This past weekend I tagged along with my son Chris and my son in law Cameron when they went to meet an old high school buddy at Gruene Hall. It had been about 30 years since I last walked through the doors of the oldest continuously operating dancehall in Texas and I wanted to see how much things had changed.
Thirty years ago, Gruene Hall was the main reason that folks came to the town of Gruene. Gruene Hall has been hosting the stars and future stars of country music since 1877. When my wife was a student at the university formerly known as Southwest Texas State (now Texas State—Go Bobcats!!!), she and her friends would drive over from San Marcos to dance and listen to a tall, skinny kid named George Strait. King George is not the only country star to get his start there. Gruene Hall has been providing the best in country music to two-stepping cowboys and cowgirls for the past 135 years.
Dancing is no longer the main reason to come to Gruene. The town is now a bustling spot for tourists, shoppers, foodies and wine aficionados (with a great dancehall). Someone has done an excellent job of preserving the charm of the old parts of the town and then enhancing them with very attractive landscapes and plantings. All of the common areas are dotted with trimmed native trees and lined with neat decomposed granite or brick pathways. The unpainted board and batten shops are the perfect backdrop for a host of Texas tough plants like purple sage and southern wax myrtles. There are also tons of beautiful borders scattered around as well.
The thing that got me the most fired up were the impressive container plantings that are scattered around the town. The massed whiskey barrels that combined lush flowers, cacti and succulents were beautiful. By using containers of different heights and plants of different textures, the designer created lush gardens that seemed to “tumble” down a hill and spill onto the sidewalk.
I love container gardens. I wish I were better at creating them. The rule for creating beautiful container arrangements is the “Thriller, Filler, Spiller” method. The container arrangements at Gruene take that concept a step further. Instead of having a thriller, filler and spiller in each pot, they take a large, tall pot and put a single large scale plant (see the thornless prickly pear) in it to create the thriller part of the arrangement. Then they arrange pots of different heights that contain plants of different textures to create the fillers and spillers. The effect was very attractive and as you can tell, I was pretty impressed with it.
My wife and I love to dance and there is still no place in all of Texas that is better to do a little belly rubbin’ than Gruene Hall. However, as I discovered this weekend, dancing is no longer the only reason to go there. While you can still hear some great music you can also shop, eat at some very nice restaurants and enjoy some really great people watching while sipping a glass of artisanal Texas wine. The Gruene Music and Wine Festival runs from October 10 through the 13th. If you have never been to Gruene this is a great time to go. Fall in Gruene is a great time to appreciate all of the charm of days gone by while enjoying the best that modern Texas has to offer.