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Garden Lifestyle

San Antonio and back home again…

There is fun to be had in San Antonio--great gardens from the Botanic Gardens, the Riverwalk and the Antique Rose Emporium--and good food and folks.

  • Texas vista: view of the gardens with windmill and small greenhouse at the Antique Rose Emporium.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • They don't just grow roses at the Antique Rose Emporium; here is a view of the vegetable garden with a new crop of greens coming up. 
  • Here is a beauty--it's a Pioneer rose called 'Thomas Affleck'--and is a favorite of Robbi Will, who is manager of the Antique Rose Emporium. Even at the end of the season this rose is showy and it has an enchanting aroma. 
  • For display purposes, the Antique Rose Emporium groups its roses by color, then size, then characteristics.
  • This was one of my favorite spaces at the rose gardens. This walled courtyard is built from straw bales; it feels secret and secluded. Every plant there looked beautiful against the bright blue color whether it was a pale pink rose, shiny, bright-green leaves or feathery grey-green foliage.
  • This rustic, rose-covered cottage houses an office and sales area.
  • I don't think it is my imagiantion that plants just grow bigger in Texas. Here is Mary Dunford in front of her impressive bay tree (Laurus nobilis).
  • Native to the Americas--northern South America and Mexico--this tropical plant feels right at home in Texas. Hoja santa likes the climate and grows huge outside; I have to grow it in a pot and winter it over in my greenhouse in my zone 7 garden.
  • Even the rain barrels are bigger in Texas! Rainwater collection and storage is of utmost importance in the hot climate of Texas--especially during dry seasons like this past summer. 
  • Here is a greenhouse full of herbs, one of many growing at Nature's Herb Farm just outside of San Antonio.
  • While those of us up here in the Northern climes are cutting the last of our basil before the frost comes, Texans are getting ready for another crop.
  • Nature's Herb Farm offers a huge, colorful collection of sedums for sale. Staff members create these handsome living wreaths; I managed to bring one home in my carry-on bag and it is now hanging in my greenhouse. 

It seems that this time of year is always busy. Although I returned from San Antonio a week ago, I still need to tell you what a fun, sprawling city it is and there are a lot of gardeners there! There is a great farmers market on Saturday at the Pearl Brewery parking lot. And the river walk goes on for something like 30 miles, winding through the city and it is full of wonderful fauna and flora. The weather was perfectly glorious—blue skies and sunshine—warm in the day and just right at night. When I flew in, I was expecting to see the earth below covered with brown dried foliage due to their drought, however, there were lots of green fields and growing things; fortunately they had a rain the week before. Back home in Maryland, the earth is soggy beneath my feet and we are 6-inches above level for rain fall this year.

I went to give three programs and did a brief TV spot. Although San Antonio is famous for The Alamo, I never quite made it there. The first program was for the San Antonio Herb Society on Thursday night and the subject they chose was “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Herbs” which is challenging to do in 1 1/2 hours! There was a great turnout—the room at the San Antonio Botanic Gardens was full—and members brought all kinds of dishes to share, cooking recipes from my cookbooks! What an enthusiastic bunch of herbies. Marilyn Nyhus was my liaison from the SAHS and her friend and herbal cohort, Evelyn Penrod was my contact for the two programs that I did for the San Antonio Herb Market Association. They picked me up from the airport and took me to lunch at a wonderful vegetarian restaurant called Greens. I must admit, I have a critical food palate and I would go back there in a minute. I will post their recipe for Kale Salad as soon as I test it this week; it was killer.

Friday, I did an early morning spot on the local FOX station—Anne Morris and her husband Eddie picked me up and drove me there and helped me set up to demo my Marinated Cherry Tomatoes with Basil and Chives—that took a few hours for just a three-minute segment. Mary Dunford, who was the founder of the SAHMA, joined me on TV and brought fabulous basil to use. From there we hopped in her convertible with the top down and went to Central Market for a sensory overload and she showed me the plants sold there, which she supplies from her thriving business, Nature’s Herb Farm.

Having forewarned these herbies that I am a chilehead and love Southwestern cooking, we headed to La Fonda for lunch.  Evelyn joined Mary and I for a delightful lunch on the patio, and I must tell you that I had a memorable Poblano con Queso with Poblano Crème Sauce and a Cheese Enchilada with a red sauce of tomato and chipotle! It was better than muy bueno, it was perfecto!

Although San Antonio is famous for The Alamo, and we had plans to go there and also to see the Missions, I never quite made it there. Gardens versus historic sites? After dining al fresco, Evelyn drove me to visit the Antique Rose Emporium, which is a place that I have wanted to visit for years. We met Marilyn there (I was shuttled in Texas like none other!) and Robbi Will, who is the manager. Robbi and I did a fast tour of the gardens, shop, and the two straw bale buildings where they hold classes, weddings and all kinds of events. It was everything that I imagined and more. Even though it was October in Texas, there were still a number of roses in bloom; I can just imagine the colors and perfume in June! I particularly wanted to visit the Antique Rose Emporium, not only because they are known worldwide: Rose is Herb of the Year for 2012. I have been editing Rose, Herb of the Year 2012 for the International Herb Association and I just knew I could take photos and glean some rose facts for the book… and that I did!

From there, I was ushered back to my hotel, with a quick detour… Marilyn drove me by The Alamo, it was after 5 pm so it was closed, however I did get to see it. I was surprised that it is right in the middle of the city, which was built around it. I arrived back at the hotel before dark, however, I knew I had to crash early for the big market day to follow—I’ll tell you those Texans are non-stop!

Marilyn picked me up bright and early on Saturday in her market apron and we were off!  The farmers’ market and herb market were in full swing when we arrived; everyone was setting up, shouting out greetings and admiring one another’s plants and wares. Perfect day, great crowd and feedback from my programs. I did Mediterranean Herbs with a brief break, followed by Herbs for Health, with lots of passing and sniffing of herbs. I had the most wonderful assistant, Eileen Achorn, who not only shopped and prepped and made the recipes in advance, she brought half of her kitchen taboot! We were kindred spirits in the kitchen and I could not have done the food demos without her. We sold lots of books (thanks agin to the gals who “womanned” the table!) and I did get to walk around both markets, sample some goodies, hear some excellent soul music and buy a few herbal products to take home. Oh the jalapeno peanut brittle—wish I’d bought more! There was a reception with herbal food by La Glorias and a tasty lemongrass and hibiscus tea made by herb member Gigi.

The packing up and winding down of these enormous events, is the letdown of the day. These venues cannot happen without the diligent help of volunteer members—and my hat is off to each and every one of you. A number of us were headed to Cappy’s, a 30-year old food establishment, to toast the day with a libation and maybe a few apps. Well if you are looking for a real margarita, made with fresh-squeezed lime, head for Cappy’s and sit out on the veranda. Cappy met us there, seated us at his favorite table, and sent over some delicious nibbles. No wonder customers requested that they bring back their sautéed Brussels Sprouts appetizer. I am going to try and recreate it for me and you to enjoy in an upcoming blog. And after we finished off our supper, three waiters delivered some decadent desserts from Cappy, which we somehow found room to finish off. Eileen drove me back to the hotel, we were weary, however content and well sated.

Up early the next morning and checked out of the hotel to be picked up by Diane Lewis, my herbal driver for the day. Diane works at a hospital in the lab and is a horticulturist, so we had lots to talk about as we drove across the flatlands and she identified all of those Texas natives that I wasn’t sure about. We headed out of town for Nature’s Herb Farm where we were invited for breakfast at the home of Mary Dunford and her husband Dan. Dan the Man, who cooked us a gourmet breakfast, using his creativity, as well as some inspiration from some of my old and new cookbooks. We started with fresh squeezed orange juice and stirred in a sort of slushy that he made from ice and fresh mint. The table was set with a bright cloth and dishes, herbs and a big plate of Bay Hotcross Buns with a branch of bay from their large tree. While Mary gave us a tour of the house, Dan fried diced potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots with rosemary and scrambled eggs with basil and almonds. As if we weren’t already full, he served ginger tea with a gratin of assorted berries and lavender crème… needless to say, we were impressed!

Mary took us on a tour of her huge herb nursery and her garden. What an operation she has, which she runs with her son Shane. It is a year-round business supplying wholesale herb plants throughout San Antonio and other parts of Texas. She has 28 employees and the plants they produce are handsome and healthy. I couldn’t leave without one of her sedum wreaths which we packed up in paper and plastic in order to get it in one of my carry-on bags. We said farewell and Diane got me to the airport in time to catch my flight back to Maryland, where the temperature is about 20 degrees cooler and the leaves are falling fast. If you ever get to San Antone, look for some herbal-types to hang out with—I have a whole slew of new herbalgalpals down there! Thanks for a great time, Texas-style! Woohoo!

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