Episode 8 | June 12, 2018
Homegrown organic gardening legend John Dromgoole stops by Texas Energy Lab to discuss the spirituality of sustainability, the simplicity of organic gardening success, and what you can discover at The Natural Gardener in Austin.
A Gardener’s Natural Origins
John Dromgoole grew up in Laredo, “where the sun always shines.” His Tex-Mex upbringing influenced his perspective on sustainability. He started his first garden with leftover corn kernels from the nearby mill and pinto beans, and he was tickled when the plants thrived.
Much of what he learned about gardening came from observing the world around him and storing that knowledge away for future use. He remembers a gardener tossing dust up in the air over his rose bushes. It was only years later, after John had learned about diatomaceous earth, that he realized the gardener was using a natural form of pest control.
John realizes now that there are three simple keys to a good garden: a well-adapted plant or seeds, planted in good soil, during the right season. “Organic gardening isn’t really difficult. It’s observing nature, letting nature do its job without intervening because you think you have to.”
A Winding Path Towards A Business Idea
Before making his mark in organic gardening, John started his career going a very different direction. After getting his undergraduate degree in radio-television-film, he started a clothing boutique. An injury from a car accident lost the store. Not sure what to do next, he followed the path of his friends who had moved Austin, and he stayed for the trees and live music that made the city feel like paradise.
John worked various plant-related jobs around Austin and San Antonio, accumulating wisdom in both horticulture and business. He produced herbs, propagated trees, grew seasonal plants and flowers, learned landscaping, and helped run an organic gardening store. His even took a detour into blown glass and macramé.
His Eureka moment came after he started his own landscaping business and realized that it was difficult to compete with companies using toxic chemicals while he was hoeing weeds by hand. Organic gardening products simply weren’t available, and John decided to fill that niche.
His techniques may have seemed strange to outsiders, such as putting grasshoppers in blenders and making garlic and pepper insecticide spray. The products were simple but beyond the patience of most home gardeners. “Organics took off because of convenience,” John says.
The Spirituality of Sustainability at The Natural Gardener
Rather than fighting against chemical-based gardening, John decided to invite people into a vision of what organic gardening could be. That is how The Natural Gardener was created. John says that finding the eight-acre property was one of the biggest blessings of his life. “The first thing I did was go outside and start a vegetable garden. I needed to show that you can feed a family or the world by doing it this way.”
Sustainability at The Natural Gardener started with respect for the land and the native wildlife (deer, foxes, peacock), and extends to respect for employees and customers. Today the property is a nice place for adults, kids, and dogs alike to visit and observe.
Make the journey to 8648 Old Bee Cave Rd and discover the butterfly garden, visit the nursery, make compost, walk the labyrinth, let your kids get to know the chickens and goats. Maybe you will even find John, under a baobob tree with his legs crossed, ready to talk. “We’ll see you in the garden.”