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Monday, August 11, 2014

Landscaping Au Naturel

The more I water, weed, prune, mow, and trim, the more I wish I lived in the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado. When visiting there, I am struck by the natural beauty of the landscape and the total lack of care homeowners seem to give to their landscape. It's as if the houses were carefully placed on the land without disturbing anything. If plants were added, they looked completely natural.

The soil surrounding these houses isn't suitable for growing a grass lawn, much less hedges and formal flower beds. The same lots in my area would have had half the trees removed, terraces built, soil added, and St. Augustine planted. And the result, while pretty and green, isn't nearly as attractive as that made by Mother Nature. The only exception, in my humble opinion, are houses built close to each other on flat grassland. Those seem pretty desolate.

When we lived in town, we lived in the land of immaculate lawns. Stepford lawns. We had a sprinkler system for our St. Augustine lawn, which I mowed and edged every Friday along with all my neighbors. Actually, I mowed and edged longer than all my neighbors because we were on the outside corner of a cul-de-sac. We had hedges which I clipped with my electric hedge clippers and then raked all the clippings. Oh yes, and all the lawn clippings were bagged and set out for trash pickup. I think there was one neighbor who didn't bag his clippings, and seldom edged the curb, and he was that neighbor. The malcontent bent on ruining our neighborhood. Secretly, I envied that neighbor.

He had a lot of oak and pine trees in his yard and it looked like a park to me. He had little clumps of flowers here and there, and tall grass along the edges. It looked like a yard to explore and then relax in one of the hammocks hung between trees. We didn't have any trees in our yard. There were two dying apple trees when we bought the house, but after they were removed, we had nothing but house to curb St. Augustine. We planted trees, but they were still small when we sold that house.

When we bought this house, I turned into that neighbor. I quit bagging the grass, I sold the electric hedge clippers in a yard sale, planted a lot of natives, then planted wild flowers in most of the backyard and quit mowing it until all the seed heads were dried. But I still spend a lot of time watering, weeding, pruning, mowing, and trimming.

The xeriscaping I've done is paying off in many ways though. I have blooms all over the yard today, in August, after a week of temps over 100, and after a month with very little rain. But I want more. I want the natural beauty of an untamed land. A wildscape.

But what makes those lots in New Mexico and Colorado look so great is that they look like New Mexico and Colorado. They wouldn't look quite so great on just my lot in Texas. I know what you're thinking - make my lot look like it did before it was cleared. So maybe you weren't thinking that, but I was. This evening I walked down the street to some land that has not been developed, mainly because it would take more than terracing to make it buildable. This land is so rough that it was never farmed either, although there is an old well surrounded by trees. If that part was ever cleared, nature has taken it back.

This is what our land looked like before development.

A little too wooded for me.

The white rocky area is a road. Trucks driving through there kept anything from growing back, and eventually rain washed out the thin layer of soil. We've got that same white rock under our yard too, some with just a few inches of topsoil over it, and some areas have a foot or more of clay soil. And no, I don't plan on digging out any of it.

So whatever I do, it won't look completely native to my area but it won't look like other xeriscaped yards in my area either. All the xeriscapes I have seen here have relied heavily on gravel or mass plantings of shrubs and wildflowers. The former has a barren look to me, and the latter is too chaotic for my OCD tendencies. I need to find a happy medium.

I began in July when we went to Missouri. Several years ago we were at a garden expo and there was a booth from Missouri Wildflowers Nursery and I noticed a lot of their plants were native Texas plants also, and very hard to find in Texas. So when we headed home after the 4th, we decided to take a detour so we could go there, and what a great nursery it is. The owner is so nice and helped us find some of the plants on our wish list. We came home with about twenty plants. In July. I know, this is Texas where the slogan is "plant until June First and then try to keep it alive until October." What was I thinking? I was thinking get it now or maybe not ever! So I've been babying these plants and so far haven't lost one.

My next plan is to remove some flowers in my front flower bed that struggle with drought. They are native Texas plants, lanceleaf coreopsis, and fall obedient plant, but they just don't work in that dry location. I removed some salvia greggii and flame acanthus earlier this year, not because they struggled there, but because they got a lot bigger than I wanted. The plants that aren't struggling right now are dwarf Mexican petunia, mealy blue sage, Mexican poinsettia, and four nerve daisy.

It's a start.


  1. Looking forward to seeing your progress.

    One of my friends removed all grass and put in colored gravel. Her yard does not look welcoming and I imagine all the rock makes the house hot.

    1. I have friends who have rock mulch all around their house and they said it does a nice job of keeping in moisture. But I agree with you, all gravel isn't very welcoming.

  2. When my parents had a house at Canyon Lake (New Braunsfels area), Iaughed the people who brought in all their citified plants -and St Augustine. Naturally it didn't grow. Now even in the rough hill country around Mason - which is a transition area between the hill country and the desert, people still try to grow St Augustine and other plants that grow in more moderate areas. Us - well perhaps the coastal that was "planted" when it was pure pasture land is the lawn - IF it comes back from the massive drought. If not - plugs of "weeds" that will be mowed so that we can see the snakes!

  3. We have some native grasses which the St. Augustine and bermuda are slowly overtaking. It's not a pretty grass, but it's still green when everything else has gone dormant in this heat. And with no water either. When we first moved here, I tried digging out the St. Augustine but I've discovered that all I have to do is not water it and it dies out completely.

  4. I so get what you are saying. We bought our house when it was still under construction, but didn't think far enough ahead to deal with the St. Augustine grass. We are "those" neighbors. When we landscaped, we looked for drought tolerant and native species as much as possible. I ordered some roses from The Antique Rose Emporium in Independence, TX. They've done great in the shaded areas of the house with very little extra watering or care. With the hot summer we had two years ago, the St. Augustine pretty much died, we've been trying to get Buffalo Grass to take hold for the last two years. Every year it takes over more of the yard.


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