At the dusty end of a heat-blasted summer, a garden's beauty is best measured in terms of what's left standing.
But while it has grown obvious that Texas natives and drought-resistant plants go a long way toward providing color and inspiration in devastating heat, how do they perform the rest of the year? We may be most vocal in our complaints about summer's inferno, but North Texas weather can be equally unforgiving in the sleet of January or flash floods of spring.
Because our zone is notoriously fickle, gardeners in the know do not expect pat answers for success or believe that all-native plantings guarantee year-round perfection. In search of the sweet spot -- garden performers that stand up to the heat, but also tolerate the cold to come back strong in the spring -- we went to experts Michael and Lorie Kinler, trained and knowledgeable landscape architects with a pragmatic eye for enduring beauty.
When dirt dabblers and newcomers demand that the Kinlers deliver a magical formula for all-blooms-all-the-time success, the good-natured couple smile. Then they educate, kindly and gently opening the eyes of those who love the natural world to possibilities, not guarantees.
Michael Kinler calls their Fort Worth home garden "a sort of experimental lab, where we try a lot of stuff to see what works." As a result, they bring years of tried-and-true experience to the design services they provide through Redenta's Garden centers in Arlington and Dallas (founder Ruth Kinler is Michael's mother). Often, clients who thought they wanted classically manicured hedges of hollies and hawthorn come to desire a garden that will be less static and instead evolve into something unique to its time, place and tending.
The Kinlers feel that the most successful gardens are an organic illustration of a project's sum being greater than its parts. Their designs are staged like a play; rarely does every character perform at once. As something blooms and draws the spotlight, something else throttles back. This gives a garden a sort of motion, a gentle, rolling display of delights through the seasons. But the designers also advise gardeners to find what works best for them by and following the garden's lead.
"It's nature," Michael Kinler says. "It's going to do what it wants to do."
As Lorie Kinler says, "It's about balance. It all has to work together. You will find plants that perform well over a period of time, in shade and sun, more and less water. If you use all drought-resistant plants, then you have to worry about too much water when you have a wet spring."
Both Kinlers suggest that gardeners imagine the possibilities, then be open to solutions they didn't imagine.