People walk through the rose garden.
People walk through the rose garden at Milberger's Landscaping And Nursery. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

A trip to the gardening center can often turn into pleasant time spent wandering around a shady oasis of trees and plants. That’s especially true if the store is big enough to require a map.

Milberger’s Landscaping and Nursery is a sprawling one-stop garden depot that’s established itself as an institution in San Antonio gardening and landscaping. Browsing through its huge selection of trees, greenhouse indoor plants, rock features, sculptures, turf grass, flowers, and vegetables would take hours.

Aside from its size and selection, serious plant people and wanna-be gardeners know Milberger’s for its educational efforts.

“With a lot of people, it’s trial and error,” said Trace Hazlett, retail manager at Milberger’s.

“But that’s what we’re here for, trying to lessen the error part.”

Hazlett, 53, has been working at Milberger’s for about seven years, though he’s been in the landscaping and gardening business since age 16. His favorite part is the variety of the work.

“Every day is a different day,” he said. “There are no two identical days, ever.”

Founded in the 1970s by then-St. Mary’s University student Arthur Milberger to help pay his way through law school, the business has grown along with San Antonio. Back then, it was one of the few businesses in a sea of large properties that are increasingly getting filled in with new development.

Located just south of the intersection of Bulverde Road and Loop 1604, the business now takes up 27 acres and employs around 300 people total in the nursery, landscaping, design, and irrigation departments, Hazlett said.

People might come to browse and end up staying awhile. Hazlett said he’s seen people taking engagement photos at the nursery and knew of a marriage proposal there. Some come by just to get some time in green space, as if it were a local park.

“We get people who come and eat their lunch here,” Hazlett said.

In an amphitheater behind the oleanders and viburnums, nursery staff and outside visitors host seminars for adults and children. Local plant experts Jerry Parsons and Calvin Finch host a radio show live from the nursery every Saturday and Sunday.

Recent events included a seminar on growing citrus plants on the patio, a session on “turf grass 101,” and a class on growing a spring vegetable garden.

“Those are always timely things that people are looking at doing, whether it’s growing vegetables, citrus trees, things that lots of people want to try but are afraid to,” Hazlett said.

Not all of them are centered around gardening. In April, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department personnel from Old Tunnel State Park near Fredericksburg hosted a presentation for kids all about bats. On Saturday, experts from birds of prey conservancy Last Chance Forever will introduce children up-close to Texas raptors.

“That’s our future customer,” Hazlett said. “So we want to encourage them to be outside, not on their PlayStations. Be in the real world and understand it.”

Along with helping customers find the right plants, Milberger’s has helped the San Antonio Water System encourage its customers to conserve water by offering coupons and rebates from SAWS’ conservation department. Plants at the nursery are tagged to show whether they qualify for a discount, paid for by SAWS.

Especially during hot, dry summers, a significant portion of San Antonio’s water use goes to irrigating grass and outdoor plants.

Karen Guz, SAWS conservation director, said that’s why SAWS works with local gardening centers like Milberger’s, Rainbow Gardens Nursery, and Fanick Garden Center to offer instant rebates at checkout for hardy, drought-tolerant plants. The incentives are part of her department’s efforts to conserve an additional billion gallons of water per year, every year.

“When we help people use less water, particularly outdoor water, it helps manage all of the water resources better for San Antonio,” Guz said. “And that little tiny cost of us incentivizing a drought-tolerant landscape pays back dividends for the community.”

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.