Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

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.


Edible and perennial beds, Earth Kind rose shrubs, fruit trees for shade and NO LAWN!

The truth is that Austin is a cool cat, forward thinking kind of town stuck in an old and outdated tradition passed down by our parents generation,  sold to us as a bill of goods by the chemical companies who convinced our parents that there was an easier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.

Reduced sod, river rock nuisance strips and lush Xerophytic beds.

Reduced sod, river rock nuisance strips and lush Xerophytic beds.

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??

Happy Gardening!!

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape & Design ( “like” me on facebook)

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”

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  1. sandy lawrence

    “No offense to anyone else, but I am not interested in having Austin conserve water to look like Arizona, or ElPaso, and there is no reason we need to.”

    Oh, thank you for this statement! I have been reading the dire predictions from some bloggers that the “only” answer is to go more Western in our garden plans and plantings and have been majorly bummed at the idea for my own garden.

    I love succulents and cactus and have a few of each in dish gardens but my garden spaces are mainly cottage garden style using native and adapted plants and grasses. Virtually all of them survived with the exception of one bicolor Salvia “San Antonio”. The other one lived, who knows why? Other losses were directly attributable to foraging wildlife, including birds, in the certified wildlife environment. Lots of compost and lots of mulch, I think, were the saving elements for the plants.

    No offense, as you say, but I don’t want a totally SW garden; otherwise I would move to West Texas! I do hope it doesn’t come to either …

    Thanks so much for your encouragement, from an old gardener – definitely too old to move and start over!

  2. Lisa LaPaso

    Hi Sandy! We aren’t alone, I don’t believe many people who live here are looking for the wild west to return, we just need a new way of thinking and some creative designs. The City of Austin and the Master Gardeners have a great plant list complied by those who want Austin to feel like Austin without being so wasteful with our resources.

    We are actually really lucky that we have such a great plant palette to use in this area. We just need to see a lot more of it being used 😉

    • Xeriscaping does NOT mean desert-like or SW looking – it means water saving and there are so many ways to do this and maintain a natural and green look. Climate change is real and we need to adjust our thinking and habits accordingly or central TX will become like west TX. Just having water for human consumption is becoming a concern. We need to adapt to less water consumption, just like our native plants have.

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