Steve Kainer

General Manager

I just came to the realization that I’ve spent about 3/4 of my life in or around aquatic life. For the first 18 years I lived on a farm in the Katy Prairie, west of Houston. Being about 1 inch above sea level, treeless, and flat as a board, it made the perfect place to grow rice, as you know to grow rice it requires thousands of acres of flooded fields, my home was surrounded by these fields. I grew up in a giant bog. Thought I could get away from water in college, ended up working for Dr. Kirk Strawn, world renowned water lily hybridizer. Strawn Water Gardens was one of the largest wholesale aquatic plant farms in the U.S.. At the time, I had no idea I was gaining invaluable knowledge about aquatic plants. I did quickly discover it was one of the most back breaking, miserable jobs on the planet. It did pay for beer, rent, and Top Ramen.
I graduated from Texas A&M in 1991 with a degree in Kinesiology; got my first teaching/coaching job in the Austin area. Ten years later I got tired of my livelihood depending on some 17 year old kid, who just broke up with his girlfriend and missed his block on a 32 trap. Guess I was drawn back to the water, so ironically I hired some 17 year old kids, dug a few ponds, put some lilies and fish in them, and opened Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery in the spring of 2000. 11 years later, I find myself managing the most unique Garden Center in Central Texas, staffed with some of the most talented, interesting, weirdest people you’ll ever meet and loving every minute of it! Still in the water…


Nathan Unclebach

Nursery Manager

Turn-ons: Members of the family Agaveaceae, heirloom bulbs, Texas natives, organic gardening, rain lilies, rain gardens, perennials, low water use landscapes and rain water collection, water lilies, lotus, Louisiana Iris, Plants from Mexico, gingers, compost and earthworms, dragonflies, butterflies, birds, brugmansias, propagating (plants), water gardens, vertical gardens, roof-top gardens, terrariums, orchids, orchards, rock gardens, an empty greenhouse, a full greenhouse, herbs, gardeners, birders, ferns and moss, Texans, sunshine, rare plants, bio-remediation, bugs, stone, easy plants, homegrown veggies, the cool shade of an old oak tree and tacos.
Turn-offs: Lawns (a little is ok), chemical pesticides, demanding or finicky plants ( I prefer my plants to be alive when I return from a vacation), desks and/or sitting in chairs, invasive-exotic plants, high water-bills and running out of tacos.

Carlos Cardenas

Carlos Cardenas

Design and Construction Manager

Carlos was born and raised right here in Central Texas.  He graduated from what is now Texas State in 2000 with Honors, majoring Aquatic Biology and Biochemistry.  While in college he worked for US Fish and Wildlife at the San Marcos National Fish Hatchery and Technology Center.  After college he moved to upstate New York to work for a large Tropical Fish Hatchery, but quickly realized his home was Central Texas and returned within the first year.  On return he came to Hill Country Water Gardens and was our assistant manager for two years before leaving to try his hand at his own business.  He opened the doors to River City Aquatics in 2004, a tropical fish and aquarium speciality store in Northwest Austin.  The aquarium store was a huge success, but after five years of 60 to 70 hour weeks, he felt the need to move on and sold the business.  He had always missed the water gardens and we were glad to have him back.  

Since 2009, Carlos has rebuilt our installation division from the ground up, and now designs and supervises projects from Waco to San Marcos, and has even been called upon for consultation work as far away as Fort Davis in west Texas.  You will often hear Carlos discuss “form and function”.  He has a keen eye and creates landscapes and water features that are not only spectacular, but also function with as little maintenance as possible.

You won’t often see Carlos at the Water Gardens.  That’s because he’s out and about all over town putting in gorgeous water features in your neighbor’s backyards and local businesses.  He has designed and managed installation of many ponds in the Austin and surrounding areas including the Ft. Hood Reflection Pond in Killeen and the Dell Childrens Hospital Healing Garden Pond.  Carlos is available for consultations at your location for the simplest backyard water feature to large commercial ponds.


Theresa Tojek

Projects Coordinator

Theresa has been with us since she first moved to Texas in 2003. As a local artist, she uses her talents and her great eye for design at Hill Country Water Gardens. Theresa is familiar with every aspect of pond building from her years of hands-on experience. Her knowledge has helped with the design of many of our ponds here in Central Texas. Much of her day is spent at her desk juggling the busy schedule of our outbound installation crew and answering your questions.


Emily Button

Purchasing and Inventory Manager

Emily keeps track of all the product on our 5 acres from even the smallest fairy garden cupcake to the largest fountain.  If you’ve ever been to our location, you’ll know this is no small task. as everything is placed in decorative vignettes.  Miniature gardening is one of her specialties.  Pick up clever ideas from her huge outdoor display and her Miniature Gardening seminars.   Then visit the showroom to create your own enchanted garden.

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Paula Cronin

Nursery Specialist

Paula has been lover of gardening since she was a teenager.  Having been here since the summer of 2012, she has quickly become our go-to-gal for questions and direction in planting.  If you need advice on what and where to plant and sprucing up your outdoors, she is available for consultations.  Oh yes, and can you tell she’s into yoga.


Shirley Garvie

Nursery Specialist

Shirley’s helped grow Hill Country Water Gardens since 2003.  Customers frequently ask for Shirley to get their plant questions answered, but we really think it’s because of her cool Scottish accent.  Every year since 2008 has been Shirley’s last year.  She says “it’s because it’s so hard to leave this place”.  But this might be her “last” last year, so be sure to stop by to visit her and get your questions answered… or just listen to her talk.