The following is a reproduction of the article which appeared in
the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, February 1997, about Weston Gardens.
In scattered yards across Texas, Bermuda grass or St. Augustine is being traded for drought-tolerant buffalo grass. Exotic flowers are being replaced with winecups and coreopsis, and dwarf Yaupon holly is supplanting boxwood. In some instances, the usual prim lawn-and-border scheme is being ditched altogether in favor of meadows and woodlands.
To most folks, this upswing in the use of natives might seem minuscule, but to Sally and Andy Wasowski, it’s dramatic.
When they researched their 1988 book, Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region, the Wasowskis had a hard time finding native residential landscapes to photograph. With their newest book, Native Texas Gardens: Maximum beauty, Minimum Upkeep, (Gulf, $39.95 in hardcover) the former Dallasites found an embarrassment of riches – more gardens than they could hope to include.
The environment – particularly dwindling water resources - is at the heart of this movement to switch to wilder, more natural landscaping. Native plants thrived thousands of years without help from humans and need neither irrigation nor chemicals to survive.
“People are saying we really do have water problems; we are pouring too many chemicals on our landscapes,” Andy Wasowski says. “So this is really a logical response; the average homeowner can feel that he or she is doing something.”
Some experts even believe that by the second decade of the 21st century landscaping with native plants will be the norm. “I am comfortable predicting that well before the middle of the next century, it will be the consumptive, exotic landscape that is rare – possibly seen only in botanic gardens as museum-like exhibits,” writes David K. Northington in the foreword to the Wasowskis’ book. Northington is the former executive director of the National Wildflower Research Center.
Molly Hollar, whose Arlington garden is featured in the Wasowski book, maintains her plot organically. “I never use any herbicides or pesticides,” she says. “Your can’t have birds and butterflies if you use chemicals. And I don’t like to expose myself to those toxins.”
Native plants, at home in the soil, are not subject to the diseases and pests that attack exotic plants. “They require less water, less time, lower maintenance,” says Hollar, who designs native landscapes for others on a part-time basis.
“They’re also very beautiful. To my own way of thinking, the most beautiful places I see are in an unspoiled region, out in the wild.”
Hollar’s garden is a “ naturalistic” creation – one of three styles of native landscapes outlined in the Wasowski book. Trees and shrubs receive no severe pruning, and open areas are likelier to be meadows than lawns. Plants don’t have to be entirely native, if you’re using well-adapted varieties.
Shortly after moving into her house about 15 hears ago, Hollar started converting its conventional landscape to native plants. The existing native post oaks were a good start.
She tackled the job piecemeal. She dug up lawn near the street that was difficult to mow because of the lot’s steep slope and is letting native horseherb and Virginia creeper take over. Native columbine, fragrant phlox, lantana, Salvia greggii, winecup, evening primrose, horseherb, purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan are among her favorites. The back yard – on a small lake – is a sanctuary for native birds and butterflies.
Judy Sloane, who lives in the country near Burleson, designed a more tradition-looking native landscape, with flower beds filled with lanceleaf coreopsis, evening primrose, oxeye daisy, mealy blue sage, antique roses and Salvia greggii, she includes well-adapted plants that are not native. The lawn is buffalo grass, invaded by the coastal bermuda she raises for her horses.
A third type of native landscape is the “natural habitat,” which consists entirely of indigenous plants. In this approach, a buffer zone 5-15 feet wide is fenced off around the home building site, inside which all construction must take place. In other words, no bulldozing, no felling of trees, no trucks parked outside the lines.
The Wasowskis used this method in building their new home near Taos, N.M. Only a courtyard and one other small area of the property were disturbed; the topsoil from those spots was saved and reused. Sally Wasowski gathered indigenous seeds and is replanting those areas. The remainder of the pinion-studded property was left in its natural state.
Despite their admirable qualities, native plants aren’t perfect – and they aren’t necessarily for everyone.
“You can’t be real compulsive like people in town are” in their zeal to achieve a manicured look, Sloane says. Native plants reseed where they please, so “you have to be a little freer.” Unlike perpetually blooming bedding plants (such as impatiens or petunias), natives bloom at unpredictable times. And they can look unkempt when they’re going to seed.
Leavy, the Fort Worth landscaper, agrees: “We’re still fighting a battle…trying to change the way people think about their landscape. It just seems to be people’s nature to try to control things. There are very few of us who’ll just let things run rampant.”
Landscaping with Native Plants
If you’re a convert to landscaping with native plants, save yourself some grief and learn form the experts. Here are some tips:
» Start small. Don’t try to do the whole yard at once. Unless its already bare. Dig up and replant a 100-square-foot bed, as Sally Wasowski did when she first tacked her conventional landscape in Dallas. Let it establish before expanding. You might start with areas farthest from the house, where you spend little time or its inconvenient to water.
» Don’t skimp on soil preparation. Let the leaves stay on the ground and decompose; dig in 3-4 inches of compost. This is particularly important in clay soil.
» Mulch to keep weeds down and retain moisture in the soil.
» Make it easy on yourself. You don’t have to dig out the grass (nor do you want to if its Bermuda, with its tenacious roots). Mulch can help here too. Cover St. Augustine with a foot-thick layer of leaves for several months; with bermuda, put down scrap carpeting or cardboard first, suggest Arlington resident Molly Hollar. Leave the mulch in place for several months to kill the grass.
» Create shade. “In this area, with our very hot summers, shade trees are very important,” Hollar says. Besides cooling your house and cutting your air-conditioning bill, shade eliminates a lot of weeds.
» Water – but not too much. You need to water new plants for at least two full growing seasons. After that, water use depends on the species. Ferns, for instance, need water during summer droughts. Texas lantana, pavonia and Salvia greggii don’t, so group them together. You have to water the foundation anyway during prolonged periods without rain, so near the house is a logical place for plants that require some irrigation.
Drip irrigation – or even a sprinkler system – isn’t a bad idea, especially while plants are establishing. If you already have a sprinkler system, by all means leave it in place. “In a drought, you may want that system again,” says Randy Weston, of Weston Gardens in Bloom.
» Don’t get carried away. There’s no need to rip out non-native plants that thrive here, such as bearded iris, daylilies, daffodils and crepe myrtle. If you like them, leave them in place.
» Don’t expect a low-maintenance landscape to be no-maintenance. The Wasowskis’ approach isn’t for everybody; at their Dallas residence, Sally Wasowski worked in the yard three days a year and watered three times a summer, the rest of the time leaving the plants to fend for themselves.
“That’s a little too rugged for some folks,” Weston says. Some maintenance can keep until the third season, when plants are big and lush, you’ll need to do some weeding.
» Don’t expect native plants to act like exotics. Bedding plants such as impatiens bloom nonstop for months. “Most native plants don’t,” Weston says. They might go through cycles of blooming and resting, or bloom for a short time. (Salvia greggii is one long-blooming plant – a good choice to counter bedding-plants withdrawal.)
“The way you get continuous color with [most] native plants is by having a variety of species rather than just the one, which I think is lots less boring,” Weston says.
By CAROL NUCKOLS
FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM
Friday, February 28, 1997
© Copyright 2015 Weston Gardens in Bloom, Inc.