The following is a reproduction of the article which appeared in the"Abode" magazine special supplement to the
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, February 1994, about Weston Gardens.
It’s February. The Christmas decorations are down and it’s still a few dreary months until spring flowers start blooming. Now is the time, while the landscape is dormant, to plan how you can avoid a dreary winter in late 1994. It’s time to plan an English garden, Texas style.
“English-style gardening” is a term that people define differently. Also known as “cottage gardening”, Randy Weston of Weston Gardens, Inc. defines this method as using native Texas perennials in a garden that is a mixture of foliage, grasses and flowers.
Dating back to medieval Europe, cottage gardens employ hardy plants that can be passed down from generation to generation, said Dr. William C. Welch, a horticulturist with Texas A&M University and author of several books, including “Perennial Garden Color for Texas and the South”. European settlers brought cottage-style gardening to Texas, where they grew native plants that were plentiful, beautiful, often edible or medicinal, and could survive without a sprinkler system.
“I think a lot of people are trying to go back to the old ways of doing things”, said Jan Hoelscher Cox of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. “There are lots of plants that we’re going back to that we should, because they do so well, because they’ve always lived off the land”.
She sees the interest in perennials as being part of the growing concern about the environment. By using plants that grow naturally in North Texas, gardeners save themselves time and the environment’s resources.
Another advantage of native plantings is that they will often attract “native” wildlife, such as butterflies, bees and birds, Weston said. The plants provide shelter and food for animals, and the creatures proliferate the garden by performing services such as pest control and cross pollination.
For example, Weston has a list of plants he recommends for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. It includes perennials such as Buddleia, Turk’s Cap, Rock Rose, Veronica, Moonbeam Coreopsis and Coral Honeysuckle.
Along with purchasing the native plants, Weston encourages people to try a more natural style of gardening. Instead of arranging and planting in symmetrical rows, Weston plants his gardens to look more like natural grasslands and woods.
Cottage gardens seem appropriate for older or authentically restored buildings, Welch said, while they also can make modern structures less stereotypical. These gardens work especially well for homes with small landscapes, such as town homes and condominiums.
One reason why so few people use perennial plants in their landscapes, Weston said, is that few nurseries carry them. From a retail point of view, perennials don’t bring in customers yearly the way that annual plants do.
Weston also warned that some nurseries carry plants that are not true perennials in the North Texas climate. These borderline perennials should only be used in parts of the landscape that are well protected from the elements.
Annuals with their showy flowers have their place at eye-catching places in the landscape, such as the entry to the home, Weston said. But there are many showy perennials flowers that can also be used for decoration. For example, perennial lantana, which comes in pink and yellow or orange and red, loves heat and will bloom throughout the summer.
The first step in creating a perennial garden is to map out a master plan of what the garden will look like eventually, because most people gradually convert to a perennial landscape. New perennial plants can be added to the landscape each season.
Before planting perennials, Weston recommended carefully accessing and preparing the soil so that it has proper drainage. North Texas soils tend to retain water, which is good for dry summers, but can literally drown plants in the spring rains. Because native perennials are naturally xeroscapic, too much water will kill them more quickly than too little.
Although perennials do not need the yearly re-planting that annuals require, they must have some maintenance. Besides routine watering, mulching and fertilization, perennials should be divided and thinned every two or three years so they do not become overgrown and stagnant.
Perennials require the most care during their first two years in your landscape, Weston said. But the beauty of perennials is that they multiply themselves, so you can pass on these plants to friends to enjoy after you divide them.
By Robyn Adams Schmidt
The advantage of perennials, Hoelscher Cox said, are that they are hardy plants with few bug problems and require little water.
The idea, Weston said, is to plant a garden in which something is always happening. Even in winter, the cottage garden is decorated with colorful berries and the barks and stems of grasses and foliage.
Weston finds it exciting to watch his perennial garden evolve over the changing seasons. He said he views gardening as a relaxing and escapist activity, so he finds perennial gardening much more exciting than fighting with a boring, annual landscape.
In a North Texas perennial garden, about the only months of the year that you won’t have color and growth are August, December and January, Weston said.
Man-made aspects that help create the ambience of a cottage garden include gravel or cobblestone walkways; stone walls; ponds fed by a waterfall and still pools. Water, Weston said, is important for adding a cooling aspect to the garden, especially in the heat of summer.
Another creative perennial avenue is water gardening. A still pond can come alive with plants such as lily pads, fish and snails to maintain an active (and surprisingly low maintenance) ecosystem, Weston said.
Fences, walls, hedges and walks provide design continuity to a cottage garden, Welch said. They keep the garden from being so informal that it would be confusing.
© Copyright 2015 Weston Gardens in Bloom, Inc.