Cactus Chic: Inside the Greenhouse at Driftwood
A stunning botanical setting in the Hill Country just outside Austin
Although it’s a relatively new venue for weddings, the elegant and distinctive Greenhouse at Driftwood (850 Darden Hill Rd., Driftwood, 512-239-9187) has been a thriving center of botany and sustainability for a few generations. The conservatory-style building lies just 25 miles southwest of Austin, near Dripping Springs, and it’s become a favorite choice of couples wanting to marry in a tranquil, verdant setting. We spoke recently with Dave Connell, who operates this very special venue with his wife, Harper.
LOVE WINS TEXAS: Tell us a little bit about the history of this property. I know it’s been in your family for some time—how has it evolved from its original use to become a beautiful event venue today?
DAVE CONNELL: The Eureka moment was really when Harper and I were married here in 2013. The Greenhouse worked so well for hosting our wedding. Harper and I looked at each other and then thought about the opportunity to create this venue, and it just made sense.
My mother and father built The Greenhouse from scratch starting in 1979. Back then it wasn’t The Greenhouse—it was just “home.” After raising my sister and me, my parents turned the actual Greenhouses into an empty nest project. Another decade later they looked around and considered downsizing. That coincided perfectly with Harper’s and my wedding out here. Now we open the grounds and the extensively updated homestead to people pledging their lives to each other. It’s a great new step for a place so close to my heart and a fun experience to go through as a family.
LWT: One thing that’s very clear about your property is your commitment to conservation and sustainability. Can you explain a bit about why this is important to you, and what steps you’ve taken toward achieving this goal?
DC: Well, it’s the right thing to do. But also many of our conservation and sustainability ideas became practices because they were the necessary steps to take. We started collecting rainwater in the ‘80s because the minerals in the well water were eating holes in our hot-water heaters, dishwashers, and washing machines. Thirty years later you drive down a highway and see a billboard about rainwater collection systems. People sometimes ask dad why he was so ahead of the times with rainwater collection, and he just says that he was tired of replacing hot water heaters.
We are also fortunate enough to be on some acreage here with live water on two of our four boundaries. There’s a responsibility that comes with acreage. We facilitate habitat for wildlife and have semi-annual creek cleanups. We promote native species and manage invasives. It’s about stewardship.
LWT: When did you begin opening your property to weddings, and about how many have you held so far?
DC: We began touring prospective clients in early 2015. Our first large-scale wedding was last November. This spring is our first wave of weddings—our first “wedding season”—and we now have weddings booked as far out as fall 2017. We’ve had six weddings so far—they’ve ranged in size from 350 guests to an elopement with a couple, officiant, and photographer in the Cactus House. That’s the great thing about our spaces: we can accommodate many sizes of groups comfortably without feeling too big or too small.
LWT: Have you received many inquiries from same-sex couples since the marriage ruling last June?
DC: We have! But have yet to get a same-sex wedding on the books. That being said we are definitely a new venue gaining traction and we are always grateful for inquiries, whether they produce a working relationship or not.
LWT: Have most of the couples who’ve wed at your property come from the Austin and San Antonio areas, or do you receive a lot of inquiries from other parts of the state?
DC: All over the state. Heck, all over the US. But most have some sort of connection with the Austin area, be it professionally, undergrad, friends, family.
LWT: Your greenhouses are clearly a focal point, and you’ve chosen the flora inside very carefully. What are some of your favorite plantings?
DC: My personal favorites are the large columnar cacti in the Desert Greenhouse. Dad and I sourced a saguaro from Arizona in 2003—it was about waist high when we planted it. Now it’s roughly 20 feet high and still growing. Very impressive. It’s that way with all the plants. They have been in the ground long enough to become established, mature, specimen plants. Remembering the journey the plants have had under our care is definitely my favorite aspect of the Greenhouses.
LWT: It sounds like you have a variety of venues that could work for weddings of different sizes. Can you briefly outline some of the parameters, in terms of potential spaces and how many guests each can accommodate?
DC: There are so many spaces, but those spaces flow together seamlessly. Our architect, Tom Hatch, has been with our family creating this unique space since day one. His talents ensured that with each addition and remodel of the original structure, the flow and usefulness of this place made sense. We have indoor ceremony and reception sites for up to 50 people and outdoor ceremony sites for up to 350. Some of my favorite events have been elopements and very small wedding parties. Last New Year’s Eve, for example, we had a couple pull up in a limo with a small group of friends and a photographer. They went into the Cactus House, said their “I do’s,” had a couple glasses of bubbly, and then rode off into the sunset to ring in the new year and their new marriage in Austin.
LWT: The helpful Rates & FAQs section on your website explains many of your amenities and policies. Is there anything else that you’d like to tell readers who might be considering planning their wedding or ceremony at your property?
DC: Just that we provide the space and let our clients provide the vendors to fill that space. This allows couples the liberty to really make this space their own and suit their own tastes and personalities.