Nacogdoches Named the Garden Capital of Texas – By Greg Grant

The following post was written by Greg Grant and is used with his permission.  It has been previously published in “Shelby County Today”.

It’s official.  The oldest town in Texas, is now the garden capital of Texas.  

A bill authored by District 11 State Representative Travis Clardy was signed by Texas Governor Rick Perry on May 2, 2013 designating Nacogdoches as the Garden Capital of Texas.

This is why Nacogdoches was given this honor.  This a picture in the Ruby M. Mize azelia garden on the grounds of Stephen F. Austin Universtiy,

This is why Nacogdoches was given this honor. This a picture in the Ruby M. Mize azelia garden on the grounds of Stephen F. Austin Universtiy.

At a ribbon cutting and dedication held at the Stephen F. Austin State University Pineywoods Native Plant Center, author, historian, and father of the LaNana Creek trail, Professor Ab Abernathy made the following speech.

Nacogdoches is a garden city.  It was named after its first gardeners, the Nacogdoches tribe of the Caddo Indians.  Thirteen hundred years ago the Nacogdoches Indians lived on the high ground between the two full- flowing, spring-fed creeks.  Their name, Nacogdoches, meant “from the place of the high ground” (some sources say “persimmon eaters”).  The Spanish came to the place on the high ground between the two creeks in 1716.  They named the creek on the east La Nana, meaning “the Nurse,” and the one on the west La Banita, “The Little Bath.”  The first gardeners–the first agrarian culture in Texas–were these Caddos, who brought gardening with them from their eastern homes.  They raised corn, squash, and pumpkins.  They cultivated a variety of beans, sunflowers, and tobacco; and they created the strongest and most advanced Indian culture in Texas.

The Nacogdoches Caddos gardened on the high ground between the two creeks for well over a thousand years.  The Spanish learned the Caddo’s gardening ways, and added a dimension of herbs and spices to the garden plots.

A lovely perrenial border on the grounds of Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches

A lovely perrenial border on the grounds of Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches

Anglo settlers began coming to and through the Gateway to Texas in the early 1800s.  In 1832 at the Battle of Nacogdoches they ended Spanish military control in all of East Texas.  In 1836, after the Battle of San Jacinto, Nacogdoches became a settlement in the Republic of Texas, and after 1846 Nacogdoches became a city in the Lone Star State in the United States.

In the 1830s, during the troublesome, birthing times of Texas, Nacogdoches gardened.  C.A. Sterne describes Adolphus Sterne’s home:

“My father took great pride and interest in his gardens and orchard.  There were three gardens on the place.  The one on the north was devoted to flowers, with a great variety of roses and rare shrubs and plants, which he had brought from Louisiana, and which had been imported from France.”

“In the center of the garden was a summer house, which was covered with morning glories and multiflora roses.  The fence was covered with woodbine and yellow jasmine.  The south garden had vegetables of every variety.  The west garden was the orchard with a variety of fruit trees and a butter bean arbor running the entire width of the garden.  My father often resorted to the butter bean arbor to read and study.”

When Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of Central Park, the Biltmore estate landscape, etc.) came to Nacogdoches in 1853, he said of the town:  “The houses along the road…stand in gardens, and are neatly painted–the first exterior sign of cultivation of mind since the Red River.”

Nacogdoches became a modern town in the 20th century with parks and landscaping.  It became a city of prosperous houses and ornamental gardens along the Camino Real.  Its grandest show of flowers and foliage, however, developed around the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University (founded in 1923 as Stephen F. Austin State Teacher’s College).  The SFA campus was from its beginning a flourishing garden of blooming plants and flowering trees and shrubs.  SFA now is the center of the most prosperous and prominent set of flowering gardens in the State of Texas.  SFA hosts the largest azalea garden in the state and Nacogdoches was named the first Azalea City in America.

Hydrangeas thrive in the acidic soil of Nacadoches,

Hydrangeas thrive in the acidic soil of Nacadoches,

The university is home to the Pineywoods Native Plant Center, the Mast Arboretum, the Gayla Mize Garden, the Kingham Children’s Garden, and the SFA Recreational Trails and Gardens.  Collectively these gardens contain the state’s largest botanical collections of azaleas, baldcypress, boxwood, camellias, gardenias, hollies, hydrangeas, magnolias, and maples.  For more information on these gardens visit

In addition to a number of public parks and walking trails, Nacogdoches is also home to the Durst-Taylor Historic House and Gardens, the Adolphus Sterne Museum and Gardens, and the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden.

In concluding his speech Dr. Abernathy went on to say:

The development of the beauty of gardens, parks, and trails is not for the purpose of luring tourists or improving business, although both areas will profit from such ventures.  Natural beauty is encouraged for its own sake and for the fact that life among gardens, trees, flowers, and flowing water is richer and kinder than life among strip malls and parking lots.  The Garden Capital of our beautiful and beloved Nacogdoches deserves no less than to be a setting for such a life.


A beautiful hydrangea in the Mize Garden at Stepen F. AUstin State University in Nacogdoches

A beautiful hydrangea in the Mize Garden at Stepen F. AUstin State University in Nacogdoches

As far as I am concerned, the only thing better than gardening is learning about gardening.  For those of you in East Texas (or those that would like to visit), your friends at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches have put together another amazing line up of horticulturists to inform you on the latest and greatest in the horticulture world.  If you have never visited Stephen F. Austin State University, use these lectures as a chance to gather some useful information and see some truly beautiful gardens.  SFA hosts an arboretum, an azelia garden and the Gayla Mize Garden.  The gardens are incredibly beautiful, accessible and incredibly well maintained.  These gardens are always lovely, but spring is an extra treat.  If you can catch the February lecture, you will still see some blooms on their amazing camelia collection.  The March lecture is around the time the azelias kick in and they are spectacular.  Hope to see you there!

My wife enjoys a hug from noted horticulturist Greg Grant in front of one of the many camelias in the SFA arboretum's collection

My wife enjoys a hug from noted horticulturist Greg Grant in front of one of the many camelias in the SFA arboretum’s collection



The SFA Gardens and Theresa and Les Reeves Lecture Series is generally held the third Thursday of each month from 7:00 to 8:30 pm in room 110 of the Stephen F. Austin State University Agriculture Building at 1924 Wilson Drive (between the Art Building and the Intramural Fields) in Nacogdoches.

Refreshments are served by the SFA Gardens Volunteers before the lecture with a rare plant raffle being held afterward.  The lectures are free and open to the public.  For more information, contact Greg Grant at 936.468.1863 or

Feb 14  MengMeng Gu, TAMU, College Station, TX – Urban Landscape Philosophy and strategies in China.

Mar 21 Ed Bush, LSU, Baton Rouge, LA – Grow your garden and enjoy a sip of tea!

April 18 Leo Lombardini, TAMU, College Station, TX –Everything you wanted to know about pecans but we’re afraid to ask.

May 16  Todd Lasseigne, Director, Oklahoma Centennial Botanical Garden, Tulsa, OK – The OCBG, proving that there’s plant life here.

Jun 20 Darren Duling, Mercer Arboretum, Houston, TX –Making Mercer Magnificent – Opportunities and Challenges.

Jul 18  Julie Shackleford, Texas Programs Director, the Conservation Fund, Nacogdoches, TX – Backyard Gardening for Dummies and wildlife

Aug 15  Paul Cox, retired Director, San Antonio Botanical Gardens, San Antonio, TX – Lessons in Nature: Reflections on the meaning of life from a plantsman’s point of view –

Sept 19 Wayne Pianta, Ball Horticultural Company, Fort Worth, TX – Plant Breeding, Garden Performance and New Product Development: What Makes the Cut and Why? A Survey of Recent Introductions

Oct 17  Matthew Kwiatkowski, Biology, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches TX – The Critters that Slither and Hop in Your Garden: The Reptiles and Amphibians of East Texas –            

Nov 21 Jackie Carlisii, The Grass and Rock Shoppe, Lafayette, LA – Making Organic Gardening Easy

Dec 19  Dave Creech, SFA Gardens, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TX – Why raising a garden and raising kiddos is about the same thing; it’s all about breaking rules

A native fern grows on one of the structure in the Mast Arboretum

A native fern grows on one of the structure in the Mast Arboretum

Stephen F. Austin Plant Sale in Nacogdoches

A lovely hydrangea in the Mize Arboretum

If you are going to be anywhere close to East Texas  on October 6, you really need to take time to swing by the gardens at Stephen F. Austin University.   The SFA Gardens at Stephen F. Austin State University will host its annual Fabulous Fall Festival Plant Sale from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday, October 6, 2012 at the SFA Pineywoods Native Plant Center, 2900 Raguet St.

A wide variety of hard-to-find, “Texas tough” plants will be available, including Texas natives, heirlooms, tropicals, perennials, shrubs, trees, and exclusive SFA introductions.  Most of the plants are extensively trialed in the gardens before being offered to the public and most are produced by the SFA Gardens staff and volunteers.

A lovely double pink althea at SFA

This popular event benefis the SFA Mast Arboretum, Pineywoods Native Plant Center, Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden, Gayla Mize Garden, and educational programs hosted at the gardens.  Combine your plant buying with a tour.  The arboretum and gardens are absolutely beautiful and the weather should be wonderful.

Since I have several plants in my yard that came from this sale I can attest to the fact that you will be buying incredibly healthy and hearty plants that are sure to thrive for you.  Your support will ensure that the team at SFA will be able to continue providing educational programs that reach over 15,000 students (ages 1 to 100) on a yearly basis.

Come early and bring three things; a wagon, a camera and your questions.  There will be staff on hand to provide you all of the tips and tricks you need to make your plants thrive and answer any other gardening questions you may have. For more information, call (936) 468-4404, or visit for a list of available plants.

My wife with Greg Grant in front of one of the many camellia’s at SFA

A Visit With Greg Grant

This past weekend Sally and I went to deep East Texas to spend a day with the noted horticulturist, historian, speaker and all around good guy, Greg Grant.  Greg and I share several friends and we both write for Texas Gardener.  However, because of our crazy schedules, we have never had the opportunity to just hang out.

My wife with Greg in front of Camellia sinensis. If you are not familiar with the Latin, this is the bush that gives us tea! This is one of many rare and interesting plants you can see at the SFA Mast Arboretum.

I was very excited to get this opportunity because I have so much respect for Greg.  In my opinion, he is the best horticulturist anywhere.  In fact, if my website gave awards he would be in the Hall of Fame and he would hold the honor of Master of Horticulture of the Century!  No kidding, Greg really is that awesome.  Here is an excerpt from his speaker’s bio:

To me, nothing says "Southern Garden" better than a tire garden. Here, Dawn Stover's students in the SFA School of Agriculture have made a very productive and attractive vegetable and herb garden out of discarded tires

“In addition to horticulturist, Greg is a conservationist, writer, and seventh generation Texan from Arcadia, Texas.  He is the author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, In Greg’s Garden-A Pineywoods Perspective on Gardening, Nature, and Family (2010-Kindle), and  co-author of Heirloom Gardening in the South-Yesterday’s Plants for Today’s Gardens, Texas Home Landscaping  and The Southern Heirloom Garden.  He also writes the popular “In Greg’s Garden” column for Texas Gardener magazine and contributes regularly to Neil Sperry’s Gardens magazine.  He also writes a monthly gardening blog for Arbor Gate Nursery ( In addition to all of this, he still finds time to serves as a part time research associate for garden outreach at Stephen F. Austin State University’s SFA Gardens in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Greg has degrees in floriculture and horticulture from Texas A&M University and has attended post graduate classes at Louisiana State University, North Carolina State University, and Stephen F. Austin State University.  He has past experience as a horticulturist with the Pineywoods Native Plant Center, Mercer Arboretum, and San Antonio Botanical Gardens, an instructor at Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana State Universities, an award winning horticulturist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, director of research and development at Lone Star Growers, and on the staff of Naconiche Gardens and The Antique Rose Emporium.

Greg with a mass of John Fanick Phlox. This is one of many plants Greg has introduced to the nursery trade

Greg has introduced a number of successful plants to the Texas nursery industry including: Blue Princess verbena, dwarf pink Mexican petunia, Gold Star esperanza, Laura Bush and VIP petunias, John Fanick phlox, Stars and Stripes pentas, Pam’s Pink honeysuckle, Lecompte vitex, Henry and Augusta Duelberg sages, Big Momma and Pam Puryear Turk’s Cap, Peppermint Flare Hibiscus, and the Marie Daly and Nacogdoches (Grandma’s Yellow) roses.  He was presented the Superior Service Award by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and the Lynn Lowery Memorial Award by the Native Plant Society of Texas for horticultural achievement in the field of Texas native plants.

He has traveled extensively to hundreds of botanical gardens throughout the United States and Europe and has given over one thousand entertaining lectures.  He is a graduate of the Benz School of Floral Design, a member of the Garden Writers Association of America, and a lifetime member of the Native Plant Society of Texas, the Southern Garden History Society, the Texas Bluebird Society, and the Big Thicket Association.  His garden, farm, and plant introductions have been featured in a number of magazines and newspapers including Texas Gardener, Texas Live, Texas Co-op Power, Woman’s Day, Farm and Ranch News, The Dallas Morning News, The San Antonio Express News, and The Houston Chronicle

Sally explores quilts made by Greg's grand mothers. Greg has not only loving restored both of his grandparent's homes, he has preserved and still uses, many of their furnishings.

Greg lives and writes in deep East Texas in his grandparent’s dogtrot farmhouse that he has lovingly restored.  He tends a small cottage garden, a vegetable garden, a patch of sugar cane, a flock of laying hens, and over one hundred bluebird houses.”

As you can tell, Greg is the kind of guy that anyone would love to spend a day with.  As his bio shows, he is VERY accomplished.  However, the bio doesn’t tell the whole story.  Greg is as open, friendly, and funny as he is accomplished.  Even though we had only met in passing, Sally and I both felt we had known him our lives.  He was such a great host and he never seemed to tire of endless questions. 

Greg showed us so much during our visit that there is no way to cover it in one post.  So, check back over the next few days to hear all of the amazing things that Greg shared with in Nacogdoches, at Stephen F. Austin University and in the thriving metropolis of Arcadia, Texas.

If you want to learn more about how to grow just about everything  or explore how our Southern history and culture is reflected in, and shaped by, the plants from the past, buy one or more of Greg’s books.  With six in print and one on kindle, this Master of Horticulture is sure to have something that is perfect for you.  Two of my favorites are featured in my sidebar!