August 25, 2022
If you need a moment of Zen, or for gratitude and joy to lift your spirit, get yourself to Houston to visit…a hamburger place. Not just any hamburger place. At Becks Prime at 2615 Augusta Drive, near the intersection with Westheimer Road, you’ll find two absolutely enormous, tentacle-limbed live oaks behind the restaurant. Even if you know they’re back there, it’s a jolt to see them in their long-armed, horizontal glory. And if you come across them by surprise, as I did, you may just walk around these stunning trees exclaiming Wow! and taking dozens of photos while other diners noshing on hamburgers and fries indulgently smile at you.
Becks does these trees proud by serving up one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever tasted, cooked to order and grilled over mesquite wood coals. Get the fries too. Then settle in under the trees to enjoy them. No matter how hot it is outside, or how cold (haha, this is Houston), you have zero excuse to sit indoors and miss communing with these trees.
Becks has protected the trees — and obliged tree worshippers and outdoor lovers — with three large decks that float over the live oaks’ root zones. Water-permeable gravel paths and expanses of low-maintenance Asian jasmine instead of lawn (or paving!) mean there’s no need for mowing, weed-whacking, chemicals, and all the things giant live oaks would rather avoid.
Becks claims the trees are more than 400 years old, and I believe them. That means the seedlings were growing in the early 1600s, when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. When the Taj Mahal was built.
By the time Houston was founded in 1837, these trees had matured into 200-year-old specimens. Houston boomed and went bust multiple times over the next 200 years, and the trees kept on growing, eventually snaking their giant limbs across the ground like really big live oaks do. Meanwhile the city grew all around them — a city that famously eschews zoning laws for development. Hurricanes and flooding wreaked havoc on the city many times. Droughts came and went. Somehow the trees dodged all those bullets.
When Becks Prime purchased the property in 1988, according to The Buzz Magazines, “the tree limbs were all resting on the ground. [Becks] had a 210-ton crane come in and move the limbs up on the wooden stilts you see today. It was quite a delicate process. ‘They had a stethoscope, like from a doctor’s office,’ said Alice [Sarmiento, Becks Prime marketing manager]. ‘Someone was listening to the tree [with the stethoscope]….If they heard a crack they said, Stop!’”
According to an informational sign, the restaurant itself was built to float 18 inches above ground, so as not to disturb the tree roots. A drive-through lane, which meanders under the expansive tree canopy, is paved with hand-laid pavers rather than concrete or asphalt.
The trees are astonishing, and it’s even more amazing that they’ve thrived in the middle of a bustling city, with tall buildings and busy streets all around.
Becks has made it easy and accessible to enjoy them, and they should be commended for being such good stewards of the trees.
My daughter recently moved to Houston for an internship, so I’ll have even more reason to go back soon and commune with the Becks trees.
Next time maybe I’ll go in the evening, to see the light-wrapped grapevine balls hanging from the branches all lit up.
But a daytime visit is awfully good too, when you can relax under the trees’ light-filtering canopy.
Good food. A vibrant city. And magnificent trees. It’s time to go to Houston again.
I welcome your comments. Please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post. And hey, did someone forward this email to you, and you want to subscribe? Click here to get Digging delivered directly to your inbox!
It’s succulent time at Austin Cactus & Succulent Society’s Fall Show & Sale on September 3rd and 4th at Austin Area Garden Center in Zilker Botanical Garden. Includes a plant show, plant and pottery sales, silent auction, and plant raffles. Open 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is free with paid admission to the garden.
Come learn about garden design from the experts at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added. You can find this year’s speaker lineup here.
All material © 2022 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.