Native Texan Puts Down More Roots

by | Mar 1, 2016 | People

Nanette Whitten. Photo: Jo Ann Santangelo

Nanette Whitten. PHOTO Jo Ann Santangelo


FIVE YEARS AGO, Nanette Whitten purchased 6 acres east of Temple, Texas that consisted of Johnson grass and a few natives surrounded by corn and cotton fields. The retired 66-year-old set out to restore the land to a blackland prairie and have some fun along the way. Whitten recently supplied grasses for two Fort Worth restoration projects involving the Wildflower Center: Bluestem Park in Alliance Town Center and the Trailhead at Clearfork. I sat down with her to learn more.

First, tell us what it’s like where you live.

Where I live is very peaceful and open, and I’m surrounded by nice folks. When I moved here, there was a 12-by-24-foot storage shed. I converted that to my house, and it’s really nice, with a full bathroom and kitchen. I recently bought a 16-by-10- foot building that has a long porch – that’s my exercise room. I do cardio or weight training five days a week. If I don’t stay healthy and strong, I can’t do what I do, and I would go nuts.

How is your restoration project going?

I have 1.5 acres planted with prairie, and I’m going to expand that every year. It’s a lot of work, but good work. This piece of property is going to be the “rest of my life” work.

I hear you are using some interesting restoration techniques. Could you describe them?

I lay down a couple of layers of cardboard in an area and then about 4 inches of mulch on top. It’s amazing how much moisture it holds in. Earthworms love it, and it keeps the weeds down. The cardboard breaks down in about three years. I’m a great fan of cardboard. I can’t do these spots for the whole prairie but just start small and keep expanding and transplanting into them. With prairie plants, if there is good soil moisture the transplants can be watered once; otherwise they need to be watered until they take hold.

When did you start growing grasses?

I started growing grasses just a couple of years ago. I grow them in raised rings made from used tree pots and syrup tubs. I’ve grown little bluestem, Indian grass, Texas cup grass and sideoats grama. Last fall, Alliance bought 400 plants from me. Then Michelle Bright [Center environmental designer] bought plants for the Trailhead’s Fitness Center project in Fort Worth.

Why are you interested in native grasses and prairies?

I’ve been interested in environmental things for most of my life. We’ve done so much to alter the landscape in ways that aren’t good. For biodiversity and with the water situation upon us now, things need to change. So growing these plants and getting them out there seems like a good thing. Most people don’t have awareness of these plants. The farmers think I’m an odd duck.

Final words of wisdom?

I do not have a television and have not for years, and I read for two or three hours daily