A couple of years ago I convinced a reluctant neighbor to plant zexmenia and some other native perennials in a hot, sunny bed on her street corner. The plants grew beautifully and bloomed their little hearts out all summer. As fall drew to a close, the neighbor informed me she was ripping out the native “weeds” even though they had performed well. She didn’t want them because she could see them growing as weeds along the roadsides and didn’t want them in her yard. She replaced them with non-native, “real” garden plants. Sad.
This event came to mind recently as I conducted a native plant training class for the Gonzalez Master Gardener students at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Walking out of the courtyard area, one student spied a small redbud tree that was espaliered near a water tank. The whole class was fascinated that such a formal gardening technique could be used with a native plant. Imagine that! It was an “Aha!” learning moment for the students.
You know, it’s time that all of us started having Aha! moments and started thinking outside the box about how to use our native plants in the landscape. Our natives can be used successfully not only in a wildscape, where we often see them, but also in just about any other style of landscaping, including a formal clipped and sculptured one. The wildscape looks unkempt to many people, so they dismiss using natives immediately. That doesn’t have to be the case—and we can begin to change that perception. Take a look at these pictures as examples of “tidier” ways that natives can be successfully used.
|Images clockwise from top left: Redbud (Cercis canadensis); Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens); Dwarf Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria); Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens).
All photos by Deedy Wright.
The espaliered Redbud seen at the Wildflower Center is not the usual form of the tree, but it’s lovely. How many other natives could be used in this way?
Evergreen Sumac, which can be rather sprawling, can be trimmed into a thick, attractive, clipped hedge that is much prettier than Japanese Ligustrum or Red-tipped Photinia – and much better for the environment. Some people even hedge Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora), often sacrificing some of those grape soda spring blooms, but it works.
Texas Wisteria looks lovely draping over a rather rustic arbor. Unlike the Chinese Wisteria, the Texas variety compliments its flowers with green leaves. It’s smaller than its Chinese cousin and won’t tear up the arbor.
The Dwarf Yaupon’s fine foliage can easily be clipped into formal shapes that Jill Nokes has referred to as “green meatballs.” However, if you are a person who wants the more controlled, formal look, then this little slow-growing plant is perfect. And additionally, it won’t get woody and huge as the traditional Boxwood.
You say po-ta-toes; I say po-tah-toes! Regardless of how they are trained or clipped, the plants’ function in the environment is the same.
As you visit both private and public gardens, or just go about your everyday life, keep your eyes open for unusual ways gardeners and landscapers have used our native plants. Snap a picture and share your discovery with friends. Hopefully those plants won’t be ripped out after a season because they are just “weeds.” Go forth and advocate for more out-of-the-boxwood thinking about native plants!