The Whole 9 Yards
With all the attention “Going Green” has generated among homeowners and builders, there has been a tendency to concentrate too much on the house. The land around even the simplest home offers many opportunities. With a well- produced landscaping project, anyone can help keep their energy costs down while also increasing the value of their property.
Here are a few simple tips to help improve your land:
Talk to the Experts
There are many resources in the Central Texas area that can show you which native plants thrive in your unique setting. Local nurseries and experienced landscapers are always a good start, but why not also take in an afternoon at the Zilker Botanical Gardens or the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center? Besides being a great family activity, you will get firsthand knowledge of the beautiful and hardy plants that love our heat and work with our soil.
Water is Precious
The one aspect of the Texas weather we can all agree on is that it gets dry sometimes. Really dry. And in addition to that, our droughts can last weeks to months at a time. With this in mind, select plants that will cover the most area while using the least amount of water. Another cheap trick is to place rain barrels at the end of your gutters to use for watering your garden and lawn. But one important thing to keep
in mind: We have mosquitoes! So place what are called “mosquito dunks” in the water and you will have your own reservoir without those pesky, unwelcome guests. Any local nursery or gardening center should carry rain barrels, and mosquito dunks are available at your local hardware store.
Be a Caretaker of the Land
Composting to create your own mulch is a key part to a green landscape. Although most people love to recycle their kitchen and yard waste, most are also reluctant to hoard a pile of trash in the corner of their lawn. Luckily, we all live in 2011. A wide variety of compost bins can be purchased ready-made for backyard use.
The basic function of the compost bin is to provide insulation against the Texas heat and to retain the moisture to help the breakdown of organic material. For most homeowners, an enclosed bin offers a clean appearance, low cost and you don’t have to flip the compost pile!
For the more ambitious, using redworms in a worm bin provides the richest organic soil conditioner. The upside is great mulch and a constant source of live-bait if you are an avid fisher. The downside is worms prefer 40 to 80 degree weather year-round, which might get tricky in our sweltering summers.
For most people though, an enclosed bin is prefect for creating your own mulch without an unsightly heap and none of the fuss of flipping the pile. Enclosed compost bins can be found at nurseries, building centers and hardware stores.
Designing Your Green Landscape
Since water conservation is a major issue in our area, the City of Austin has launched a new website tailored to help us all design and certify green landscaping. They also provide fact sheets for information on creating a green garden for either the do-it-yourselfer or for those working with a landscape professional.
Please visit www.ci.austin.tx.us/growgreen to see helpful hints and even ready-to-use design templates!
Sustainable Gardening: Building A Community
Austin’s first community garden was established in 1975, just around the time that forward-thinking Austinites were becoming aware of the benefits of organic, locally grown food. Thirty-six years later, the greater nutritional value and fresher flavor of local, organic produce is well known, and Austin boasts 10 active community gardens.
Austin’s community gardens are overseen by the Sustainable Food Center, an umbrella organization dedicated to promoting access to healthy food options. Through work with community and school gardens, workshops and technical assistance, the Sustainable Food Center provides support and know-how to help get community gardens started.
So what exactly do community gardens do? Community gardens transform vacant, blighted urban lots into places of beauty and abundance. Most gardeners grow more than
they can use, and the Sustainable Food Center encourages (and facilitates) sharing the overflow with food pantries, schools and low-income neighbors. As the community builds the garden, the garden builds the community in a symbiotic way.
“Everyone comes together in a spirit of cooperation, rather than competition,” says Susan Leibrock, community relations director at the Sustainable Food Center.
Leibrock says the community garden is a lot more than just a garden.
“A community garden usually ends up being 10 percent gardening and 90 percent community organizing,” Leibrock affirms. “When neighbors get together, they realize they can accomplish things!”
Austin’s relentless growth has put some established community gardens in jeopardy, as vacant lots are being sold and developed. Fortunately, the gardens have proven to be such catalysts for positive change that the Parks and Recreation Department is considering allowing community gardens on city- owned property.
“Maintaining pressure on the City Council to plan for community gardens, and to change some of the ordinances regarding them is our next challenge,” Banks explains. “Communities thrive where community gardens bring residents together.”
For more information regarding the Sustainable Food Center, visit www.sustainablefoodcenter.org.
Keep the size of your plants proportional to the house and environment around you, i.e., smaller plants for smaller spaces, larger plants for larger spaces.
EVERGREEN & DECIDUOUS PLANTS
Having only evergreen plants creates a static, unchanging landscape, yet deciduous plants often have no winter appeal. Use a combination of both.
Coarse-textured plants have large sturdy leaves that stand still and silent; fine- textured plants have feathery leaves that dance in the wind. Use a combination for diversity in your yard.
Choose plants for interest in each season-structure, like berries and bark for winter or flowers and foliage for the rest of the year.
If flowers aren’t in season it is still possible to have a colorful landscape by using plants with different foliage color.
Zilker Botanical Gardens
2220 Barton Springs Rd. Austin, TX 78746
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
4801 La Crosse Ave. Austin, Texas 78739