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!



  1. I’m learning a bit of the trowel and error myself–having put miniature roses (which say they need “full sun”) in full sun. Full central Texas sun must not have been what the nursery had in mind for these wee things. Now to find them a suitably half-shady place.

  2. Jan, I made that same mistake. I noticed that a lot of the mini-roses are grown in Canada where the light intensity isn’t anything like TX. I enjoyed them for one year then they were gone. They don’t seem to adapt well to heat either.

  3. I know you just pulled out the heartleaf skullcap, but I didn’t realize that you also had removed the zexmenia and the betony – did they die, or were they just under-performing for you? I like them because they’re care-free – that tends to be a big one for me – it must be able to handle me ignoring it (which means that the firespike plant is something I tend not to care for because it needs too much water for not enough pay off…but of course I won’t remove it, I’ll just continue letting it go until it will finally die from a freeze).

    • Katina, The Betony just died, and the Zexmenia took a 50% loss over winter – never returned in spring. I still have a few Zexmenia that made it but didn’t replace those that didn’t, Zexmenia which I thought would be semi to evergreen, I found out later, is deciduous here because this is it’s most northern natural range. Why the Betony failed, I have no idea because other people I know grow it like a weed. Go figure!

  4. That Texas Betony won’t grow for me, either, although I’ve tried it in 4 different locations. But I do have 4 miniature roses that have been around for years, all in places with afternoon shade.
    I hope your new plants don’t end up in the Error Column!


  5. Yeah – I guess that’s just the way the ball bounces. It took me 3 tries to get rosemary to live; and I only tried one esperanza. But then, I also grow culinary ginger (something that’s supposedly finicky here) and an avocado tree…so go figure.

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