An attunement to the natural setting is the first step in my landscape design process. In the case of a home landscape, the ideal scenario involves the home itself synchronized with the native ecosystem. There are often pleasant vistas, beautiful specimen trees, valuable native plant species, or rock formations to preserve or accentuate.
You may wish to add features such as a deck, patio, pool, dog run, vegetable garden, orchard, evoke a certain mood or theme, or encourage wildlife. In other cases, there may be unsightly views to screen, a desire for more privacy, drainage problems, or the need for a better traffic circulation pattern. If all elements coalesce, a well planned landscape can greatly extend the usable space of the home.
My designs evolve in a natural, flowing style, with an emphasis on xeric and deer-resistant plants to make the landscape as care-free as possible. More and more we need relief from the constructed, manufactured environment, but when structures or hard-scape elements come into play, local Hill Country materials such as limestone, granite, cedar, etc., are cost effective and fit well with the surroundings.
I encourage my customers to minimize maintenance-intensive lawn areas, and to use organic methods that avoid toxic chemicals. I also recommend not doing the common thing of eliminating cedar trees. Cedar trees (Juniperus ashei) when growing along with oaks are vital to a local endangered songbird, the golden-cheeked warbler, and other regional species such as the scrub jay. If a dense stand of cedars is to be thinned, it is best to focus upon retaining the female trees, as their berries are an important food source for many types of wildlife.
Similarly, what to the untrained eye may appear as “brush” or “weeds” may contain a wealth of native shrubs, prairie plants, or wildflowers. In many cases, a little judicious thinning or pruning may be all that’s needed to find an alluring trail of discovery into our natural environment. Add a path, a bench, a trickling fountain, a sculpture, additional plants of striking form or color, or some of my landscape planters, and you may find yourself already living in paradise!
The Hill Country offers beautiful scenery, a varied and fascinating environment, and also many challenges to the landscaper and gardener. My focus is helping in the creation of ecologically sustainable landscapes that will endure with as little care as possible.
Ideally, a home site evolves in harmony with the terrain, the natural drainage patterns and vegetation, and also takes advantage of pleasant vistas, specimen trees, valuable native plants, or rock formations. It may be necessary to screen unsightly views or to provide privacy with strategically placed trees, walls, fences, trellises, or shrubs. A good site layout addresses practical needs, such as circulation and special use areas, as well as primal needs, such as shelter from the elements or a sense of enclosure or expansion. Connections between the interior and exterior of the home can be made more successful with inviting entries, pleasing views, or focal points. Providing a bench, arbor, deck, or patio in an appropriate spot may extend the usable space of the home.
More and more, we need relief from the constructed, manufactured environment. I like to compose plantings that offer varied textures, forms, and accents of color throughout the year. For fabricated landscape features, I tend to use indigenous materials such as native limestone and cedar, or compatible gravels, stained concrete, or wrought iron. Elements like these, as well as carefully selected art objects, add permanent notes to the otherwise growing and changing qualities of a garden of plants.
Xeriscape and oasis gardening are imortant landscaping techniques for the efficient use of water, as well as low-maintenance and deer-resistant landscaping. Other options I emphasize are the use of water features and containerized plantings as accents, a reliance upon native and wildlife friendly plants, edible landscaping, organic methods rather than the use of toxic chemicals, and matrix plantings that combine different types of plants in self-perpetuating communities. I discuss all of these techniques in my book, A Hill Country Nature Book, which is published in the hope of increasing knowledge and appreciation for our local natural wonders. I feel that in wild Nature, and also in the garden, we return to our origins and connect with the web of life.