In spring, rural Washington County, Texas, and its environs float on a sea of bluebonnets. Families from Austin, Houston, and beyond flock to its waves of azure flowers, often as a backdrop for family portraits. Every March, parades and celebrations commemorate the fact that the county was the birthplace of Texas independence in 1836.
Farmers Jenny and Brad Stufflebeam espouse “righteous food” on their 22-acre Home Sweet Farm near Brenham, growing heirloom vegetables and herbs. Farm tours, workshops, and a popular Community-Supported Agriculture program are only some of the ways the young couple brings the organic message to this part of Texas.
With a downtown on the National Register of Historic Places, Brenham has never lost that small-town-America feel. Its main street welcomes strolling, shopping, and visiting.
An homage to music through wood, the jewel in the Round Top Festival Institute’s crown is its concert hall, hand-built by craftsmen to be not only visually jaw-dropping but also acoustically sublime. The classical music festival in June and July is the Institute’s raison d’être, though the 210-acre campus now hosts events most of the year. Outdoors, the organic MacAshen Gardens are reason alone to visit, with acres of rare and unusual plants flourishing amid “ruins” of Texas limestone.
You’d expect J.R. Ewing to be standing on the porch of Lillian Farms. He wouldn’t find the place lacking, and you won’t either. Run by the gracious Barbara Segal, this light-filled bed-and-breakfast is cozy yet luxurious—beds so lofty, they have their own stairs—and the hospitality is as big as the Lone Star state itself. For guests who never travel without their horses, there’s a stable for them to enjoy the good life, as well.
There’s a rumor that Royers Round Top Cafe offers fare besides pie, but diners are forgiven for not seeing past the butterscotch chip, pecan, and coconut chess treats that make Royers famous. Bud “The Pieman” Royer and his family serve up Texas-style contemporary comfort food with good-natured attitude. Oh, and when dessert comes, “Remember the Alamode.” Bud charges extra for pie without ice cream.
A visit to the famed Antique Rose Emporium in Independence is on any respectable rose fanatic’s bucket list. Hundreds of heirloom roses “rustled” from oblivion grow on the grounds and are available at the nursery. Besides the acres of roses and perennials, the gardens are peppered with wry vignettes; don’t forget to pay your respects at the cemetery of cracked pots.
If Provence isn’t in the budget, a day wandering Lavande’s purple hills harvesting your own lavender is a mighty nice consolation prize. This lavender and olive farm makes its own sachets and bath products, too.
Give your inner cowboy free rein at Texas Ranch Life, a working cattle ranch that offers horseback riding, roping, and cattle drives of those famous Texas longhorns. Spend the night in one of the restored historic buildings, eat cowboy grub, and marvel at how beautiful 1,800 secluded acres can be.
Originally published in Organic Gardening Magazine, April/May 2012