Creating Tomorrow’s Garden Today!

Things have changed a lot since I was a kid and had the job to rake leaves from under shrubs to tidy up. As an adult, I’ve watched gardening philosophy among the backyard populace—mine included—gradually head back to the sustainable practices followed by our forebears.

Since I planted my first tree, a crape myrtle barely bigger than a twig, its ever-increasing island bed and girth reflects my own growth: to native plants, habitat invitations, and lawn reduction (still in progress!). And yes, I leave my leaves that helped turn clay dirt clods into productive soil.

Crape in bloom in island bed

Many of us no longer chase away insects with pesticides. Instead, we encourage them with food in all forms, reveling in discoveries that eluded us in homogenous landscapes reeking of chemicals.

Gulf Fritillary chrysalis on manfreda
In fact, these days, we plant milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) just to get eaten by caterpillars! Their flowers attract many butterflies to nectar, but their most significant role is in the leaves.  Migratory Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on Asclepias leaves. Hatching caterpillars chomp away. The plants will recover to contribute to a new generation of butterflies!

Asclepias curassavica
And yes indeed, milkweeds attract Oleander aphids. But these yellow guys are just as selective, and won’t bother your other plants (other than oleanders).  They are important, too. For one thing, they attract parasitic wasps that use them as a nursery to lay their eggs. For another: the ladybug cleaning crew will come right over and stick around to make sure every plant is thoroughly vacuumed.

My native pigeonberry (Rivina humilis), a drought-tough low grower for dry shade, supports all kinds of wildlife with flowers and fruit.

Pigeonberry berries
Butterflies, moths, various insects and hummingbirds love my Turk’s caps (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) flowers. Birds and nocturnal mammals snag the fruits.

Turk's cap Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii
Robin Howard Moore, co-owner of Howard’s Nursery until it closed a few years ago, really saw the swing from annual bedding plants to perennials, especially natives. In her home garden, she liberally plants coneflowers in sunny spots to attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

Gorgeous coneflowers
Instead of planting bulbs for just one spring season, we go for naturalizing ones, including bulbs for fall and summer, too. I have lots of rain lilies, including Habranthus robustus, beloved by bees. Its neighbor, young Agastache ‘Tutti-Frutti’, will attract hummingbirds to frame our den window.

Rain lily Habranthus robustus with Agastache 'Tutti-Frutti'

Stephen Orr chronicles this change of philosophy throughout the country in his powerful narrative and photographs in Tomorrow’s Garden: Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening.

Stephen Orr's Tomorrow's Garden
This week on CTG, we are thrilled to see him in person for his very insightful stories and perceptions!

Tom Spencer and Stephen Orr

Stephen features several Austin gardens in Tomorrow’s Garden.  But his book journeys far beyond creative designs from around the country. Through thoughtful narrative and photography, he illustrates how America is gardening today: on rooftops, along curbsides in troubled neighborhoods, in vegetable gardens, and with chickens! He includes helpful plant lists, how-to instructions, and eye-opening facts on sustainable materials.

Here’s a front yard garden I drive by every morning. I just had to stop when the artichokes starting blooming.

artichoke flower
Recently, CTG visited Ellie Hanlon’s young garden, where she frames edibles with ornamentals to attract pollinators, and water to attract everybody!

stock pond in vegetable and ornamental garden

These days, she doesn’t interplant edibles and ornamentals. With Austin’s water restrictions, she got an official variance for her vegetable garden (though she’s very thrifty, and waters from her rain barrels when there’s rain!). She set up separate valves on her drip system to accommodate everyone once a week and a just-edibles mid-week dose when irrigation is needed.

In Tomorrow’s Garden, Stephen includes many beautiful examples of front yard gardens that replaced grass. Here’s my visit to Master Gardeners Robin & Ann Matthews’ recent makeover to lose the  lawn.

front yard no lawn design austin

And in Kyle, Ida Bujan replaced grass on an awkward front yard slope with butterfly nectar and larval plants: groundcover frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) and upright Zexmenia (Wedelia texana).

frogfruit and zexmenia replacing lawn
On tour, CTG heads to San Antonio’s historic King William district.  When Gary Woods planned his green-built home around courtyards, landscape designer Elizabeth McGreevy united indoor and outdoor spaces with an equally sustainable garden. Except for brand new plants, Gary didn’t use one drop of water in horrendous 2011!

One of their selections is Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra), Daphne’s Pick of the Week. This native shrub/small tree belongs in every waterwise garden today! Here’s one of mine against a bay laurel.

Barbados cherry with bay laurel

Barbados cherry flowers
The little fruits (edible for us) greatly assist hungry birds and mammals in summer and fall. This incredible specimen belongs to Ida Bujan.

Barbardos cherries galore
Another thing that’s changed is how we fertilize. This week at Lake Austin Spa Resort, Trisha demonstrates how to make compost tea. And check out her great trick to disperse it or organic granular fertilizers with sunken nursery pots between plants.

compost tea how-to
Last, but certainly not least, is awareness of our soil. Daphne explains how to get the dirt on your soil with the USDA’s web soil survey.

Have fun in your garden today until I see you next week! Linda