Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hill Country Roads: Texas Hill Country Olive Company and a few stops along the way

Last Friday a group of gardening friends piled into Melody's car and headed north to Dripping Springs for a tour of the Texas Hill Country Olive Company.

Our first stop was in Blanco to drop off a plant for Sheryl Smith-Rogers of Window on a Texas Wildscape.  Of course we had to take a tour of her garden.  Sheryl was away but her husband James Hearn was there to show us around.

Schoolhouse or Oxblood lilies were in bloom near the well.  These fleeting red blooms in early September offer the promise of cooler weather on the horizon.  They are also a reminder of the early settlers who planted these bulbs throughout Central Texas nearly a century ago.

I was especially taken with the silvery tops of Whiteleaf mountain mint under the massive oak.

I could easily identify this plant which I don't think I've seen before because Sheryl thoughtfully and clearly labels her plants for visitors.

James was an excellent tour guide and even showed off his interest in archeology with two metates (one pictured below) found near Peyton Colony, an early African-American settlement in Blanco County.  Thank you for the tour James!

Next stop was the Texas Hill Country Olive Company just north of Dripping Springs.

Our tour was guided by owner John Gambini who gave us a brief history of olive cultivation and background on his olive growing operation founded in 2008.  We headed out into the olive orchard for a look at a few of the 1900 olive trees and a discussion of the testing and harvesting process.

There are five different varieties of olive trees planted at this orchard.   The two varieties closest to the building are Arbequina and Mission.

Mission olives shown below are larger than Arbequina above.  Olives at the top of the tree are beginning to ripen and the Gambini family is preparing for harvest soon.  All olives on the tree are harvested at the same time whether green or black.

One of the harvesting methods is to shake the trees with this device.  Olives are collected in the bin and zipped over to the pressing machine on site to maintain quality since light, air, heat, and time are the enemies of good olive oil.

We headed indoors to see the pressing operation.  Mr. Gambini emphasized buying local to ensure we get 100% olive oil since worldwide demand has led to some vendors cutting olive oil with other types of oil.

We visited the nice gift shop and lunch in the Bistro with a view of the garden was excellent.  There was a tasting bar for olive oil and Balsamic Vinegar which were quite good.

Before we left I paused to take in the view of those wide open Hill Country spaces which are fast disappearing.

Our next stop was Vivero Growers where I took a photo of our native Snow on the Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) in a field near the parking lot.  We'd been admiring the blooms all along the way so it was fun to get a better view.  I'd have waded into the field for a better look but there was a fence in the way.

Of course I headed straight for the succulent greenhouse which was beautiful as usual.

As great as the selection was, I decided to wait for spring to add new succulents.  To see my previous visit to this excellent nursery check out my post here.

On the way home we stopped at Sol'stice, a funky art and garden shop in Dripping Springs.

Owner Chris Smartt is a garden designer and artist.  We all remember his best-known project which was turning his mom's swimming pool into a pond.

Sol'stice carries a nice selection of plants including plenty of Texas native plants.

I didn't ask what this colorful pot is made of.  Chris works with concrete and if this is concrete it would be quite heavy.

"Yard art mecca" as a Sol'stice customer commented on the website.

View of the porch.

An agave stalk tied to the eaves of the shop is a cool way to keep part of a bloomed-out agave.

Interesting containers and plants.  The pot at lower right is an olla, an ancient form of garden irrigation making a comeback during our frequent droughts.

Slag glass in concrete.

The sun was intense and most of the art was in deep shade but I think you can see by the artful  mushrooms just how cool this place is.

Concrete fountain

Art lined garden paths wind through oaks behind the shop.

Peacock bench

Metal art

Look closely at the deer head!

Old metal pieces with a Texas twist.

And this impressive totem of stacked concrete and wheel rim spacers draped in lights.  It would be kind of heavy to cart home but I do like the concept.

All in all a great day in the Texas Hill Country.


  1. It looks like it was a perfect day to visit the Hill Country. I passed through there when we were in Texas, but I'd like to spend more time there. Rich history, culture, art, and plants! Nice post. :)

    1. As often as you mention how much you'd like to visit Texas again, I'm sure we'll see you back here real soon. Maybe when it gets colder in WI!

  2. What a fascinating garden art shop you visited! Looks like you had a fun day.

    1. Our road trips are so much fun and we've not nearly run out of things to see.

  3. How interesting to learn about olive production. I eat so many olives, yet I've never given much thought to how they arrive in the bowl! Shameful, isn't it?
    What a fabulous day out - I do like a well-labelled garden.

    1. Not a problem at all. While olives have been grown in Texas for 300 years, the concept of olives as an industry is just taking off and trees are becoming much more common now so I wouldn't have thought much about it a few years ago either.

  4. I love mountain mints! They smell so good. I haven't seen them available in the Pacific Northwest, but I learned about them during my time on the east coast. There was a lot to see in this post, but I'm always distracted anytime I see those beautiful Texas oaks and other trees.

    1. Our oaks are amazing and I never tire of seeing them. I'm going to look for that mountain mint from native plant nurseries.

  5. What a great trip! I'd have been hard-pressed to skip the succulents but then I do realize that you have to manage against colder winter temperatures. I love the garden art store too, especially that peacock bench.

    1. Unlike LA where you are, we do have to bring our tender succulents in for a few months over winter so best not to acquire too many in the fall.

  6. Thanks again for posting - loved seeing the Solstice artwork best!

    1. Ah yes, with your encouragement I'm going to try posting more. Solstice is very cool. You would enjoy it.


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