San Antonio finally got its first native plant nursery last weekend as the Nectar Bar opened for business on the city’s north side. The boutique, four-days-a-week native plant shopping destination will offer pollinator and rare, hard-to-find Texas natives from a former food truck park at 14732 Bulverde Road, Thursdays – Sundays.
Dozens of cars packed the parking lot for the nursery’s soft opening on Saturday morning. People waited in line to purchase native milkweeds, hard-to-find heritage plants, and reliable native bloomers like goldenrod and Texas lantana.
Elena and Fernando Arriola drove 40 minutes from Spring Branch to attend the opening, which was promoted heavily through social media. “We’re looking for something new and we’re big into pollinators and butterflies,” said Elena Arriola.
Matthew Langley and Esther Cruz made the trip from North Austin. Langley sat at a table filled with more than 30 one-gallon pots destined for a future butterfly garden as his partner waited in line to pay. “She’s not supposed to come back with any more plants!” he said, adding that his job is “gardening helper.”
Self described “gardening helper” Matthew Langley of Austin waits while his wife pays for 31 native plants at the soft opening of San Antonio’s first all native plant nursery, The Nectar Bar. –Photo by Monika Maeckle
Local gardeners like longtime landscaper and botanist Charles Bartlett also showed up for the historic event. Bartlett, 84, runs a landscaping business and helped start the Bexar County Master Gardeners Association as well as the Gardening Volunteers of South Texas. “I’m very impressed with the wide variety of plant plant material available here,” he said, sporting a broad smile and taking in the crowd of plant shoppers.
Bartlett was especially impressed that the Nectar Bar’s inventory included Baptisia, a drought tolerant member of the pea family known as Wild Indigo that grows in sun and part shade. “It’s really hard to find,” said Bartlett.
The positive response reflects an unmet need for local, indigenous plants at a time when gardening is moving beyond beauty and toward practices that embrace low water use and increased ecosystem services.
Water utilities like San Antonio Water System (SAWS) that are located in hot climates promote “water saver” native landscapes in their community outreach. SAWS’ Garden Style San Antonio website offers a plant database and watering advice. The goal: limit water use, boost ecosystem services and keep irrigation costs down.
“This is definitely right on trend,” said Amy Graham, president of the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association. “It’s a good thing that’s really being pushed by the consumer.”
Graham said that while many of TNLA’s member 1,400 businesses carry native plants, “not that many are totally devoted to them.”
Native plant shoppers crowded The Nectar Bar’s soft opening this weekend. –Photo by Monika Maeckle
Lee Marlowe, president of San Antonio’s chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, also applauded the opening. “This is a great step forward for our area and it’s about time!” she said, adding that many people are eager to plant natives “but they can’t seem to find them at local nurseries.”
Nectar Bar owner and founder Drake White, 49, the daughter of a German mother and a 100% Cherokee father, has been gardening since she was a kid. “I remember a huge 18-wheeler tire we used as a planter for strawberries,” she recalled.
White moved to San Antonio in 1999 from Queens, New York, after growing up with a “lot of chaos because I was the dark one in the family,” she said. First she pursued a culinary career at St. Phillips. Later she became a dog trainer. Then in 2015, she earned her Master Naturalist certification and soon thereafter found her calling as a native plant advocate.
She started the Nectar Bar as a native landscaping firm and quickly learned how difficult it was to find the plants required to do the job–so she started growing them in her backyard.
The Nectar Bar announces native plant availability on Wednesday nights on the nursery’s Instagram and Facebook pages.
“Seeing that my specialty was a need, I formed my company and got to work,” she said.
White’s Master Naturalist training sparked a special affinity for butterflies. She served as the original project manager of the Butterfly Learning Center at Phil Hardberger Park and continues to work as chief docent of San Antonio’s annual Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival.
White said she and collaborators will be propagating much of the Nectar Bar’s inventory from mother plants she has personally cultivated. More common native plants will be sourced from wholesalers. Replenishing inventory will be a priority in light of the successful soft opening.
“We had 1,500 plants, we have 58 left. Pretty much a sell out,” said White.
She plans to announce plant availability on Wednesday evenings on her Instagram and Facebook pages.
Referencing her native roots, White believes it’s in her blood to go native and care for the earth. “The connections I have with nature’s creatures are deeply treasured,” she said. Another native plant operation will soon join San Antonio’s nursery scene.
Pollinatives, which will be located in Converse, is slated to open in the coming weeks.