From Austin Monthly magazine, Summer 2018:
(Left to Right) TV Personality Mark Gibbs, Owner Tom Tinguely, and "El Jefe" Noel Sanchez
The Great Outdoors Isn't Your Garden Variety Garden Center
"Deep in the heart of South Congress, just feet from the whizzing and whirring of passing vehicles on one of the city’s most frequented arteries, lies a lush, bucolic oasis. A maze of shrubs, plants and trees weaves through this natural wonderland. The peaceful sounds of a giant wind chime and a serene waterfall fill the air. Majestic oak trees provide cover overhead. A multicolored sign hanging from one of those oaks informs visitors where they are: THE GREAT OUTDOORS.
The Great Outdoors, set on almost two acres of increasingly valuable land, has been a must-visit destination for Austin gardeners for more than two decades. The garden center carries a wide selection of native and adapted plants suitable for Central Texas, herbs, vegetables, roses, perennials, shrubs, trees, cacti, succulents and indoor plants, among other things. It also offers workshops and classes for those who want to learn more about gardening.
What you won't find at The Great Outdoors is chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides, unusual for a garden center. They do, however, sell earth-friendly products and beneficial insects to safely care for your plants. "We want to find more earth-friendly and natural solutions to problems,” says Tom Tinguely, owner and founder of The Great Outdoors. “A lot of times the problems come about from using these chemicals in the first place.”
Raised in El Paso, Tinguely first became enamored of gardening as a fifth grader when his father gave him a section of the backyard to grow whatever he wanted. He planted pinto beans. Upon seeing the first bean sprout, Tinguely thought, Oh my gosh, this is fascinating.
In 1985, he started The Great Outdoors as a lawn maintenance and landscape design/build company, but a funny thing happened on the way to lawn and landscape world domination: People often would drive by his lot, see the palm trees he had stocked for landscape jobs and ask Tinguely, “Are those for sale?”
“Sure,” he replied, and thus began the transformation of The Great Outdoors into the garden center it is today.
In 1994, in search of more space for his business, Tinguely came across an inexpensive, tree-covered, 1.7-acre lot on South Congress.
“At the time, South Congress was really [undesirable],” he recalls. “All my friends were like, ‘Why would you buy there? It’s Scarytown.’ Well, it was very affordable.”
Ten years later, Tinguely officially closed the landscape division to focus on the retail part of the business, and that decision has helped The Great Outdoors become an Austin institution. Between 25 and 35 employees roam the grounds every day, including buyer and designer Mark Gibbs and Noel Sanchez, who simply goes by El Jefe, who have worked for Tinguely for 26 and 25 years, respectively.
Online reviews consistently rank it among the top garden centers in the city. One critique from earlier this year calls The Great Outdoors “our only place to go in Austin for spring plants every year. Pretty and funky atmosphere as well as healthy plants, huge selection and very patient, helpful and knowledgeable staff!”
With The Great Outdoors approaching its 25th anniversary at its South Congress location, Tinguely has again started looking for a new home for the garden center. “Property taxes are getting expensive,” he says, echoing a common refrain heard around Austin these days. Though nothing is imminent, “we’re trying to be smart. The problem is, land is expensive everywhere.”
Indeed, an oasis like this one on South Congress is hard to find.
You can find the entire article here:
The Great Outdoors Greenhouse