Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Landscaping with pets

We love our dog, too! Never would we intentionally recommend a plant that would be harmful to any animals, especially domestic cats and dogs. But if you look up plant toxicity information you will find many landscape plants are considered "toxic." That does not mean all landscape plants will kill your pets (or you.) Toxic might refer to a rash or to vomiting, or, yes, even death. Do your research but also turn on your critical thinking cap.

One tree we often include in our designs is Eve's Necklace (Sophora affinis.) It's native to North Central Texas, stands about as tall and wide as Crape Myrtle, and is tough as steel. You might be familiar with the glorious Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora) native to Central Texas. Many a spring morning I was guided by its intoxicating sweet fragrance as I walked through campus in San Marcos. (Pardon the digression.) Eve's Necklace represents the best of Texas' natural beauty. It's durable and versatile: Eve's Necklace grows well in sun or shade, and prefers little-on-the-dry-side soil along rocky creekside embankments. Plant any time of year but late fall or winter is best. Water it in, hand-water a couple of times per week, and gradually scale back to 1" per week. By year two Eve's Necklace should survive on ambient rainfall.

Eve's Necklace puts on a lovely display in early spring. Its pink blooms smell heavenly. Black seedpods that look very much like necklaces dangle from its limbs much of the year. These seedpods may cause digestive problems if ingested but we will continue to include them in our designs. It's unlikely that we or our pets could reach our mouths 6+ feet into the air to nibble on a black seedpod necklace.

If you have a dog that digs or likes to lie on the cool foliage, don't use tender plants. Instead of planting shrubs or perennials in planting beds, incorporate pottery into the beds and fill them with colorful annuals and perennials. If your pet is losing his eyesight, avoid prickly plants like yucca, agave or cactus. If your pet runs along the fence, integrate the pathway into your landscape. Believe me, it's easier to modify the landscape to accommodate your pet than the other way around.

Free Water-Wise Landscaping Classes

Quoted from City of Dallas email notification:

"What Is Water-Wise Landscaping?
Water-Wise landscaping is quality landscaping that conserves water and protects the environment. It has also been called Xeriscape or common-sense landscaping.

Learn all about it at our free seminars.
Plan now to attend one or both of our free seminars on Saturday, September 20 at Mountain View College, 4849 W. Illinois Ave., Dallas 75211. The seminars will be held in Room W171 in the West Building, first level. Please go to the Mountain View College website at http://www.mountainviewcollege.eduor call 214-860-8680 for directions. Local Water-Wise landscaping expert and author Bonnie Reese will be the speaker at both sessions.

Making a reservation
Register for the seminars online at www.ci.dallas.tx.us/forms/water_conservation_contact.html in the comment/question section. Let us know which seminar you would like to attend, and how many will be attending in your group. You may also register by calling us at 214-670-3155. Seminars co-sponsored by City of Dallas Water Utilities and Mountain View College.

Seminars are presented in English

Water-Wise Landscape Design 101
Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008 • 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
The common denominator in all beautiful landscapes is a good design. This informative program teaches the basics of good landscape design with an emphasis on how to create a beautiful landscape that requires little or no supplemental watering and helps prevent water pollution.

Fantastic Plants for North Texas
Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008 • 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Illustrated with colorful slides, this presentation focuses only on quality native and adapted plants that are recommended for and easily available in this area. Learn when, where and how to plant each of the recommended plants, their size and height at maturity, seasonal color, texture and more. This program includes perennials, turf grasses, shrubs, vines, ground covers, shade trees and ornamental trees."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why Corpus Christi?

Austin is Texas' most progressive city. It is our state capitol and hotbed for greenbuilding. Austin is a liberal town straddling I-35, the veritable division between conservative, populist West Texans and conservative, Deep South-traditional East Texans. Many of the larger native plant growers are located in Austin. University of Texas recently acquired the Wildflower Center (aka Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, National Wildflower Research Center, etc.) The university has committed to continuing Lady Bird's mission to beautify the world using local native plants, but they have also enlarged their scope to promote sustainability in general. They have also added a sustainability institute, if you will, to add a sort-of green element to various degree programs, including landscape architecture. (Way to go!)

So, as we also broaden our scope to promote sustainability throughout Texas, why would we not choose Austin as our next market? In a way, we are already there. In 2005 we designed and installed a 1-acre project located in Lockhart, about 35 miles southeast of Austin. Schroeder Park represents various grasses and perennials native to the southern tip of the Blackland Prairie. We also incorporated native species into an existing landscape for Benchmark Insurance in San Marcos, just 28 miles south of Austin. For now, however, we will focus on online designs for prospective clients in the Austin area.

Corpus Christi might seem an out-of-left-field choice. I mean, certainly there are larger markets where our message might be more readily received. Houston, San Antonio, and especially chronically drought-stricken El Paso would seem more lucrative. To be sure, Corpus Christi is a smaller city. And historically speaking, Corpus has not been considered progressive or earth-friendly, exactly. But there are so many changes going on (all over the state, really), after much observation and analysis, it just makes sense to take the Native Dave message to the Coastal Bend.

Developments inspired by the new urbanism of Seaside, Florida, (where we lived and worked 2002-03) are springing up all along the coast. Cinnamon Shore and Newport Beach, just outside of Corpus Christi and near Port Aransas, strive to invite indoors the natural beauty outdoors. One of the architects of these communities, Mark Schnell (www.markschnell.com), consulted with us to propose a native plant palette. Although many non-native species eventually were chosen in lieu of the natives, we are encouraged that sustainable development is finally popping up on the Texas Coast. As in other parts of our state, lack of access to native plants and landscape professionals with knowledge of native plants, continue to keep sustainable development out of the mainstream. A good number of the homes in these Seaside-esque communities are being purchased by people in Austin, where native plants and sustainability are mainstream.

Padre Island National Seashore is located in Corpus Christi (and nowhere near the spring break haven of South Padre Island, by the way.) If you have the desire, and a four-wheel drive vehicle, you can drive up to 60 miles along this mostly wild and undeveloped barrier island. Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata), Woolly Stemodia (Stemodia tomentosa), and Native Purslane (Portulaca spp.) are just a few of the indigenous plant species found on The Island. There are also coyotes, deer and scores of bird species, too. Incidentally, this area of Texas ranks #1 in the US in terms of diversity of bird species -- some residents, some migrants. Ask any bird aficianado about Rockport or Bird Island Basin.

South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, formerly the Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens, has committed itself to "conserving, preserving, displaying, and interpreting native and adapted flora and fauna of South Texas for area residents and visitors alike." The Gardens have joined forces with Texas State Aquarium to promote conservation and environmental education. Michael Womack, executive director of the botanical gardens, summed it up best: "What we do on the land affects the sea."

Indeed, what we do in our landscapes affects all of our waterways, from White Rock Creek in Plano to the Trinity River Basin to the Gulf of Mexico, and beyond. Many green-minded folks are purchasing vacation homes near Corpus Christi. Tourism depends on conservation and preservation of Nature, including sources of food and shelter for native and migratory birds. Native plants and sustainable initiatives are beginning to emerge, not just in the centers for education, but among mainstream folks, like you and me. Only a couple of landscape professionals in Corpus Christi have knowledge of and experience with native plants, and locating the plants is still inconvenient. The time is right to conserve, preserve, restore and celebrate the Coastal Bend of Texas.

Updated Meeting Schedule

We have set meeting dates for the rest of the summer and into fall. We are available to meet:
Dallas/Ft Worth/Denton
Friday, August 22nd, at 3pm
Friday, September 12th, at noon or 3pm
Saturday, September 13th, at 9am or noon
Friday, October 10th, at 9am, noon or 3pm
Saturday, October 11th, at 9am, noon or 3pm
November and December dates are still pending.

Corpus Christi area
Monday, September 29th, at 9am, noon or 3pm
Tuesday, September 30th, at 9am, noon or 3pm
Friday, November 7th, at 9am, noon or 3pm
October and December dates are still pending.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Hot Enough For Ya

Today's temps might reach 109. What the heck? Hardly livable conditions, I tell ya. And it doesn't help matters when some wisecracker asks if it's "hot enough for ya." Anybody ever answer, "why no, it's not. I'm Satan, I need 130, 135, minimum"? Come on. We all know it's hot, we all know the heat is relentless. We don't need to be assaulted with silly questions.

What we need is a diversion. That's it, something to take our minds off the baking heat. Something that gives us the illusion that it's cooler than it really is. Let's talk about shade-loving natives.

Take a walk along creeks or shady natural areas (they are still around, I promise) and you'll find abundant waterwise, colorful, low-maintenance plant life. Golden Groundsel (Senecio obovatus) -- one of our favorites -- is a low-growing perennial with dark green foliage and delicate yellow blooms. It's a challenge to find in retail nurseries but a worthwhile treasure hunt. Petal Pusher's Garden Emporium in Cedar Hill grows it onsite. I think they have a 3-tray maximum limit on this plant.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis) has a thin, strappy leaf and blue-to-purple bloom. Its foliage looks sort-of like a small iris. Sort of. Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum, formerly Eupatorium coelestinum) is another great blue-blooming plant for shade. One word of caution, however. If your planting areas already over-planted, or if you like a more structured look, you won't like the Mistflower. It tends to ramble -- which is great for me, but not for everyone. Lyre Leaf Sage (which I've mentioned in previous posts) also has a blue bloom, and some cultivars have maroon-to-dark purple foliage.

Scarlet Sage, or Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea) is a terrific red-blooming plant. Technically it's categorized as an annual for our area. It will, however, readily re-seed itself. Simply gorgeous plant, Scarlet Sage works well in sun or shade. Magic Lily (Lycoris radiata) also has a red bloom, and like Golden Groundsel, is sometimes difficult to find in retail nurseries. On occasion I have found it in 1-gallon at a wholesale nursery, or just the bulb through a wholesale grower.

Of course, you can't go wrong with Crinum Lily (Crinum americanum) or Texas Spider Lily (Hymenocallis liriosme). Tropical-looking strappy leaves with lightly fragrant white blooms. Perfect for sun or shade.

There are many more species of native plants growing in our local natural areas. You just have to get out and take a look. Take inspiration from nature before you landscape your home. You will discover plants that really work in our area. Besides, you'll finally get that exercise you've been talking about.

New market!

Over the past year I've hinted about taking our rebellious by Nature message to other markets. A few of you guessed our first secondary market would be Austin, others thought it would be Destin, Florida, area. In a way, both are correct: we already offer online designs and consultations across Texas and along the Gulf Coast. But now, for the first time, we will be offering onsite meetings in the Corpus Christi area. That means, we will continue to meet with clients in Dallas-Ft. Worth one or two weekends per month. At least once per month -- or perhaps once per quarter, initially -- we will hold meetings in Corpus Christi/N. Padre Island/Mustang Island/Port Aransas. Our first Corpus area event will be Bayfest on Saturday and Sunday, September 27th and 28th. If you are in the area, drop by and visit with us in the Adventure Tent. More news soon!