Albert Road Garden’s Hand-Harvested Clay Pots Capture Texas’ Colors
Horticulturalist and potter Rob Jacques puts a new spin on ceramics for plants
By Laurel Miller
I was a creative kid, artistically speaking, so when I signed up for a high school ceramics class, I was banking on an easy A. If I recall, I dropped out after two weeks, because I simply couldn’t grasp the most basic concepts of using a wheel (throw clay on center, begin shaping while spinning). My admittedly poor small motor skills just weren’t cut out for a career as a potter.
Those blessed with the ability to craft smooth, symmetrical objects using nothing more than a glob of earth, water and a crude piece of equipment never fails to amaze me, as do the colors and textures inherent to organic materials (although I love a good glaze). Unsurprising, then, that my discovery of Rob Jacques’ charming little plant pots at South Austin’s Frond Plant Shop (his only retail ceramic outlet besides the Mueller Sunday Farmers Market), I was giddy with joy.
Jacques is a horticulturalist and owner of Austin’s Albert Road Garden. When not tending to and propagating his 8o-plus species of air plants – themselves spectacular organic objects – Jacques winds down by hand-harvesting clay from various regions of Texas and spinning it into petite, singular works of art.
From sake cup-like pots the color of a West Texas sunset (made from Elgin clay), to small bowls and hanging planters the shade of turbinado sugar (from his backyard), sun-bleached bones (Athens) and russet (Abilene), Jacques is a skilled ceramicist, despite being entirely self-taught.
“I’ve picked up clay from a bunch of different places,” he says. “Right now, I’m working with a very sandy clay from a friend’s ranch in Flatonia. Family ranches are my favorite places to source because the owners know so much about the land and have such a deep connection to it.” Jacques has also added mesquite ash (South Austin), basalt (Knippa) and granite (Llano Uplift) to his clays.
As for how he was inspired to source his clays, Jacques says he’s always been “attracted to making something not just from Texas but made of Texas.” He enjoys the challenge of sourcing and working with new clays, which all handle differently.
“Some are frankly quite difficult to use for pots, but I love having to adapt,” he says. “I also enjoy the surprise of seeing what comes out of the kiln with a new clay, as there are variations in color depending upon temperature and natural impurities that may manifest as speckles in the finished product.”
Jacques started his nursery in 2015 and has been selling his air plants and pots at the farmer’s market for one year. “I’ve been throwing pots for about 15 years, mostly making dinnerware. I got started with air plants and garden pottery while working as the garden department manager at a place called TreeHouse. They were the first to carry my products and after they closed, I started Albert Road Garden.”
“I sometimes use the clays straight, but I also mix them to get different color and texture combinations,” he continues. “Right now, I’m into combining the red-firing clay with my backyard white-firing backyard clay, which yields an umber color with minute cream flecks,” he says. “I love working with new clays, however, so I switch them out two or three times a year.”
The pigments in Jacques’ clays are the result of their natural iron content, he says. “Red-firing clays have a lot of iron, while white clays lack it – they may contain calcium carbonate (limestone) instead. Depending upon the iron content, clays may fire different colors, as well.”
Jacques makes three different kinds of pots, all designed to help specific types of plants thrive: Xeric, mesic and hydric. “I usually make my xeric flowerpots with thicker walls and fire at a lower temperature, to give them more porosity. This helps them pull excess water away from the roots after a watering so species like lithops and other highly water-sensitive plants don’t get root rot.”
His mesic stoneware accounts for 90 percent of his sales, because it’s suited for most succulents, which like “a little moisture to linger in the soil after watering.” In terms of functionality, Jacques says his hydric stoneware acts like glazed planters by not wicking away moisture from the soil, making it ideal for ferns and many tropical houseplants.
While most of his ceramics are unglazed (which enables them to remain porous), Jacques does occasionally add color to their interiors. Most recently, he used a glossy, inky black. He doesn’t have the time or inclination to made custom pieces (“I just love making little flowerpots, and that keeps me busy!”), nor does he ship his creations.
“I like to think that I found a nice little niche for myself as a 50-50 horticulturalist and potter,” he says. “I really enjoy creating ceramics designed to help specific plants thrive, and I like growing plants that will complement and amplify the aesthetic of the pots. For me, it’s about balance.”