Posts Tagged ‘landscaping’

Thinking outside of the box(wood)

Posted on July 11th, 2014 by Deedy Wright

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!

Texas mock orange

Posted on May 20th, 2014 by Bill Hopkins

Texas Mock Orange (Philadelphus texensis) and its almost identical relative, Canyon Mock Orange (P. ernestii), resemble miniature versions of the long popular non-native mock oranges and their cultivars, which have been grown as ornamentals since at least the early 1800s.

TexasMockOrangeOur native mock oranges are ornamental delights that grow one to three feet high with little dark glossy leaves. The multi-branched limbs are crowded with blooms in April and May, silky-white and fragrant. The flowers are only three quarters of an inch across and have four white petals around a bright-yellow center of numerous stamens. Jill Nokes in How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest claims that Texas Mock Orange “produces flowers more prolifically” than canyon mock orange.

These natives can be used in home landscapes as low-growing flowering shrubs in shady locations.  They are not typically found in nurseries but ask for it. A few wholesale nurseries grow it, and we expect it to become increasingly available in the retail trade. Although it has no legal protection at present, collecting mock orange from the wild is highly discouraged. Besides, it doesn’t transplant very easily.

In their natural habitat, Texas and Canyon Mock Orange grow on boulders and steep walls in moist limestone canyons. Jill Nokes writes that Texas Mock Orange will adapt to heavier soil as far north as Dallas. Plant it in shady moist locations or where moisture can be provided. Its fragrant flowers and compact size make it an attractive shrub for planting near the house. Give it conditions similar to where it grows naturally – partial shade in moist but well drained soil. It will need protection from browsing deer.

Both mock oranges are endemic to the southeastern Edwards Plateau. Texas Mock Orange occurs only in Bandera, Edwards, Real, and Uvalde Counties, and Canyon Mock Orange is known only in Bandera, Blanco, Comal, Hays, Kendall, and Travis Counties. About the only way to distinguish the two in the field is by hairs on the underside of the leaf. Lower leaf surfaces of P. ernestii are covered with short straight hairs, while those of P. texensis are matted with a mix of short straight and long tangled hairs.

Planting our less-abundant native plants can be a way to help offset the effects of the decrease in native species diversity brought on by loss of habitat, deer browsing and invasion of exotics. And they’ll make an uncommon and interesting addition to your plants.

Summer landscape classes added in DFW

Posted on May 17th, 2014 by Bob Kamper

We’ve added two additional classes to the Native Landscape Certification Program in the Dallas/Fort Worth area this Summer.

Meg Inglis, NLCP Coordinator, said the classes will be held in Denton on June 7 and in Cedar Hill on June 28. Registration for the classes is now available online. The NLCP classes teach sustainable landscape design using native plants specific to the vegetation regions of North Texas.

For more information see our class schedule page or contact Meg Inglis.

Summer classes for the San Antonio area were announced earlier.

Goldenball leadtree

Posted on May 16th, 2014 by Bill Hopkins

Goldenball Leadtree is a small tree or large shrub, usually about 6 to 12 feet high with multiple trunks, and light-green airy foliage.

Goldenball LeadtreeGoldenball Leadtree (Leucaena retusa) is a legume with the acacia look, but without thorns. It is an attractive foliage plant most of the year, but during the late-spring bloom period, Goldenball Leadtree puts on numerous, bright golden-yellow globe-shaped “puffballs” about an inch across which brighten the landscape. It may also bloom intermittently through the summer after a rain. Small pods of seeds follow the blooms.

In the wild Goldenball Leadtree grows in fairly harsh conditions, in unshaded, well-drained sites in rocky, limestone areas and dry canyons. It is a Texas native found in the western part of the Edwards Plateau and the Trans Pecos area, as well as in New Mexico and northern Mexico. The University of Texas herbarium includes specimens also from the eastern margin of the Edwards Plateau in Comal, Blanco and Travis Counties. It does very well in Hill Country gardens.

It can be pruned to be a single-trunked tree if you dislike the multi-trunked form. Its fast-growing branches are thin and brittle so it benefits from pruning. It can be found in many nurseries and also grown from seed. Give it a dry location in full sun or part shade. Goldenball Leadtree needs to be caged to protect it from browsing deer.