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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - February 23, 2012

From: Plano, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Lists
Title: Landscape planning in Plano TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I am devouring everything on your website and am so grateful that you put your knowledge and experience out there for all of us. Thank you!! I am trying to make a landscape plan for our Plano, TX backyard that is safe for children and pets. I value it being organic, native, sustainable, productive, and attractive which seems in and of itself to be a tall order to fill. When I add in purpose in each area (privacy, shade) and then the microclimate (sun, soil), it seems to become an impossible task. And that doesn't even take into account my own preferences or style (which, coincidentally, is natural and romantic). Are there some example plans available that will help to make this process easier? I've found plenty of planting guides for flower gardens, but I haven't found any for trees and shrubs. In their absence, do you have any other suggestions on what will make the design process easier? I'm very grateful for your assistance!

ANSWER:

If you are wondering if you could get such a plan, maybe online, and free, we doubt it and we certainly would not recommend it. We will give you a tutorial in using the resources of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to help you design your own. Before we do that, allow us to offer our philosophy of gardening. You are not decorating a house. You are not gardening to impress. Plants are not furniture, and none of them look good year round. Think of your property as your environment. Are you economizing on water, a very scarce resource in Texas? Are you using plants native to North Central Texas, which impose less of a burden on resources? Are you able to care properly for the plants you have, pulling out the weeds, keeping areas clean, hand watering, if necessary?

These are all question you need to ask yourself, and then start making your own landscape plan. And, remember, "garden" is a verb. There is real work involved, no matter what you do, and maintenance is forever, so don't get carried away and too complicated. A messy, overgrown yard is unattractive, no matter how much thought and money and water have gone into it.

You say you are familiar with our website, and we truly appreciate your kind words. We have several How-To Articles as well as Step-by-Step instructions, and we hope you will read them as you come to problems related to the subject matter. Please begin with How-To Articles A Guide to Native Plant Gardening and Caring for Your New Native Plants.

1.  Begin with what you already have. No doubt you have something, whether it's what you like or not, but trying to totally replace an entire garden in one fell swoop is not only very chaotic, but expensive..

2.  Now for the basics, make a map (not necessarily scale) of your area, with buildings, existing trees, sidewalk, driveway sketched in. Watch the amount of sun each part gets for several days, because that is a significant factor in plant selection. Every plant in our Native Plant Database will tell you what the light and water needs of that plant are. You need to include shade from structures, existing plants, etc. We consider "sun" to be 6 or more hours of sunlight a day, "part shade" 2 to 6 hours of sun, and "shade" 2 hours or less.

2.  Determine what areas you will be able to water, either with sprinkler system or hand watering. Although you are now out of drought conditions, weather in Texas never stops surprising us-be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.

3.  Start with the big stuff first, and plan on trees or large shrubs you want, moving on next to the lawn and blooming plants. Using your sun/shade map, make selections from our Special Collections, Plants for the Blackland Prairies of Texas. Plano is squarely in that area, but the Cross Timbers and Prairies area intermixes with that.

As you progress with selections of plants and locations, buy a box of colored pencils and start making sketches of what plants will be blooming at what times, with the background of house or fence, etc. and see how it's going to look. Oh, go on, how do you think Monet got started?

 

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