tastes of mint, thyme and oregano, with a bit of a kick. I always wish I could put one of those in my suitcase, though I doubt I could keep it happy back home in Lancashire. Even many of the plant labels are special.
And who doesn’t get a little dewy eyed over Monarch butterflies, with wings as wide as your hand?
The Arbor Gate is surrounded by what I think of as show gardens – permanent garden vignettes with different themes designed to inspire us and teach us how to combine plants, including a kitchen garden with an orchard of peaches, plums, berries and a bottle tree arch.
Old, passalong plants such as red and white crinums (milk and wine lilies) and Gladiolus dalenii have naturalised around the garden, growing with cottage garden favourites that would not look out of place in an English garden and many unusual cultivars.
I’ve written about The Arbor Gate’s honey bees and their bee keepers here in an earlier post.
Expect to find ducks and hens too – some roaming free, wary enough to keep out of the way of visitors when the garden is open, others protected by a fence…
…and flocks of metal birds, wobbling ones that rock gently together in the breeze, and bobbing ones, that bounce above metal hoops.
My fascination with branding gives me more to admire: the custom crafted signs made from paint, metal or tiles; well-placed signage to help make sure visitors don’t miss something in all the many things on offer; the purple and green brand colours used for the staging, uniforms and paper gift wrap. It’s the type of marketing that is helpful, and underlines the values, rather than being obtrusive. If you care about your business, you naturally want to spread the word.
The same friendly, helpful staff appear from year to year – enough of them to load cars, help with soil, advise about plants and look things up online, even on a busy day.
Regular readers will have noticed how many of my obsessions can be indulged here: bird houses, flowers, trinkets, distressed wood, garden vignettes, wind chimes, succulents, green roofs etc. An outdoor stage has a metal pyramid canopy with hanging verdigris leaves and a big tree wears a tree-sized bead necklace.
If I was there now, I’d probably be trying to take pictures of people’s trolleys full of plants. I’m not very successful at it as I end up feeling furtive, but I love seeing the plants packed in together, each selection reflecting the house owners’ tastes and aspirations.
Inside, the garden centre stocks heirloom seeds in beautiful packets and a wide range of homewares and potions. One time I was there, Beverly took one look at the harsh, neem-based insect repellent I was using, warned me it was not good to cover myself in it, and gave me a jar of more gentle natural insect repellent (No-Bite-Me) that actually works. Thanks again, Beverly!
I love to see plants presented for sale in great condition – every gardener knows how hard it is to keep plants looking good in small pots. When I started blogging, I decided I would not be one of the people who writes about the gardens they don’t like when there is so much chance to move on to something that does enchant. That means you can expect me to enthuse, as I’ve done here – but why not? It’s my chance to give credit where it’s due.
And I’m sure I’m not alone. I can’t imagine many people visit The Arbor Gate without finding something to make them smile. If you live in the area, and haven’t been before, why don’t you give it a go and let me know how you get on?
The Arbor Gate
15635 FM 2920,
As always, please check the opening hours and availability before visiting!