Let plants show you where to grow
A natural look takes less work. Letting plants spill over edges and grow in cracks not only lowers your maintenance but also makes hardscape areas softer and more inviting.
To increase the natural look of our garden and to decrease the maintenance we do, we let our plants show us where they like to grow. We encourage selfsowing because it not only creates a more natural pattern to the garden but also teaches us what conditions a plant enjoys or tolerates. Zexmenia (Zexmenia hispida, Zones 8–10) is one of the most dependable flowers for long-lasting summer color, and its habit of reseeding lends a natural permanence to the garden. Mexican feather grass (Nasella tenuissima, Zones 7–11), tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis, Zones 7–11), and Dahlberg daisies (Thymophylla tenuiloba, annual) have seeded themselves in the natural decomposed granite pathway, making the entryway more inviting.
We also learn where to place our plants by observing where they grow in nature. You can’t get any better than what nature provides; you just need to open your eyes. We’ve found yellow columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana, Zones 3–9), northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium, Zones 5–9), and spiderwort (Tradescantia x andersoniana, Zones 5–9) growing in the wild under a grand old tree. We’ve chosen to use these plants under yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria, Zones 7–11) and crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia spp. and cvs., Zones 7–9) to create a colorful shade garden with a mix of native woodland plants.
Our plants reveal the different microclimates in our garden. We adjust our design if we notice that a plant reaches into or out of the sun, that something pouts in the heat, or that a plant rots due to poor drainage. As we become more familiar with these microclimates, we choose plants that are naturally suited to similar situations.
Our courtyard is one area with a distinct microclimate. It is protected from the north wind and maintains slightly higher temperatures throughout winter. We take advantage of this by using plants that need things a little warmer, like prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp., Zone 11) and false aloe (Manfreda virginica, Zones 6–9).
In the front yard, desert willows (Chilopsis linearis, Zones 8–9) and catalpas (Catalpa bignonioides and cvs., Zones 5–9) create filtered shade. It provides relief from the hot Texas sun for the ‘May Night’ meadow sage (Salvia x sylvestris ‘May Night’, Zones 5–9). The willows and catalpas also provide a flowering canopy of color and nectar for wildlife.