landscape design

February Tip: Seven principles of Xeriscaping

pam-penick-water-saving-garden-book-austin-garden-blog-There are seven fundamental garden design principles that define that define what we call xeriscaping, water-wise gardening or drought tolerant landscaping.  They serve to maximize water conservation through a simple set of steps that are easy to undertake. They include:

  • Proper planning
  • Soil improvement
  • Fitting plant selections
  • Practical lawn choices
  • Efficient Irrigation
  • Correct use of mulch
  • Proper maintenance

It may be hard for some to visualize a drought-tolerant garden that doesn’t scream desert.  It can be so much more than using only cacti and agaves in a rock bed – unless that’s the look you want. There are many lush, green, and brightly blooming xeric native and well-adapted plants from which to choose when creating a water-wise garden.

In Pam Penick’s newly released book, The Water-saving Garden – How to grow a gorgeous garden with a lot less water, she provides homeowners with both practical tips and beautiful water-saving design options in the garden.

Penick, a blogger and author who gardens in Austin, has traveled extensively to learn about drought-tolerant techniques and styles across the country.

According to Penick, there is no single “right way” to plant a garden that saves water.  Her focus is on planting thoughtfully, using drought-tolerant plants, grouping plants by water needs, and making the most of the natural rain you have in your garden.

Read The Full Article

By | 2017-11-29T23:26:56+00:00 March 25th, 2016|Tips|0 Comments

Use water-wise tips to create a low-maintenance, beautiful, xeric garden

It’s back. As of last week, we are officially back in drought status. Our unseasonably warm and dry winter (what happened to the wet and cold forecast of El Nino?), means it’s probably time to make some serious changes in your landscape.

Not watering your garden at all isn’t much of an option since everything will die and look awful. Your neighbors will hate you and your home value will tank.

Pouring concrete or removing everything except rocks to cover your whole landscape isn’t much of an option either. But there are many choices short of those two dramatic reactions that can and will work for you if you do your homework.

This is the crux of what we call Xeriscaping. Not “zero” scaping, as some mistakenly call it, but, using xeric plants and water-wise practices to create a landscape that will flourish in our extremely hot and dry conditions.

It doesn’t, however, mean never having to water or care for plants – it means developing a water-efficient landscape through the use of good planning, appropriate plant and lawn selection, efficient irrigation, use of mulch and proper maintenance. I often laughingly tell people, “it’s not carpet!”

So, what are the steps to developing a xeric landscape that will flourish in our extremely hot and dry conditions?

Seven principles of Xeriscaping

There are seven fundamental garden design principles that define that define what we call xeriscaping, water-wise gardening or drought tolerant landscaping. They serve to maximize water conservation through a simple set of steps that are easy to undertake. They include:

  • Proper planning
  • Soil improvement
  • Fitting plant selections
  • Practical lawn choices
  • Efficient Irrigation
  • Correct use of mulch
  • Proper maintenance

Plan your space

There are many options for reducing the need for water in your landscape. You can replace lawn with sitting and entertaining space – using paths of mulch, decomposed granite or flagstone, patios of native stone or bricks, wooden decks and gazebos, creating an inviting garden space when combined with planting beds. Dry creeks can be added to meander through your landscape – to address drainage issues or simply for aesthetic use as a textural contrast to plants and mulch. Water features – from ponds to disappearing fountains in ceramic pots can add a focal point and invite wildlife into your garden. Play scapes, hammocks, washer pits and fire pits or chimenarias can also be placed on a variety of hardscape materials in lieu of grass.

Enhance your soil

Whether you’re fighting black clay or limestone outcroppings and caliche, it’s sometimes challenging to garden in Central Texas. Creating raised beds will encourage give your roots something to hold onto in rocky soils and will create better drainage in clay soils.

According to Travis County Extension Agent-Horticulture, Daphne Richards, it’s good to occasionally add organic matter like compost to your soil, but says native plants don’t need a lot of fertilizer.

“Organic matter breaks down slowly, providing nutrients and helping to improve our soil structure as well,” said Richards.

Mulching beds is also important to help insulate plants, keeping soil temperatures lower and cutting down on evaporation. There are a variety of good mulches from which to choose, including: Native Texas Hardwood mulch (highly recommended), shredded cedar, pine needles, and other shredded barks. Several inches of mulch should be applied to ensure sufficient insulation. But never pile mulch up against the trunks of trees or shrubs like volcanoes as that can cause rot. Mulch should be placed around plants like a donut ring, with very little mulch touching the trunk and a raised ring around the plant to encourage water to remain inside the circle.

Water wisely

Many methods used to irrigate landscapes are inefficient. Most sprinklers – both automated systems and hose-end, waste a great deal of water to evaporation, particularly when run during the day. The most efficient hose-end sprinklers throw large drops of water close to the ground, rather than high into the air. Watering is also best done in the very early morning hours to prevent scorch and to minimize evaporation – even before sun-up for early birds or those with automatic systems.

Overwatering is also a problem. Watering for shorter periods of time too often encourages plants to keep shallow roots. Longer, less frequent, deep watering, develops deep roots away from surface heat that will require less water.

Drip irrigation is a good option to reduce water use. By keeping the water next to the plants and using little pressure, there is almost no evaporation and the soil is able to absorb and use all the water, whereas sprinklers often saturate soil and the water runs off the landscape. But drip has its drawbacks as well, requiring the lines to circle your plants’ root zones which can make planting and moving in an existing drip system cumbersome. Drip lines and emitters can crack or get clogged, but since they are under a thin layer of mulch, it’s often hard to know you have a problem before it’s too late and you have dying plants.

Collecting rainwater (when we are lucky enough to get it) is another way to conserve. From simple rain barrels placed under downspouts to large commercial systems, using this “free” water is always a good choice, especially since plants prefer natural rainwater to tap water that is chemically-treated.

Plant for success

Seasoned gardeners know that using a variety of native and well-adapted plants will consistently give you the best results under difficult conditions because those plants are used to surviving with what nature provides. They simply don’t need as much watering or maintenance.

Central Texas boasts a long list of native and adapted plants that, once established, can survive our rigorous conditions with less watering. When first planted, they will require regular watering for several months to get them started, but will then be less thirsty than other non-native or adapted plants.

Plants with similar water needs should also be planted together, so you aren’t over or under watering some of the plants in the same bed.

Turf grass is usually thirstier than the rest of your landscape. Reducing the amount of grass in your landscape can be the first step to significantly reducing your water needs. For Central Texas, Bermuda, Zoysia and Buffalo grass are the most drought-tolerant. Bermuda and Zoysia are commonly used in area lawns. St. Augustine requires a lot of water. It tends to grow better in light shade than most other grasses. Turf grass should be mowed high, allowing the longer blades to help protect the roots from the heat and to hold in moisture when there is some. Clippings left on the lawn help return nitrogen to the soil, so they don’t need to be collected.

Now, maintain it

Proper pruning, weeding and fertilizing will help keep your landscape healthy. Prune plants appropriately and remove weeds so they don’t compete with other plants for water.

Where to start

It may be hard for some to visualize a drought-tolerant garden that doesn’t scream desert. It can be so much more than using only cacti and agaves in a rock bed – unless that’s the look you want. There are many lush, green, and brightly blooming xeric native and well-adapted plants from which to choose when creating a water-wise garden.

In Pam Penick’s newly released book, The Water-saving Garden – How to grow a gorgeous garden with a lot less water, she provides homeowners with both practical tips and beautiful water-saving design options in the garden.

pam-penick-water-saving-garden-book-austin-garden-blog-

Penick, a blogger and author who gardens in Austin, has traveled extensively to learn about drought-tolerant techniques and styles across the country.

According to Penick, there is no single “right way” to plant a garden that saves water. Her focus is on planting thoughtfully, using drought-tolerant plants, grouping plants by water needs, and making the most of the natural rain you have in your garden.

Penick believes the most difficult aspect of promoting water-saving techniques is changing public opinion.

“The biggest challenge is changing people’s ideas of what a water-saving garden looks like,” said Penick. “People who’ve always gardened a certain way can be resistant to change, and they may have the idea that a water-saving garden is filled with cactus and rock, and they don’t like that look. I want to show that water-thrifty gardens can be just as beautiful as water-hogging ones, so that it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, however virtuous, to make one.”

The book centers around Penick’s objective to “hold that liquid gold.” Viewing rainwater as something precious to be saved, stored or redirected, it includes detailed information about the use of rainwater barrels, cisterns, dry creeks, terraces and rain gardens.

The book also outlines the practical aspects of healthy soil, use of mulch and efficient irrigation.

Penick focuses on how to use the right plants and create ripple-zones in your garden to group plants by water needs. This will allow you to keep the thirstiest plant close to your house where you can water them more easily, and perhaps design the farthest ripple to be a more natural, non-irrigated area if your yard is large.

What makes this book stand out is Penick’s designer’s eye. It is filled to the brim with wonderful color photographs of water-saving gardens in every imaginable style. Gardeners will find plenty of inspiration to transform their own gardens.

Chapters focus on attractive shading options, permeable patios and paths, container gardens and water features. She even includes an inspirational chapter on water-evoking plants, highlighting ways to design the look and feel of water into your garden with “cascading or fountain-like form, or through color that, when massed, brings to mind a river or a pool.”

The book is capped off with a final section with 101 plant recommendations for water-saving gardens.

Penick says her inspiration for the book was practical, “I’ve always been interested in low-water gardens because I’m an inherently lazy gardener. I don’t like to have to stand out in the garden every day watering thirsty plants. Plus, we live where drought and watering restrictions are facts of life, and I want a garden that looks good with minimal babying with the hose. Other regions of the country are facing the same pressures, plus people are more interested than ever in living sustainably, so I wrote the book to share water-saving inspiration and techniques and to show that it’s possible to have a beautiful garden without having to pour water on it every day.”

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach, Diana Kirby, provides landscaping tips on Facebook at Diana’s Designs, at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com and writes a garden blog at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com.

By | 2017-11-29T23:26:57+00:00 February 27th, 2016|Articles|0 Comments

Build garden’s foundation with the right shrubs

Diana's Designs Austin Texas Foundation Planting Chinese Fringe Flower

Most gardeners find themselves captivated by beautiful blooms. Nurseries put those showstoppers front and center, designed to lure in homeowners looking for the brightest, longest-lasting blooms for their landscapes. But venture further back and you’ll find the backbones of the garden – evergreen shrubs. These are the tried and true performers in the garden, season after season, year after year.

Called foundation plants, shrubs are often planted against a house to hide its foundation. They originally hid basements or open crawl spaces under homes. But they also provide a structural design foundation for layering with the other plants in the landscape.

When well placed, shrubs can soften the structure of the house and provide a transition to the surrounding landscape. A carefully crafted blend of evergreen shrubs, flowering perennials and colorful annuals makes a great formula for a beautiful garden bed. Regardless of your personal garden style, this combination provides cohesion in the landscape, allowing each unique set of plants to aid the transition of colorful interest in the garden throughout the season.

In spring, bulbs and tender annuals provide fresh bursts of color against the backdrop of established evergreen shrubs. In summer, hard-working perennials come into their own, blooming for the long haul and providing a contrast to the reliable shrubs. And in winter, when perennials are sleeping for the season, it’s the foundation shrubs that look beautiful and colorful against grey skies.

While many shrubs do bloom, they’re most often appreciated for their beautiful foliage contribution to the garden. With careful selection and design, foliage-only plants can be used to create a neutral and serene landscape, to be appreciated more for their nuances than the bright pops of color in a vivid perennial bed.

Plants, liDiana's Designs Foundation Planting in Central Austin Texaske people, develop issues as they age. Many shrubs tend to get leggy, with little or no foliage on the lower branches – caused, among other things, by poor pruning or a lack of sunlight from above. Overgrown shrubs are a common problem faced by homeowners. Homebuilders often plant large, fast-growing shrubs in very small spaces along walkways and under windows. When the plants outgrow the space in a few short years, these colossal shrubs can obscure the beauty of the house, leaving homeowners to fight their way into their own house with a machete. Sometimes it’s just time to put them out of their misery.

Having seen too many instances of this, I’m always on the lookout for smaller varieties of my favorite shrubs. This ensures that the mature size of the plant is the proper size for the space, and saves homeowners from having to constantly prune a plant that’s just growing the way it’s supposed to grow. Certainly, gardening is work and requires care and pruning, but planting a 6-foot wide shrub in a 2-foot-wide bed just isn’t going to work.

Evergreen shrubs for Central Texas Gardens

There are many hardy shrubs that grow well in Central Texas. Here are a few of my favorite small to medium-sized shrubs.

Evergreen shrubs aren’t always green. One of my favorites is the Loropetalum family of shrubs which range in color from an olive green to burgundy and even deep purple leaves. It’s also known commonly as Chinese fringe flower and comes in a wide variety of sizes from 2-4 feet tall and wide to as much as 6-10 feet tall and wide. There are many different color options from which to choose. The color of the leaves on some varieties can also vary depending on the light and soil conditions where they are planted. The shrub’s beautiful wispy, fringe-like pink blooms appear at various times throughout the year. I have several varieties, the small, ground cover-like ‘Purple Pixie,’ and a medium-sized variety, ‘Daruma.’ I also have a larger, mystery variety, which I have pruned up as a small tree. I’ve found them to be fairly drought tolerant once established and pest and disease free.

There are several variegated varieties of abelia that are my go-to shrubs. ‘Kaleidoscope,’ ‘Twist of Lime,’ and ‘Hinkley’s’ abelias are great for adding contrast and light into a bed. With varying degrees of lime and cream in the leaves, and some with rust-tinged edges in the fall, these three varieties are small- to medium-sized shrubs that grow about 4-5 feet tall and wide. They have white blooms several times through the year. There are many other abelias – with glossy, dark green leaves, with pink blooms, and much larger varieties of plants as well.

And no list of evergreen shrubs in Central Texas would be complete without Dwarf Yaupon Holly. This tough-as-nail plant doesn’t even miss a beat in our hot, dry summers. Compact and a nice medium size of 2-4 feet tall and wide, dwarf yaupon holly rarely needs pruning as it grows naturally into a very orderly-shaped orb.

Dwarf ‘Cream De Mint’ Pittosporum adds another interesting element to the landscape – a different form than many other common shrubs. This pale green and cream leaf is larger and somewhat rounded. Its growth habit is dense and compact and requires little upkeep. This can also be pruned into an interesting understory plant.

I’ve been growing the Leatherleaf Mahonia in my garden for quite some time now. It’s a spiky, upright shrub that’s right at home among cacti and agaves and yuccas and produces cool yellow bloom spikes in winter, followed by tiny, bluish black berries. Several years ago I had an opportunity to trial a different variety, the ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia. They couldn’t be more different. The “Soft Caress’ looks like its name. Fine leaves drape delicately from this small shrub, providing a soft look in a shady garden. While it produces similar blooms and berries, it’s welcome and inviting, offering a beautiful contrast to woodier shrubs with waxy or stiff leaves.

I often mix in shrubs with variegated leaves, interesting forms, or colors other than green, to provide contrast in the garden. When landscape beds contain several layers of shrubs, all with medium-sized, glossy green leaves, none of the plants can stand out and shine it’s just a wall of green. When the combination contains one such shrub, but the other shrubs or plants are variegated or have dramatically different leaves, colors, leaf finish, forms or textures, it adds depth to the entire bed, enabling you to distinguish each unique plant from the others.

Once established, most of these shrubs are average to low water users. That means they will need a little more watering in the beginning to get them going, depending on the time of year in which you plant.

So, if you’re thinking of refreshing your landscape this spring, start with some unique foundation shrubs as the building blocks to enhancing your curb appeal.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach, Diana Kirby, provides landscaping tips on Facebook at Diana’s Designs, at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com and writes a garden blog at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com.

By | 2017-11-29T23:26:57+00:00 January 23rd, 2016|Articles|0 Comments

June Tip: Partner up colors in the garden

IMG_3584

Everyone has a favorite color and certainly your garden should be a reflection of your taste and style. But putting together a pleasing and successful color palette challenges many a gardener. And, in spite of careful planning, sometimes volunteer plants pop up in places they weren’t planted or a perennial’s bloom isn’t what quite as it was advertised.

When the wrong colors meet up in the landscape, it’s sometimes enough to make you shield your eyes.

With a little careful planning, pruning and a color wheel, you can use color in your landscape to provide unity and set the mood in your outdoor haven.

Read the full article.

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:06+00:00 June 28th, 2014|Tips|Comments Off on June Tip: Partner up colors in the garden

Partner up colors in the garden

txaas_masthead

color in the landscape

Color is the most conspicuous element in the landscape. It’s what others notice when they visit and it’s how we plan on our forays to local nurseries.  It sets the mood that permeates the landscape and often defines its purpose.

Everyone has a favorite color and certainly your garden should be a reflection of your taste and style. But putting together a pleasing and successful color palette challenges many a gardener. And, in spite of careful planning, sometimes volunteer plants pop up in places they weren’t planted or a perennial’s bloom isn’t what quite as it was advertised.

When the wrong colors meet up in the landscape, it’s sometimes enough to make you shield your eyes.

With a little careful planning, pruning and a color wheel, you can use color in your landscape to provide unity and set the mood in your outdoor haven.

colorwheelSir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colors – the color wheel – in 1666. His work on color theory provided a logical structure for the relationship between colors.

A successful grouping of colors creates harmony – a pleasing arrangement of landscaping plants.  It also affects how we view spatial relationships among colors.

Yellows, oranges and reds are defined as “warm” colors, whereas blues, purples and greens are considered “cool” colors. Warm colors pop out at you in the garden and sometimes feel closer than they are.  The cooler colors tend to recede and seem farther away in the landscape. For example, cool colors in a border around a small back yard can draw they eye back and make the space seem larger than it actually it.

Warm colors evoke an active, vibrant mood in the garden. Hues of blues have a more calming, peaceful effect. Interior designers often choose shades of blue for decorating bedrooms for the same reason. The palette in a garden can reveal volumes about the nature and style of its gardener.

There are many possible combinations of colors that make successful pairings or groupings when using the color wheel.

Complementary colors:  These simple combos create a vibrant look in the garden.  Complementary colors are those directly across from one another on the color wheel.  These combos are easy to work with when you’re planning your landscape if you remember that opposites attract.

Secondary colors:  These groupings are created by forming an equidistant triangle on the color wheel. However, not all three colors can be dominant.  One color should provide the focal point, allowing the other two to sing backup in the landscape.

Analogous colors:  These 3 colors appear directly next to each other on the wheel and are considered different hues in the same color families.  These pairings complement a monochromatic-style design.

Many more color theory combinations exist, these three are the most commonly used.

The most transient of the elements in the landscape, color wanes and evolves throughout the seasons. Brilliant foliage in spring and bright blooms in summer often recede in fall and winter to more muted tones. For an all-season garden, look at your beds with a critical eye in the off seasons as well. Consider the changing color palette and how you can add a few carefully selected plants to make your garden pop year-round.

Planning with these design simple guidelines will bring added depth and dimension to your landscape. It will allow your plants to stand out, showcased against neighboring plants of complementary colors and hues.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach Diana Kirby provides landscaping tips at http:/www.dianasdesignsaustin.com and writes a garden blog at https://www.dianasdesignsaustin.com

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:06+00:00 June 28th, 2014|Articles|Comments Off on Partner up colors in the garden

May Tip: Add texture to garden with plants, trees, stones

Lamb's ear

To achieve harmony and add interest to your garden this summer, consider the role of texture in your landscape. Texture is how coarse or fine the surface of plant or hardscape material feels and looks.

A broad range of plant textures will affect the overall balance in your garden, giving it context.  Mixing textures is important so you can tell where one plant or area begins and another ends. One of my favorite plant pairings is a large, structural agave next to soft, billowy feather grasses that move with the wind.

Texture also makes a garden more inviting. I never pass by lamb’s ear in a garden without reaching out to touch its soft, velvety leaves, and the gentle rustle of grassed and seed heads is music in the garden.

Read the full article.

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:06+00:00 May 24th, 2014|Tips|Comments Off on May Tip: Add texture to garden with plants, trees, stones