A FOUR SEASON GARDEN – PHASE ONE – SPRING

For years now, I have used the Central Texas Gardening blog as a repository for articles I write on various gardening subjects, but having enjoyed seeing so many other gardening blogs where the beauty of the garden and it’s contents is just being shared, has persuaded me to change my blog focus and do the same.   After many years of developing our garden, defined as the British would, as being the entire yard, into a relatively carefree, water saving, drought tolerant landscape, the fruits of our labor are being seen and enjoyed year round. No more garden construction is necessary as the basic design won’t change, but maybe a little tweaking, transplanting, and swapping out one plant for another to give the garden a different look each year and accommodate microclimate changes. Also, it’s just fun to try to grow different plants anyway.

I have always said that whatever gets constructed, must be maintained, so my gardening efforts have shifted to keeping the garden as presentable and enjoyable to look at as possible. That limits it to hand weeding, leaf and litter removal, and pruning/dividing plants as necessary, but compared to growing and mowing a boring looking lawn in the heat of summer, it’s a piece of cake! I know we will have a beautiful garden to enjoy in even the severest of drought conditions because we planned for it and took action to construct it.

The backyard garden looks a bit different in every season and every year. There is nothing static about our garden. Shrubs and plants mature, some don’t make it and need to be replaced/substituted, and different plants display different ornamental attractions at different times of the year. This is the year-round garden concept I have talked about so many times in the past. It is intentional and planned.  There is a distinct advantage to keeping a garden within manageable size, and the small size of our back yard solves that problem for us automatically, whereby we can focus on the quality rather than quantity of plantings and be more conscience of design factors such color, texture, seasonal interest, contrast, and placement.    When our yard was featured on Central Texas Gardener TV show, the producer described it as “cohesive diversity”.   That’s just the way we planned it.

Now for Spring 2015. This year’s garden looks different from last year’s at the same time as you will note in the pictures.

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Backyard Xeriphytic Garden in Spring 2014

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Backyard Xeriphytic Garden in Spring 2015

Iris have become the dominant show stopper in our garden this year, as well as Four nerved Daisies that haven’t quit blooming through the winter months. May Night Salvias have been incredible as well.   Martha Gonzalez rose bushes are also keeping the garden colorful until other perennials, which were hit by a late freeze, recoup, such as Mexican Honeysuckle and Lantana varieties,   TX Mountain Laurel and citrus blooms have kept the garden fragrant. So, I have been very busy with my camera capturing the beauty of the spring garden and will be doing so for the next three following seasons to show the transitioning of a year-round garden in pictures, which people say are better than a thousand words, of which I am probably getting too wordy already, so here are some photos of our 2015 spring garden as viewed from different angles.  Enjoy.

   

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WEEDS – A DREADED PART OF GARDENING

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Sometimes blog articles get lost over time, so I want to resurrect this posting from March 2010 about Weeds since we are approaching the time of year when they are prolific and cause gardeners a lot of distress. Hope this is helpful.

Originally posted on Central Texas Gardening:

“People garden in order to make something grow; to interact with nature; to share, to find sanctuary, to heal, to honor the earth, to leave a mark. Through gardening, we feel whole as we create our personal work of art upon our land – BUT nothing compares to what the Creator has already given us in nature.” (author unknown) 

 UNFORTUNATELY – THAT INCLUDES WEEDS!

The old saying that nothing is certain except “death and taxes” should add “weeds” to the list! So what is the difference between a native plant and a weed? Actually none, except the definition we give it which has everything to do with the location and proliferation  and little to do with the actual plant. The difference is sometimes in the eyes of the beholder. In England, Dandelion greens are savored in salads and the Dandelion was declared an endangered wildflower! Here, we would gladly export every one…

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A SILVER LINING FOR YOUR GARDEN

I have lived in various parts of the country during my lifetime and found each to have uniqueness in the garden not found elsewhere.  Starting out in tropical regions of Florida, to northern Virginia, and eastern Tennessee, to the TX gulf coast to Austin, each area has provided opportunity to grow and experience different types and variety of plants that are adaptive to those specific areas.  Ornamental gardening in Central Texas offers one standout opportunity to grow plants with coloration not found widely in other areas of the country –  plants with silvery, grayish, bluish shades which make a nice contrast to the ordinary green that predominates most gardens.

Some of my favorite silver leafed plants include Bush Germander (Teicrium fruiticans),  Silver TX Sage (Leucophyllum fruiticens),  silver leafed palms, “Silver Peso” TX Mountain Laure (Saphora secundifolia “silver peso),  Paleleaf Yucca (Yucca palida),  Wheeler’s Sotol (Dasyliron wheeleri),  Desert Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua),  Silver Sanolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus), and Agave parryi var. truncate, to name a few.  Many herbaceous perennials have beautiful silvery foliage also such as Russian Sage (Perovaskia atriciplifolia), Gopher Plant (Euphorbia rigida), Wooly Stemodia (Stemodia lanata), and Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’. Most of these plants grow natively or are adaptive to very hot, dry, and limestone soil regions, their foliar color being part of their adaptation to these conditions and survivability.

Paler color such as silver reflects light and keeps the plant cells cooler in hot conditions and reduces transpiration.  Pubescent silvery foliage also blocks excessive light, and helps reduce transpiration or water loss through the leaves.   Foliage on most silver foliage plants is small to also reduce transpiration.  The leaf cuticle may be waxy for water retention over long periods of time (example graptopetalum or ghost plant). Therefore these plants should be planted where drainage is excellent and among other plants with similar cultural conditions. Several silver leafed plants come also in solid green forms (example Santolina) so planting like plants with different coloration adds to the artistry of your garden design.   Plants with large leaves, e.g. silver leafed palms, generally are not pubescent and but mainly reflective.  Must silver leafed yuccas have very narrow foliage which reduces surface area to reduce transpiration as well.  But the fascination to me has always been how plants adapt to survive in desert conditions, silver coloration being one primary means.

In regard to the ornamental garden and use of silver plants in landscape designing, the trick is to be able to use these plants effectively to coordinate textures, size, and growth habit and create a stylized and cohesive look overall.  Some of the plants mentioned come in dwarf or compact forms, which add to the versatility. Examples are Durango/Silverado TX Mountain Sage, and Bush or Creeping forms of silver Germander.

There is always the right plant for the right location and often, this will be a silver colored plant to add a unique color addition to your garden, so don’t overlook some of these gems! The choices are tremendous.  I am totally fascinated by them

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A representative example of silver plants ideal for central Texas gardens.

2013 – A Gardening Year in Review

In previous posts, I have emphasized the importance of planning before digging but equally important is taking time to assess what succeeded and failed during the past growing season.
With a well below average cold winter in progress in central Texas, which is testing our garden’s endurance, it’s a good time to evaluate the past year’s gardening experience and lessons learned.

I started the year with a goal of transitioning to more native and cold hardy adaptive selections. This proved to be a prophetic and wise decision. Although several plants such as Barbados Cherry and Calamondin Orange have shown damage this winter from several hard freezes down to 20 degrees, they should recover in spring. Any non-hardy plants too large to fit into my small greenhouse are being eliminated. In some cases like Agaves, where pups are produced, a pup will be retained in the greenhouse for downsized growing next season. The jury is still out on other plants as freeze damage is often delayed. I have shifted from trying to cover-protect marginal in-ground plants during occasional freezes to a survival of the fittest garden by using plants adaptive to expected extremes, Having a small greenhouse becomes a real asset and money saver as marginal plants can be safely over-wintered for use in the coming year such as Bulbine, Pentas, and newly propagated plants needing more maturity before planting in spring.

Specifically, I decided to replace Heart leaf Skullcap with Mountain pea. The former proved to be only a cool season perennial which is highly invasive and hard to eliminate, The latter is a beautifully textured slow spreading, all season ground cover which is unaffected by hard freezing. Put that one in the plus column! Also a good move was to eliminate Zexmenia, a die back perennial, with Purple Skullcap, an evergreen perennial similar to pink Skullcap in size and texture

I also collected Bluebonnet seed and learned how and when to transplant seedlings for integration into the spring garden in a planned, not random manner. Once germinated, bluebonnet plants are freeze proof.

As our trees continue to grow, micro environments change. Lawn areas that were mostly sunny when we planted buffalo grass have become shaded causing decline. Those areas will be replaced with shade tolerant dwarf Mondo Grass adding another texture to the landscape. Another alternative is more shade tolerant Habiturf developed by the LBJ Wildflower Center. Word is it will be available as sod in 2014,

Another lesson learned was that our xeriscape designing did not predict erosion areas well, so corrective actions will include some replacement of hardwood mulched pathways with small river rock, and creation of mini-berms to slow water flow from heavy rain on sloped areas. Two years ago, we spread 3 inches of native hardwood mulch and will need to refresh it this winter. This is good news as the decomposition has enriched and improved topsoil texture.

Our decision and action to transform our entire yard to a xeriscape has reduced maintenance and water usage significantly and continues to reward us – best garden decision ever made.

So, what’s your assessment of your gardening experiences during the past year? Taking time to think about it will help you succeed and improve your gardening enjoyment In the coming year. Although this article addresses central Texas, the same philosophy works well wherever you garden. Winter is a great time to assess and develop your garden plan and strategy for spring and beyond. Preparatory work, mental and physical, to make those adjustments during winter will keep your gardening enthusiasm going strong while we are waiting for spring to come.

NEW LANDSCAPING THEORY 101

Why, oh why do we let developers get away with landscape felonies like

–       Sodding with water thirsty, disease prone St Augustine grass in central Texas
–       planting Ligustrum, Indian Hawthhorne, Privet, Pampas Grass, and other totally inappropriate or invasive plants.
–       Volcano mounding of mulch around newly planted tree for aesthetic appearances – a potentially deadly mistake.

It’s the cheapest materials they can use to maximize their profit and provide an instant “good look” to the property they are trying to sell, and/or
They just don’t have any landscaping or horticultural expertise on board, and/or
They don’t care because once a sale is made, it’s not their problem.
They win, the home purchaser loses.

What inspired this writing was a plea for help from a young couple who purchased a home 3 months earlier but didn’t know much about landscaping.  The house is about 10 years old and has confederate jasmine climbing over the second story windows and roof,  ligustrums out of control,  upright junipers impeding the entryway, and pampas grass planted to hide utility boxes near the sidewalk.   This is typical of many similar situations where home purchasers inherit the malpractice of the developers in creating future problems that won’t be their responsibility once the home is sold.

What if, developers offered a reduced price (landscaping allowance) to allow a new homeowner the freedom to landscape properly from the get-go by a professional of their choice or allowed the buyer to choose what goes in initially – including the wise choice of water-wise plantings.  It would make more sense to sell a new home property with a blank landscaping palate so there won’t be a price to pay in the future.  A new home purchaser should consider that if you don’t have time or incentive to do it right the first time, where is the time and resources to redo it .  The home owner pays twice, up front, and to fix it later.

What if, in our critical water crisis in central Texas, cities could require water wise landscapes and have that as part of the inspection process?  Landscapes consume over 30% of our water usage and that could be drastically reduced by wise up-front landscape planning.

What if  purchasers of existing homes took landscaping into consideration in negotiating a purchase price –  reduced home value due to expense necessary to remove and replace overgrown or unsightly landscapes.  On the other hand,  the value of mature trees adds to property value,    In shopping for a new home, most people pay full attention to the structure and layout of the building but hardly any attention to the property itself.  Hidden costs lurk everywhere, interior and exterior.

So if this article doesn’t seem to relate to gardening,  reconsider that thought.  There is considerable expense related to maintenance of a yard and related landscaping,  plus water restrictions due to severe drought, and much of these impacts can be minimized by up-front landscape planning.  In addition, curb appeal is dollars in the bank if you ever have to sell a home.   Exterior decorating is as important as interior decorating as it is the only part that is publically seen.

If builders would incorporate energy efficient and resource conservation features in homes such as solar panels, and  water-wise landscapes during new construction, it is easier and far less expensive to the home buyer to pay any additional cost as part of a mortgage as compared to having to pay a higher price for rehab work later.

If you currently have a landscape that needs reworking, don’t wait until it’s time to sell your house to improve it, but do landscape renovation now so you can enjoy the benefits while living there,  help reduce water usage,  and reduce your maintenance work and cost.   It’s the old “pay me now or pay me later” scenario that will make your up-front investment pay off down the road.

Of course, I must conclude with the strong recommendation that all landscapes in central Texas should be water-wise, using native and adaptive plants, for both newly developed and existing properties.

Some Foliage Makes Good Scents in the Garden

Ah, the fragrance of the garden, as we stick our noses into a flower bloom.  But wait a minute, flowers often only bloom for short periods and during specific seasons, and most flowers don’t have fragrance but attract pollinators by other means such as color, shape, texture, etc.  Many of our favorite fragrant flowers like roses have lost their fragrance due to continual hybridization.   What is one to do to keep our gardens fragrant?

There are so many ornamental features of plants we enjoy such as flower type and color, foliage texture, color and shape, ornamental bark, seeds, and buds, plant shape,  etc.  But often overlooked is foliar fragrance.   Yes, we can have a fragrant garden year round, not just when certain flowers are in bloom!

As I was walking through our xeriphytic garden the other day, I was almost overcome by the minty, tangy smell of the Copper Canyon plant.  Then, as I began trimming back Chrysanthemums for fall bloom, it’s unique fragrance was delightful.   I just can’t pass Sanolina or Rosemary without snipping off a piece to smell.   You can also pick up the fragrance of Artemesia wafting in the air.  Like minty licorice odor – try smelling Mexican Mint Marigold.   Verbena also treats you to a nice odor when trimmed.   Wax Myrtle has particularly fragrant foliage that says “come smell me”.  Any citrus plant that we can grow offers both fragrant flowers and foliage.  Bee Balm and any plant in the mint family, such as Lantana, Peter’s Purple Monarda or Salvias also offers foliar  flavoring to the garden.  If you grow herbs, the choices of fragrances there are pretty broad.  I particularly can’t resist scented geraniums as a pot plant.

 What is your favorite fragrant plant?  I know I have  failed to mention many others, but have focused on those I currently grow and enjoy.

Another advantage of including scented foliage to your garden is deer resistance.  Deer just don’t like their food spicy!  So, when planning your garden plantings, add foliar fragrance to your list of delights that will make your garden more enjoyable.  It makes good scents.  Some of the strongest are shown below.

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Copper Canyon Daisy (Tagated lemmonii). Flowers not fragrant – foliage is!

LEARNING BY TROWEL AND ERROR

Just when you think you’ve researched all the alternatives and learned everything about choosing the right plant for any given location,  you are humbled.

I look at our xeriscaped yard and landscape as an experimental  outdoor laboratory, where I can test various plants for performance over a period of a year or more.  I used book and internet references from reliable sources to choose carefully those native and adaptive plants that should work well in our landscape design and plan.

If experience tells the tale, I would estimate that in the past two years, we have replaced around 20 percent of the original plantings based on “trowel and error” – putting something in that didn’t meet expectations or do well in a given location. Texas Betony was replaced by Martha Gonzales roses,   Heartleaf  Skullcap was replaced with Mountain Pea,  Zexmenia  and Nolina texana were replaced with Purple Skullcap, and the jury is still out on some other plants like Blackfoot Daisy which often dies after blooming – thought it was a reliable evergreen perennial!   Powis Castle Artemesia is about to be replaced due to it’s rapidly sprawling habit, and unattractive appearance when pruned back  Now I know that the plants that didn’t work for me have proven to work well for other area gardeners – it may be just a case of location, location, location.  They were just put into the wrong piece of real estate.

Reliable plant references are wonderful tools for planning a garden area, and are based on well researched information, but when the roots hit the soil, the proof is in the plant’s performance in the location planted.   Trowel and Error!

There are so many native and adaptive plants suitable for Central Texas that we all can’t grow each and every one of them (as much as I would love to), so occasionally switching out selections for different ones provides me and other gardeners an opportunity to learn  by a gardener’s “on-the-job experience”.   So, I continue to research alternative and new plants for which I have no experience through conversation with a network of  Austin Garden Blogger friends who have.  Sharing information in this way broadens the academic approach to learning about plants to real-life experiences which may or may not contradict  written sources.

So, why worry about whether you made a good choice when adding a new plant to your garden.   Give it your best educated guess based on your research, plant it, learn from your experience, then share it with others.   “Trowel and error” is often the best way to learn and learning is  FUN!

“FROSTING ON THE CAKE” FOR YOUR SUMMER GARDEN

No doubt about it – our native and adaptive plants put on quite a show during the heat of summer without any additional help.  But,  what if you want to add a little more color or diversity to your garden?

Here are a few recommendations:

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Caladium mixture container grown

For foliage color, you just can’t beat Caladiums.  Not only do they love the heat, but brighten up any shady spot – yes, they do require shade.  The myriad of colorful foliage colors and patterns that are available make this an even more exciting and diverse planting for summer.    Even though they are planted for summer growing conditions, these plants are very sustainable  for use year after year.  In other words, they are annuals that are perennial in nature if you merely dig the bulbs, place them in a dry peat/perlite mix in a plastic bag, and just store them in the garage or any dark place overwinter.   By spring, they are starting to sprout in the bag so just replant them and within two  weeks, the color parade is on again.  They  are tropical plants and do require temperatures above 50 degrees.  Do not leave them in the ground or exposed pots during winter.  I am on my 4th year of growing Caladiums from the original source.   They also reproduce fast so your initial investment will multiply.   Caladiums make excellent potted plants and as such require more frequent watering  than terrestrial planting.    When the growing season for Caladiums is over, they are dug and replaced with something for the colder weather season.

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Bougainvillea submerged in nursery containers

Another outstanding plant  with a tremendous variety of floral color for the summer season is Bougainvillea.    There are even colorful variegated foliage cultivars to go with floral perfusion of pink, magenta, purple, red, white, orange, peach, and lavender floral colors.  This plant, like Caladiums, needs temperatures above 50 degrees thus requiring winter protection, but unlike Caladiums, require full sun to do best.   They can be allowed to grow as a vine or pruned to grow in shrub form. Bougainvillea bloom on new growth, so pruning often encourage this. Bougainvillea like to have their soil go dry between watering.  This encourages blooming.  They will let you know when they need water when foliage wilts, but recovers fast with watering.  I have reduced the number of tropical plants I grow and overwinter in my hobby greenhouse, but will not ever do without Bougainvillea. Bougainvillea don’t like to have their roots disturbed or be transplanted, so I grow mine in 5 gallon nursery containers and bury the entire container and plant in the ground for summer.  Roots will grow out through the drainage holes and top growth will be restrained by  the bounded roots, keeping this potentially fast growing plant under control.  In late fall, I dig up the container, prune off the “escaped” roots and prune the plant back to the width of the container itself for overwintering.

Anther tender favorites for additional color in summer include Euphorbia tirucalli ‘sticks on fire’ –  aka pencil plant.  This cultivar produces new growth that looks like it is on fire – orange and yellow coloring above the greener base.  This plant is so easy to overwinter – just keep one branched stalk,  let the sap dry, plant in a small pot and keep it above 50 degrees.  It will revert to green when taken out of full sun but recolor when the full sun returns in the summer garden.   Remember that the white sap of Euphorbias is toxic.

 You might also try Euphorbia milii Thailand hybrids) aka crown of thorns.  These hybrids can produce a perfusion of colorful coin shaped flowers from white, yellow, orange, pink to red.

 

One more to consider.  Try Pedillanthus,  aka zigzag plant, red bird, or devil’s backbone.  The variegated form is preferred due to the added foliage color.  The erect stalks, zigzagging back and forth with attractive variegated foliage takes up little garden space,  and will treat you to small red bract-like blooms in summer.  Once again, it is so easy to keep overwinter, like the pencil plant, being a  Euphorbia, only one stalk is needed to perpetuate it the next warm growing season.  They are very drought tolerant, love full sun , but will do well in light shade, plus add a different  texture to your garden.

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Remember also that there are many species of tropical agaves in colorful variegated forms that also can be used as potted plants or in-situ during the summer months, in full sun and heat endurance, provided they get the needed winter protection.

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Agave meridensis ‘Joe Hoak’ – a colorful but tender agave

Also,  for shade, don’t overlook Bromeliads.  They have been hybridized so much to produce stunning colorful plants ideal for shady areas.   Neoregelias do best in the heat  along with Billbergias.  Their colorful hybrids exceed that of Caladiums in terms of color diversity and patterns.  They reproduce easily from pups at the base and take up little space in a greenhouse other protected winter location.I’m sure there are many other possibilities for adding seasonal color to your ornamental garden through use of tropical plants.  But those mentioned are plants I have had personal experience and success with and would highly recommend to others.

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Colorful Neoregelia hybrids

These summertime supplements never will become a substitute for our beautiful native and adaptive plants which have produced spectacular year-round color in our garden, but I consider them to be the “frosting on the cake” for gardeners.

A DREAM GARDEN!

As I turn 70 years old today,  I marvel at the total xeriphytic landscape we have constructed in fall and winter of 2011 from which we are now seeing  results of our hard work.  It is truly a dream garden in every sense.  It requires little to no watering,  no chemical fertilizers or pesticides,  very little maintenance,  attracts wildlife of all sorts (birds, butterflies, amphibians, mammals, and beneficial insects such as honeybees ).  The use of native and adaptive plants provide a riot of color for all seasons, and it is durable and hardy.   We have received the City of Austin Green Garden Award, and have been certified by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife as a certified backyard habitat. – very important since we are destroying natural habitat for wildlife at an alarming rate.

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We enjoy sitting on our new environmentally friendly composite and stainless steel wired deck which gives us a 180 degree view of it all.   We love to see and hear the purple martins who reside in our martin houses in spring,  followed by migratory and local birds feeding from our feeder or bathing in our birdbath.   Our selection of native plants is also a draw to other types of wildlife.   Being environmentally friendly is so easy and rewarding.   You just need to decide to do it.

We must get away from our old paradigm and custom that only a green turf grass lawn is acceptable and to be desired in our residential landscape.  First of all,  a solid area of samo samo green grass is boring.  To maintain it means using excessive amounts of our diminishing water supplies, plus chemical fertilizers and pesticides which easily wash into our storm sewers and into previously unpolluted water courses.  Then as the grass grows,  it’s constant mowing in our hot environment.  Lawn mowers are significant sources of COemissions which add  to global worming.  This all just doesn’t make good or common sense!

A water wise landscape (also referred to as xeriscape) doesn’t mean desert-looking, it means water saving.  Additionally it means much less effort required to maintain an aesthetically beautiful garden, while  protecting and enhancing our environment.   In our case, our front yard xeriscape doesn’t contain a single desert plant but looks like a natural woodland landscape – but with a big difference – use of native and adaptive plants., while reducing lawn area to 25% using native buffalo grass.

OK, I’m not into vegetable gardening.  Ours is entirely ornamental.  But, veggie gardens can we as water efficient as ornamentals.  I’m not really qualified to talk on that subject but know there is a wealth of information available should you choose to use part of your land area for this use.   The whole idea is to garden in harmony with our local environmental challenges.

Having lived on many different gardening environments (tropical southern Florida, northern Virginia, east Tennessee,  Houston and the Gulf Coast),  I have always “gone with the flow” and developed my gardens compatible with the local environment, and have found each geographic area capable of providing beautiful garden options using native and adaptive  plants.  I have always had hobby greenhouses to grow favorite plants from other climate areas (bromeliads, tropical, etc.), and integrate these plants into my summer garden while protecting them in winter in the greenhouse.  Yet, I marvel at what our challenging gardening environment in central Texas can provide us without having to import plants from other areas that won’t thrive or thrive so well, they become invasive.

Another wonderful advantage to a xeriscape is the ability to become really creative and artistic in designing, using a variety of live and inorganic materials, to create a natural look that says “This is central Texas”.   It is also easy to alter those designs if you wish to create a different look from time to time.  It’s creating something that is anything but boring.

Take a look at our xeriscaped back yard at www.centraltexasgardening.info/xeribackyard.html  and see what I am talking about.   It’s not a wild scape but uses native plants intentionally as part of an overall garden design.  You can also see how we went from a St. Augustine lawn, front, side and back, to a total xeriscaped yard at www.centraltexasgardening.info/xeriscapeproject.html .  Yes it took hard work and investment for materials, but the recurring rewards and benefits are so significant, I wish we had done it sooner.

I am a convert and now a strong advocate of xeriscaping.  Our large subdivision, Avery Ranch in Austin has adopted HOA approved guidelines and promotes this in conjunction with the City of Austin’s programs to conserve water and promote water-wise landscaping.     I have developed a love and appreciation for our local environment and note that this trend is catching on slowly but surely.

 

 

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We now have our dream garden – never could I have thought that just surrendering to what our local environment allows and provides could create such a beautiful  setting in which to live and enjoy.   It took me 70 years to learn that lesson.!  Now we can truly slow down and smell the roses!