As Texas Native Plant Week concludes, I’ll share one last look at my use of native plants. The great thing about gardening (well, one of the great things about gardening), is that it’s a venture in which education is continual. There’s always an unknown plant to learn about or a new way of viewing gardening space. In designing gardens, there are endless combinations to experiment with. And as the home landscape evolves and requires change, those challenges present opportunities for further learning and experimenting. One isn’t required to use natives exclusively, but once you invite native plants to your garden party, you experience the aha moment of understanding: native plants work.
Define your plot of the Earth as Texan–use as many native Texas plants in your home landscape as possible and encourage your neighbors to do the same. If you live elsewhere, use your native plants to express the beauty of your unique place.
Save money and time by planting natives which conserve water and don’t require pesticides or herbicides. Rid yourself of the expense and hassle of chemicals and products that you don’t need when working in the garden.
Plant natives to attract wildlife–you’ll enjoy the many wild visitors you receive when you nurture them by planting appropriately. There’s no reason we can’t share our space with the plants and critters who are native, who belong here, and whose survival we want to ensure.
Within the parameters of our personal properties, we make compromises: maybe we have such blasting sun that all we want are the meanest and toughest cacti and agave–and that’s okay. Perhaps we live in shade and dappled shade and must content ourselves with a more limited garden palette. Whatever the space, native plants can and should play the starring role in any garden.
A total transformation from a “traditional” landscape of turf and shrubs to a “regionally
appropriate” blooming garden doesn’t happen during a weekend warrior marathon of work; the process can take years. You will make mistakes; I’ve certainly made lots of mistakes in my gardens–that’s how I’ve learned. Start small: for example, ridding your hellstrip grass between the sidewalk and street and planting tough perennials instead. Or, install a wildlife garden at the corner of your lot with native and seasonally interesting plants that attract pollinators and replacing the water-guzzling turf which feeds nothing. By adding a garden or two, once or twice a year, eventually you’ll increase the biological diversity of your space and conserve water too. Then as time permits, you change and augment those gardens. Before you know it, you’re mowing, watering, and tending less and enjoying the beauty and bounty of your native gardens more.
And you helped to heal the Earth, just a little.
Gardening is about personal expression as much as food production or providing for wildlife. A garden should to tell your particular story, reflecting who you are–your interests, values, and aesthetics. Perhaps my gardening style isn’t to your taste or right for your garden, but I hope the results of my journey transforming a high-maintenance, water-hogging turf “yard” to a wildlife-friendly, water-wise, and Texan garden will encourage you to do something similar.
Wise advice – start small – experiment to determine what works to produce a sense of place and then choose another spot and do it again, using whatever you learned from the last go-round.
I didn’t have that luxury – we took out all the grass out front at once and I was charged with keeping it interesting looking until we got new native plantings fully established, and all that without much of a budget. It is years in now and I am beginning to feel a few spots are “mostly done”… Even the spots yet to be finished look better to me than swaths of St. Augustine, though. It is well worth the work and the wait both when I see how lively the established native plantings are by comparison. Go natives!
I couldn’t agree more, especially your point about anything with natives is an improvement (on every level) over turf. It is an investment to plant natives and most folks have to do it on a budget, over time. That’s one of my personal pet peeves about the “garden tours” that are so popular–they tend to promote the gardens of…not the 99%. I really think that intimidates many people–they’ll think to themselves,”Wow. Beautiful. I could never do that. I don’t have that sort of money.” I’m not always convinced those tours have the outcome that is, or should be, desired. Everyone can add natives to their landscape and take out wasteful grass; it takes some time and some planning. In the long run, it’s absolutely less expensive, less work, less waste. Congrats on your accomplishment with your lovely landscape! (I know, I’ve seen photos!)
Grats to the both of you. I love seeing the beauty you have created.
You have mentioned something that I have been really thinking about lately. Obviously just owning land has become something outside the reach of many but I too am disturbed at the showcasing of elite gardens: gardens so clearly out of reach for pretty much everyone. I’ve been looking into Scott and Laura Springer Ogden’s plant-based philosophy … where plants and our relationships to them are more important than doing something twee (read expensive) with the land. I think you both capture that essence. I love how you engage in ‘conversations’ with flowers. Sometimes you limit them but mostly I see you allowing them to show you just what they are capable of doing.
I think for me, part of the problem with garden tours is that so often, (not always, of course), the owners of the property have little to do with what their garden space is, or what it represents. It was bought and paid for, with little interaction from the owners. I guess that’s fine–most of us buy homes with much the same process–we buy what’s there. But, with living, dynamic gardens, there should be more–I guess I wish “normal” people, who’ve done the work themselves, or even hired a crew, but had a vision of what they wanted, were included in tours–I just don’t see that too often. The Master Gardeners are good about that–just regular gardeners who did something usual with their space serving as inspirations for others.
As to the last point, I suspect that many “designers” would horrified that I’ve allowed so many Pavonia and Turk’s Cap into my gardens, or that the fennel I plant is often raggedy looking because the butterfly caterpillars eat it to the nubs. But my goal is to re-engage with wildlife, as much as I can in an urban lot, and that means allowing plants to look crappy at times, to seed out too much, and to grow too large and keep their natural shape. I still keep some specific boundaries, in artistically (I hope) arranged forms, and with aesthetic combinations of evergreen and herbaceous, color and texture. But the main goal is to feed…whomever, and to conserve water.
Your series for Texas Native Plant Week has been so inspiring and informative that I plan to reference them over again. The timing is right since this past month of hot and dry has taken out a few more of those adapted non-native plants I relied on when I first began planting a garden here. They will be replaced with locally grown natives.
It does take time since most native plants have to be sought out at specialty nurseries and sales or shared from friends. I just planted a Frostweed seedling from a friend and hope it will grow and naturalize over time. It’s a process because these plants aren’t found in big flats alongside the pansies at most nurseries.
Thank you Shirley. What can I say? You’re also part of this movement and you’ve experienced just how valuable and practical natives are to your place.
And you are also correct when you say that it can be hard to find native plants. Local nurseries are, for the most part, good about native offerings, but the large, big box stores are stuck back into the ’50s. That needs to change.
Good luck on your little Frostweed. I imagine by this time next year, you’ll be the proud gardener of a flock of Frostweed!
I love your use of plants which are native to your part of the world. They all look quite exotic to me. You seem to have such a vast choice of native plants to work with. They are all lovely.
I guess these plants are exotic. I remember visiting Kew Botanical Gardens, (I’ve been several times–and hope to go again) and chuckling at seeing a Lantana, which to me is a weed. I actually don’t have any Lantana, but I never would have thought of it being a plant worthy of being in a botanical garden–especially Kew. It all depends on perspective, I guess. And you’re right, there are a large number of native plants here in Texas. Texas is big though, so what I can grow, that’s native here, doesn’t necessarily work in other parts of the state.
What we really need though, is more nurseries growing native plants specific to region. That is something that we are behind on.
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