Finding Some Landscape Motivation in Changing Times
I have had the same philosophy for the last 20 years, longer really because I have been a Texan for 29 years. I moved here as a teen from south of Chicago and lived in a rather rural area with dark fertile soil, beautiful trees, 4 seasons and the most amazing flower displays all Summer long….then I came to Texas. I was culturally, emotionally and seasonally challenged and my therapy was to find my place in the garden. I knew way before it was cool (or really hot as the case may be) that Austin was getting a bit big for its britches and needed to change the glutinous landscape situation the builders and HOA’s were encouraging and requiring. We needed to go back to the way things used to be when you collected rain and ate what you grew while embracing the super cool Austin feel. Living in a time where changing climate and water shortages are a the wave of the future we have to come to some new conclusions. Long gone (or should be) are the days of sweeping lawns and over-watered commercial properties, here to stay are alternative solutions.
The truth is that Austin is a cool cat, forward thinking kind of town stuck in an old and outdated tradition passed down by our parents generation, sold to us as a bill of goods by the chemical companies who convinced our parents that there was an easier way to do things. Sometimes the “easy way” has terrible consequences and those consequences were put on Mother Earth. We all have to look to the past for these answers as there is a lot to be said about the way our ancestors did things.
This is an excellent opportunity to redesign the face of Austin. We can take the lessons from gardeners past and create a new way of more futuristic, Austin-tastic landscapes unique to our region and like no other. No offence to anyone else, but I am not interested in having Austin conserve water to look like Arizona, or El Paso, and there is no reason we need to. We simply need to garden more intelligently and that is to turn back to the way things were before we started all of this.
When the settlers came here they didn’t redirect rivers and hills to build their homes, they embraced the lay of the land and used it to their advantage. They used garden journals to keep track of successes and failures and they used organic remedies to control their environment. Now, we are not going to burn down the yard to fertilize, but we can take some lessons in gardening and use it to our advantage now.
Obviously, we need to begin by planting what belongs here. Many a generation brought plants here that were not indigenous to the area and created an ecosystem nightmare i.e. Juniper. Now we have people here from all over the world who are continuing to plant plants that are not indigenous to our area and there are ecological consequences. We remove the rock and put in sod, we re-grade the land and build retainer walls, we build our homes on tree roots, throw out chemicals we know nothing about to control things we don’t understand and pour concrete on the land to direct all of our rain water to the ocean, then wonder why things have gone so badly?
We cannot undo what has been done, but we can damn sure do better. This year, instead of re-planting that unsuccessful sod, add a river bed, a native grass or a herb garden. To create shade for your burning yard, plant a fruit tree instead of another that will take the same water but doesn’t give you food. Time and time again I hear “River rock just seems so sterile”. Really? When was the last time you sat along a river bank and thought, wow, this seems so unnatural? River rock is round and soft and adds an organic feel by adding color and textures, rocks can make a huge statement! I guess I struggle understanding how something natural wouldn’t fit into the landscape. Elements like crushed glass, pea gravel, crushed granite, reclaimed bricks, reclaimed pavers, stained concrete blocks, stone and moss boulders, even nut shells can be used for interest in mulch.
The combination of drought tolerant native and adapted plants, organic and inorganic materials in place of sod can reduce the need for excessive watering it also reduces the need for pest control and attracts native bees. Correcting hills and drainage area’s with river rock beds and dry creeks can solve run off issues you may never resolve with traditional methods. Adding boulders, alternative landscape materials and architecture to fill the garden space can save water and the need to over plant. Building larger mulch beds around your trees and place seating areas in your beds to takes up space and makes it more inviting.
Research alternative landscapes before making a change. Remember that an estimated 150 people are moving here daily. The water shed that we all share has an estimated shelf life of about 10 years by the water conservationist at A&M. We have to change the way we think about what will be left to drink, and create alternative Xeriscape (drought tolerant, not stabby) landscapes.
The planet is sending us a message and an opportunity to make a profound change before we no longer have time to change…what will you do??
Lisa’s Landscape & Design ( “like” me on facebook)
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”
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