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Another Declaration of Independence

Now is an excellent time to state another declaration of independence. It includes truths which have not, unfortunately, been self-evident. They are: 1) all landscapes are not created equal and should not be clones of each other; 2) a landscape is most efficient when it comes closest to the climax flora of its region; and 3) ease of maintenance provides much independence.

ôKing Lawn" has made weekend slaves of too many and our landscapes monotonous.  It can be said that our lawns are quite American and egalitarian in the manner they bind us to a community. Their uninterrupted spread, unhindered by property lines, echoes shared values and standards. But that lock-step march of rhizomes attempts, at great cost, to disregard soils and climate. Suburban lawns from Los Angeles to Phoenix to Atlanta to New York do look quite similar. But their water bills do not.

Lawns crept out of large English estates into the middle-class Victorian aesthetic in an island where turf grows rather well. Transplanted across the Atlantic in the decades after the War to Prevent Southern Independence, lawns grew in the cooler and wetter zones of the Northeast. But, many factors, one being the increasing popularity of golf, ensured lawns would take root throughout the land, wherever civic pride and appropriate seed came together. 

What happened to American individuality in this case? Self-expression was limited to the selection and extent of foundation shrubbery. A nation of free thinkers was left with the option of boxwood or holly. Some choice!

My rebellion against the Lawn Cult began thirty years ago. The most colorful result of that militancy are the many landscapes I have designed in the last twenty years. The second most colorful was my Live Oak, Texas wildflower landscape. The City of Live Oak charged me with growing weeds and we went to trial in the summer of 1990. The jury, who knew the difference between weeds and wildflowers, found me not guilty.

Fear not, your landscape does not have to resemble in all regards the climax flora of central Texas, but at least avoid those plants guaranteed to die young. The farther you stray from the thousands of both native and non-native plants that thrive here, the more dependent those plantings are on your constant and perpetual care. 

Horticultural novices should be aware of a major impediment to freedom from excessive maintenance. There are times when nurserymen (especially the big-box, mass marketers) are so much like morticians. They keep the soon-to-be-compost Azaleas, Gardenias and New Guinea Impatiens quite life-like for the viewing period. You, ignorant of the smoke and mirrors and cosmetics, soon have a vegetal cadaver on your hands or worse, a comatose specimen in a permanent vegetative state requiring round-the-clock intensive care. 

Just because it is sold in a local nursery does in no way assure a plant's fitness for growing here. Become better informed so your garden is not a hospital or cemetery of maladapted flora. Study the listing of selected plants recommended for San Antonio and vicinity.

Everyone wants the independence of a low-maintenance landscape, but few reach that blissful state. Some get there by sloth and a rare retinal deficiency that blinds them to weeds. Others reach paradise with good plants and excellent designs.

My freedom has come from eliminating maintenance by prevention. But there are build-a-better-mouse-trap jokers who do so by invention. Is it not better to minimize irrigation by selecting drought-tolerant plants than to achieve that goal by installing the newest and most expensive underground, root-zone sprinkler system? How do you prefer to allocate your resources?

As for me, give me liberty, or give me weekend-dread!


The botanical images on this site were produced by The Photon Hunt.

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Copyright at Common Law by Manuel Flores