Celebrate using heritage plants

March 1, 2014

To honor Texas Independence Day, consider planting a heritage garden.

This type of landscape feature incorporates native plants, utilizes historic garden styles and often emulates the surrounding natural topography.

So what are Texas’ historic styles?

Native plant experts Sally and Andy Wasowski believe Spanish-speaking settlers brought their Moorish-influenced garden designs to Texas in the 1600s. These designs lacked lawns, but featured courtyards, garden beds and patios. Plants included natives as well as Mediterranean flowers, fruits, herbs and trees.

By the late 1800s, Anglo-speaking settlers had introduced lawns, hedges, foundation plantings and shade trees. Non-native plants were often used, so they fared best in areas with great soils and ample moisture – not North Central Texas. By the 1950s, this “traditional” design had become synonymous with the suburbs.

On the other end of the spectrum is naturalistic design, particularly common in areas with woodlands, wetlands or rocky, arid conditions. These landscapes differ significantly from conventional ones. The overall look is less structured. There is an emphasis on using plants beneficial to wildlife. Severe pruning is avoided in favor of allowing plants to attain a more natural shape.

Naturalistic gardens typically fare best when native or well-adapted plants are used. They harmonize better with the surrounding vegetation, and they are more attractive to wildlife. Remember to select plants native to the region in which they are planted, not simply Texas natives. An East Texas azalea, for example, might thrive in the piney woods, but it would likely die in West Texas soils and hot sun.

Term debated

Thousands of plants are considered Texas natives, but the term is often debated. Paul Cox, in “Landscaping with Native Plants of Texas,” cites the chinaberry tree. It is an historic tree since it was found on the San Jacinto Battlefield. But it likely grew from seed imported by early settlers. Thus, the term “naturalized” is often used to describe plants not likely to be native, but certainly not recent introductions.

Native authenticity aside, you may begin a heritage garden in one of two easy ways. You may alter your traditional landscape by substituting native/naturalized (well adapted) plants for exotic species to create a waterwise design. You may also mimic one or more of the area’s natural settings, such as meadows, riverbeds, rocky outcroppings or woodlands. To succeed with either plan, be sure to use plants compatible with the site’s environmental conditions, such as full sun, shade, wet, dry or wind.

For answers to your horticulture questions, please call the Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 and ask to speak to a Master Gardener or visit the website at hoodcountymastergardeners.org.

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Category: Horticulture Archived