There’s been a big trend over the past 25 years to let our landscapes take on a more natural look. But I’m not really sure there’s widespread understanding of what that really means. It’s much more than native plants and xeriscaping. In fact, those may not look really natural in this part of North Texas.
To my eye, a natural-looking landscape is essentially free of straight lines, squares and cubes. Nature works more in curves, clusters and masses, and that’s what I’m going to try to impart here today. I’m going to use my own landscape as my sketchpad. If I do my job right, you might end up with a more pleasing garden design that actually takes a lot less work to maintain. I grew up pruning 100 feet of privet hedge every Saturday. I loved gardening. I loathed trimming privets.
My own garden design is an amalgamation of fine gardens I’ve seen in my life. I’m a garden design thief. We all are. We make note of what looks good — of what we like. And we plan our own gardens accordingly.
I used a garden hose to lay out curved beds across the front of our house, then I separated the bark-mulched beds from our St. Augustine with green baked enamel edging. As a passageway from one “room” to the next I used concrete steppingstones through the bark. That worked well for many years.
I’m a great impulse buyer, however, and one day I was in a wrought-iron sales yard in Frisco and I came across a glorious arch for a crazy low price. I bought it, brought it home and sprayed it with lacquer to keep the rust from rubbing off. It’s been adding more curves to its space ever since — 10 years and counting.
I’ve also replaced the original stones with some that we’ve made using wooden forms filled with concrete ready-mix into which I pressed rock salt and a few dramatic leaves for the “fossilized” look. (I used a rock hammer to knock off the sharp edges of the stones the next day after they were poured and removed from the reusable forms.)
As we carried that walk through to other parts of our garden, I had to build in “notches” to let it bend around corners. I filled them with dwarf mondograss or bark mulch, and I planted clusters of rounded shrubs and informal ground cover alongside. This is actually the third place these stones have called home in our landscape. We made these almost 30 years ago after I stole the idea (another act of thievery) from a Napa Valley winery. As I’ve gotten older and wiser (and considerably less interested in maintaining a huge landscape), I’ve pulled our gardens back in closer to the house, and that gave me the chance to repurpose these stones. I love it when I can create my own patina!
There are a couple of areas in our landscape that date back even further, and they, too, employ pavers and curves. In our back yard we have absolutely no direct sunlight, so shade-tolerant ground covers are an absolute must. I’ve used Persian ivy in the better-drained areas, regular mondograss, liriope, purple wintercreeper euonymus and several other ground covers and a nice mix of hollies and other shade-tolerant shrubs.
For the sake of mobility, since we can’t get grass to grow and since we can’t walk on the ground covers, I was looking for some type of brick pavers. I was driving in a North Texas town one day, and I saw them digging up one of their old streets to lay in new sewer lines. They were taking up fabulous 120-year-old pavers, so I called city hall. They said they’d be willing to sell them, so I bought enough to build a sweeping 150-foot walk through the garden. I laid 10 feet of walk each night until I had the job done. They’re quite heavy to start with, and I laid them on their sides on a 2-inch bed of packed sand. They’re absolutely rock-stable.
And finally, in absolutely the reverse order, when we moved into our home in a rural area of the Metroplex 40 years ago, all the county roads were white rock. There was little reason to pave our driveway, because white caliche rock tracks like glue and deposits all over the ground during wet weather. But once the county paved our road, we were ready for an upgrade. I wanted interlocking concrete pavers. I loved their look, but I couldn’t figure out how to design them into our heavily wooded landscape.
I called on the help of two really good friends, landscape architects of the highest regard and business partners Richard Myrick and Gene Newman. I learned more from them as they did our driveway design than I did in any two of my college horticulture courses combined. Our drive has tens of thousands of pavers, and no two are in straight line with one another. The entire driveway is a constantly flowing curve.
So curves abound at our place and in our plantings. They look natural to my eye, and perhaps they’ll give you some ideas you, too, can steal for your own enjoyment. I’d be flattered if you did.