When I sit down to write my column for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, I think first of the great people of the beautiful city of Fort Worth and all of its suburbs. That is, after all, the core service area of this historic newspaper.
And then I realize that the paper’s coverage area extends scores of miles beyond to all the developing counties and cities around. So, I think about those places and people as well.
Finally, I realize that there are subscribers hundreds of miles away in far different settings that also take the Star Telegram. I think about you, too, but for purposes of this story, I’m fine-tuning my thinking to North Central Texas.
With that somewhat rambling preamble, my topic for today is “creating a natural landscape.” I hear that desire many times a week. People tell me that’s their goal, but when they show me photographs of what they’d like to achieve, I’m looking at things that certainly don’t look like Fort Worth, its suburbs or the surrounding counties. They don’t look natural to our area. They look more like rocky outcroppings from the mountains of far southwest Texas.
We live in what was the Grand Prairie of Texas. It was vast grasslands, a few of which still exist. They extended from the Midwest down into Central Texas pretty much along what would become the I-35 corridor. There were rolling hillsides interrupted by occasional forests. Rocky outcroppings were reserved for eroding streambeds where rushing runoff cut through the black clay to expose layers of limestone.
In basic terms, it was a simple “natural landscape” that awaited the first humans 1,000 years ago. When I try to create a “natural landscape” around my home, that’s what I’m keeping in mind.
Some things to consider …
My wife and I have lived on 11 rural acres here in the Metroplex for the past 45 years. These are some of the ways that I’ve learned to keep my landscape looking as natural as possible.
▪ When planting new shade trees I choose types that are native to my area. I want my home to look like it and the landscape all grew up together. The fastest way I can make a landscape look like it was just brought in from afar would be to plant things that don’t look right for the area. I use live oaks, Shumard red oaks, Chinquapin oaks and bur oaks, cedar elms, pecans, redbuds, Mexican plums and eastern redcedars.
▪ If I need a privacy screen, I plant eastern redcedars, native to our area, on 18- to 20-foot centers in a zigzag pattern so they look like they just happened naturally. I start with knee-high seedlings that I transplant in mid-winter while they are dormant. Nellie R. Stevens hollies can also work well, but again, on irregular spacings.
▪ I try not to plant anything in straight rows. Nature doesn’t do that (except for hackberry trees planted along a fence row by birds).
▪ Formal shearing doesn’t look natural. I choose plants that grow to the height and width that I want and then stay there with only occasional trimming to correct erratic growth. Above all, I avoid highly sculpted and “poodled” plants.
▪ When building berms for privacy, sound deadening or to direct flow of water or wind, I do so with gentle swoops of soil. Other than fire ant mounds, nature doesn’t leave us with globs of soil rising abruptly out of the earth. The mounds need to be low and they should taper gently into the surface.
And, when you get ready to landscape your berm, keep that simple, too. Don’t plant tall shrubs or trees down the top spines of the berms like you’ll see some people doing. For one thing that makes it difficult to water the plants. All the irrigation runs off.
Second, strictly from the aspect of wanting your landscape to look natural, you’ll seldom see large plants growing atop hills in nature. They’re usually down the slopes a bit, where the seeds have washed and gotten caught in a small draw. Water was more abundant there, so the seed sprouted and the plant thrived.
▪ When I’m building retaining walls or bringing in boulders or river rock, I try to match what exists in my area. I’m in an area where limestone is predominant, so I’m not as interested in buying orange/red stone that will be prominently visible in my garden design. It just wouldn’t look like it belonged there.
▪ My wife and I live in a pecan/red oak forest. It was that way when we bought our property in 1971, and the trees have just gotten larger in the 50 years since. However, I’ve also learned an important lesson during that time. Some of the old trees have died or become weakened. We’ve had to take those trees out. If I (or my ancestors) were to continue on this current pattern for another 50 years, our property would be headed back toward being a grassland. You have to have some young trees coming along in the forest. When you have a landscape, too often you’re busy thinking about pulling all the weeds, tree seedlings included. So, that natural look also includes reforestation.