The following is a reproduction of the article which appeared in
the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 29, 1994, about Weston Gardens.
When you think of an English garden, what comes to mind? A backdrop of rose-bedecked stone walls? A cottage yard overflowing with a haphazard mixture of flowers, vegetables and herbs (the cottage being thatch-roofed, of course)? Or broad swaths of greenery bordered by flowers, flowers and more flowers?
You won’t find many stone walls or thatched cottages in this part of the world. And England has long been celebrated for its fine gardening climate – quite different from the harsh extremes of North Central Texas. So it’s unrealistic to expect to be able to create an identical look here.
But those who yearn, regardless, for an English-like garden can achieve something resembling it right here. You can’t count on success with every plant cherished by the Brits. But you can replicate the effect of their informal, naturalistic landscapes, using plants that thrive here.
Randy Weston, co-owner with his wife, Sue, of Weston Gardens in Bloom, specializes in native Texas plants, He also teaches people how to use them in English-style gardens.
“I think certain areas of your landscape can achieve the look [of an English garden],” Weston said. His designs lean toward the mixed border, which incorporates not only annuals and perennials but also trees (including ornamentals), shrubs and ground covers.
“That’s what customers want,” Sue Weston said. “Five of this, six of that. They don’t want to buy seven flats of the same thing.”
A mixed border offers diversity, with different layers, textures and sizes of plants, Randy Weston noted. Furthermore, if it’s well planned, there’s something that looks good throughout the entire year.
So what if we don’t have England’s moderate temperatures and plentiful rain? We’ll just have to work with what nature has given us: temperature extremes, drought (or else excessive rain) and, in most cases, clumpy clay soil.
For starters, Randy Weston recommends studying your site, preferably for at least a year, to determine such factors as which elements you want to retain and where sunlight and shade fall.
“There’s no fail-safe formula,” he said. You need to consider such factors as, when flowers bloom and clustering different plants with similar growth requirements.
Randy Weston listed the elements of a mixed border:
·A sense of enclosure: Whether walls, shrubbery or vine-covered fences, some sort of structure helps to establish a room-like feeling as well as providing privacy. This should be your starting point, Randy Weston said.
You might lack walls of stone or old brick, but you won’t miss them if your eye comes to rest on a partition of evergreens such as juniper, eastern red cedar, eldarica pine, arborvitae, Chinese photinia or Nellie R. Stevens holly. Crossvine, coral honeysuckle and climbing roses can disguise even the plainest fence. Or a big, spreading tree such as a mature cedar elm, which shelters you with its branches, also can bestow a room-like feeling.
·Ornamental trees: these provide vertical interest within your enclosed space. “You don’t have to plant crape myrtles, necessarily,” Randy Weston said. Mexican plum, possumhaw holly (which is deciduous, with bright red berries in the winter), rusty blackhaw viburnum, vitex, smoke tree, wax myrtle and Texas kidneywood are some of his favorites.
·Shrubs: “The leafy, textural aspect is in all those English borders,” Randy Weston said. Bold-textured plants provide contrast with the flowers, he explained. He likes oakleaf hydrangea, with its white spring flowers, summer seed pods and fall crimson foliage; Nandina domestica, which turns red and gold in the fall, puts out berries in the winter and comes in a choice of sizes; as well as quince, forsythia and bridal wreath for early-spring blooms.
Bush-type roses also fall into the shrub category. The Westons recommend antique varieties for long bloom and easy care. The Fairy, Petite Pink Scotch, Duchesse de Brabant and Mutabilis are among Sue Weston’s favorites. (For climbers, she likes Old Blush, Cecile Brunner, Lady Banks, Seven Sisters and Mermaid.)
·Flowers and ground covers: Blossoms, of course, constitute the most conspicuous attraction of English-style gardens. Unlike the British Isles, where flowers bloom in profusion all summer long, the Texas heat sidelines many posies during the summer.
“The hardest time to garden in Texas is July and August,” Randy Weston said. A well-designed Texas garden will be at its showiest April through June, slow down during the hottest months and perk up with another display of color in the fall, he said.
Texas gardeners have numerous choices with which to achieve that English look among the perennials: purple coneflower, winecup, purple loosestrife, oxeye daisy, ferns (wood, holly and Japanese painted), yarrow, hosta, iris, artemisia ‘Powis Castle,’ Gregg salvia, Russian sage, yellow or red-and-yellow columbine, Texas lantana, Turk’s cap, gaura and ‘Moonbeam’ coreopsis.
Some modifications are in order, but remember – it’s the overall look that counts. The English have more choice of columbine colors than we do, and the foliage of Turk’s cap substitutes for that of England’s hibiscus. Lantana doesn’t look particularly English, but it blooms well in the heat, Randy Weston noted. “They look better if you give ‘em some water,” he said. “They’ll bloom all summer and look pretty good.”
In a form of reverse popularity, gaura is a Texas native that the English have begun importing. It boasts small pink or white flowers that float above the foliage like butterflies. “The English have gone wild about it,” he said.
Among annuals, you might try gomphrena (bachelor button), cosmos, Texas bluebells, trailing lantana, poppies and larkspur. All are planted from seed except lantana and bluebells, which are usually started from transplants.
What won’t work well (or at all) here: foxgloves, with their blossom-loaded stalks (our wild Texas foxgloves are really Penstemon cobaea, which lack the thick blooms of foxgloves, Randy Weston said); peonies (if you must try, choose an early-blooming variety – peonies disdain heat and humidity); those wonderful deep-blue delphiniums (try ‘Indigo Spires’ salvia instead, or ‘Sunny Border Blue’ veronica –they’re not the same, but they’re tall and blue).
Ground covers are another element of the flower border. “A lot of people use them for their green element when everything else is dormant – an evergreen element in the wintertime, “ Randy Weston said. But year-round greenery isn’t a requirement. Some good choices are: liriope, mondo grass, creeping thymes (among the stepping stones), strawberry geranium, germander (actually an evergreen shrub), flowering ground covers such as the low mounding calylophus, and even ‘Moonbeam’ coreopsis.
·Ornamental grasses: depending on variety, these can fit into the flower border or stand alone (many are huge), providing not only textural changes but also a sense of movement.
Lindheimer’s Muhly grass, for example, grows 6 to 7 feet tall, making it excellent as a screen. With its blue foliage and silvery-grey flower spikes that bloom September through December, it’s also a fine specimen plant. Little Bluestem is shorter (3 to 4 feet), turning from dark blue-green to bronze-orange in the fall. Black fountain grass, autumn blush muhly and inland seaoats are smaller, but no less desirable, varieties.
Don’t forget that there’s more to a garden than plants. Seating, statues, walkways and containers are important too. Just make sure that materials and styles are on the traditional side: aged brick, sandstone or crushed stone for a path, for example; tradition-style sculptures such as a saint or a woman pouring water; benches of rough-hewn cedar, mahogany, teak or even concrete. No avant-garde, high-style designs. And, Randy Weston warned, “not ostentatious.”
After all, the English style is informal and naturalistic. And that attribute seems particularly well suited to Texas gardens.
By Carol Nuckols - Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Friday, April 29, 1994
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