October 25, 2022
Two Fridays ago some friends and I moved to Fredericksburg, a charming town in the Texas hill country, founded by German immigrants in the mid-1800s and built of local limestone blocks, tin roofs, and galvanized roofing. Paula Stone, president of the Fredericksburg chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas and owner of a wedding venue surrounded by native-plant gardens called Gilbrear’s Gazebo, invited us to visit.
Paula is a straight talker with a passion for native plants, a knack for turning her creative design ideas into reality, and a lifelong dream of living in a modern, eco-friendly dome home. That’s his next home. For now he lives in his 140-year-old stone house on 10 acres of land. The picturesque, German-built farmhouse was dilapidated when she bought it in 2009, its interior so derelict that her realtor couldn’t even get inside while Paula wandered around and gauged its potential amid dog kennels and other debris.
Twenty years as an interior designer in San Antonio, as well as a breeder of Arabian horses, taught Paul to recognize potential when he saw it. He was sure he saw it here. He began by removing a clumsy addition and opening the house to the outdoors with an extra-deep front porch overlooking a flagstone walk that winds around a stock-tank pond. Mexican buckeye and Texas redbud along with blue mistflower and inland sea oats, natives, fill the front yard where others might have sod a lawn.
One end of the porch is anchored by an outdoor fireplace — there used to be an indoor fireplace before Paula tore out a poorly constructed add-on, trimming the house back to its creamy limestone frame. The preserved fireplace continued to burn until the idea was to deepen its surrounds, giving the process a fragmented, modern look. That did the trick, and it gave him a place to display one of the many horse paintings that adorn the property, a nod to his years as a horse breeder.
Several outbuildings provide storage, such as this stone-built shed decorated with animal skulls.
Swallowtail butterflies swarm through the garden and red sage (Sage coccinea) in fiery red flowers.
A green-blue garden shed and attached greenhouse are framed by a desert willow and gabion walls made of limestone blocks found on site.
I was struck by the gabion wall, which marks the entrance to the back garden.
pigeon (A low current) and autumn sage (Salvia Gregi) thrives under desert willows.
Autumn sage and dove make a pink combo.
Pearberries grow throughout Gilbrier’s garden. It is a charming native spreader with red berries and leaves that turn red.
lame horse (Echinocactus texensis) and lithops in the greenhouse
ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguenense), its pastel leaves color coordinate with its container
Gilbrea’s Gazebo Gardens
Paula originally planned to run a bed and breakfast or long-term rental out of her home but soon realized it wasn’t for her. Instead he turned his attention to a large turkey barn in the backyard. She cleaned it up and put her design vision to work, transforming it into a wedding venue — a smart idea for a picturesque destination town like Fredericksburg. He added a 40-foot-diameter, silo-roofed gazebo that allows for outdoor festivities no matter the weather.
A fig tree in a meadow garden of blue sage (Sage farinacea) and fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)
A pink rose, crimson sage and rock rose (Pavonia Lasiopetala) add color and draw pollen.
Dwarf Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra ‘Nana’) adds more pink and red to its flowers and fruit. I love how these appear on the plant at the same time.
The gazebo’s galvanized roof and chandelier hover over an underground 38,500-gallon water catchment system. It’s easy to imagine brides and grooms strolling across the dance floor above Paula’s Pure Rainwater Secret for Home and Garden.
‘Palm pink’ turkish hat (Malviscus drummondii ‘Palm Purrier’) was in full bloom in the gazebo garden. Paula likes to leave standing chips (dead trees) for wildlife, but when they eventually come down she restores them in the garden. An impromptu bench perhaps? Plus it’s still benefiting wildlife as it decomposes in the soil.
A nectar swallowtail butterfly on a Turk’s hat
A trio of Hesperalos — could the dwarfs be ‘brakelights’? — In concrete pipe planters
Nearby, three whale tongue agaves (Agave ovatifolia) bunches like hammer-steel roses.
Mexican chest (Ungandia is beautiful) grow behind them. At the front, doored to the event barn, stand two upside-down bulk feed bins. They add farmhouse style, and the folds inside cleverly turn them into intimate seating nooks.
An old live oak stump supports a low-maintenance potted Texas sotol (Deciliron texanum) grow sedges, ghost plants, columbines, and other small clumping plants around the tree’s gnarled roots. A live oak sapling sprouted from behind the stump, and Paula couldn’t cut it. It’s growing too close to home, she says, but it has a will to live. For now it has been saved.
Groundcovers hang next to old stumps.
Gazebo looked back at the garden
Before we go inside the event barn, let’s explore this side path, past the upside-down feed bins.
I admired the rusted, curved strips of metal flashing that Paula attached to a wooden fence, creating a patterned, wavy effect.
Paula gave us Alamo vine seeds (Meremia dissecta), which looks like something designed to be hot glued to a wreath or candle.
Along the parking area is a wonderfully rustic corrugated iron fence strung with lights. At one end is a live oak arch.
And now head into the event barn.
Inside, it has rustic charm with corrugated tin walls and ceilings, a concrete floor, warm wood accents, and bright chandeliers.
A wood-framed door between the feed bins reveals a curved bench and chandelier — a conversation knock! There is one on each side of the room.
We couldn’t resist it for a photo op.
After showing us the rest of the ceremony barn, complete with main hall and dressing rooms for the bridal party and groomsmen, we return through a garden and landscaped gardens. A tall metal fence screens the highway and keeps deer out. Toward the back of the property we found these attractive circular gabion planters, giving growing collections of cacti the sharp drainage they need.
Far back, Paula piles broken tree limbs and branches to decompose naturally, with the occasional giant agave growing among them. The pile is creating a large berm that gives privacy to the house next door.
More scarlet sage and one of the dozens of swallowtail butterflies we saw nectaring on them
“What are those – sheds?” We asked Paul about the 3 or 4 cement-block structures along the property line. “No. The lion’s den,” he replied. I smiled, then realized he was serious. what what??
He told us, the previous owners kept caged lions here. Alas! I hate to imagine this for many reasons. I poked inside them both, half expecting the ghostly roar of a lion. Paula has turned them into imaginative summerhouses, with benches facing an open field. A door is framed by a wire tunnel arch and juniper branches.
A wooden plaque bears the name of his old horse-breeding business, now reused for his wedding venue business.
On the way home we stopped to see Paula’s large vegetable garden. It is attractively tucked behind a coyote fence lined with galvanized planters. I thought I’d taken photos of the metal and stone raised beds lining the interior (you can see some of them in Shirley Fox’s 2018 post), but I got confused…
…with tall fences made of wine bottles! Mostly blue but mixed with green and brown glass, the bottle fence seems to celebrate. Paula reused steel conveyor frames to construct the curtains. I neglected to ask how the bottle was attached.
It’s a great effect – playful and artistic.
There are even a few glass heads mixed in, watching you.
Paula served us lunch after our tour and we learned that she was putting her beautifully restored farmhouse and gazebo business in Gilbrea up for sale. If you’ve always dreamed of owning property in the Texas Hill Country and running a wedding rental business — with beautiful gardens! – This is your chance. Paul is selling land and 5 acres of property; Here are the real estate listings.
Paula holds 5 acres of land in the back near the lion’s den, where she plans to build the house she’s dreamed of since childhood — the dome house. He showed us a 3D-printed model, its futuristic white domes somewhat resembling Luke Skywalker’s childhood home on Tatooine. I had just read about actor Robert Downey Jr.’s own dome house in Malibu, and I shared Paula’s enthusiasm for her bold new architectural venture. I’m sure it will be fabulous, and I hope to one day see the next evolution of Gilbrier Gardens.
Thanks, Paula, for a lovely tour of your garden and lunch!
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