Wild About Texas – October, 2007

A native plant garden does not have to look like a lot of weeds! Nor should it. Thoughtful designers can use Texas native plants to create successful gardens reflecting just about any style including naturalistic, formal, and the continuum between the two. How a garden is designed dictates the style of the garden, not whether or not the plants used are native. Any well-designed garden, naturalistic or formal, should have good structure and composition.

Although not typically associated with them, native plants can be used to create formal gardens. Employing clean lines, well-defined borders and simple and massed plantings of single species achieve formal effects. Maintenance is typically tidy and controlled and the color palette limited. Symmetry, narrow views on a focal point, and geometric forms are often relied on. Materials chosen for hardscape features also contribute to the overall flavor of the landscape.

Using “natural” forms such as curves and overflowing borders adds a naturalistic flair. Plantings may be seasonally dynamic and more complex than a formal garden and incorporate a loose color scheme and broadly framed views. Maintenance is critical to keeping a naturalistic garden attractive and not “weedy,” but may be more loosely executed. Hours spent maintaining a naturalistic garden may be less than for a formal garden, but a more skilled eye for making subtle artistic decisions and proper plant identification is often required.

Many gardeners find comfort in the organization and predictability of a formal garden while others enjoy the dynamism and freedom of a naturalistic landscape. Native plants can provide the basis for any style while conserving natural resources and preserving regional identity. David Fross of the California Native Plant Society reminds us: “This is the way we make gardens here, these are the plants that tell us we are home.”

For case studies of how locally native and properly selected non-native species can be used in a variety of garden designs, participate in the Wildflower Center’s 3rd annual Gardens on Tour, Saturday, May 12, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.. Five private gardens, a green roof designed by the Wildflower Center, and the gardens of the Wildflower Center will be featured. See the Center’s Web site for details.

For more information about Gardens on Tour and Texas native plants, visit www.wildflower.org. The mission of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes.

About the author: Andrea DeLong-Amaya is the Director of Horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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