No one ever said maintaining a landscape was going to be easy. But there is at least one neighborhood resident who says it can be much easier.

Meet Sally Wasowski – landscape designer, co-author (along with husband Andy) and one of Texas’ foremost native-plant experts and enthusiasts. Drive down the 7200 block of Westlake Ave., just west of White Rock Lake, and you’re sure to spot the Wasowskis’ native-plant haven. It’s the lush, lawn-less landscape that looks as though it must drink water obsessively throughout the summer.

But remember, looks can be deceiving. Wasowski says that in the first half of this year she has weeded only three times and – this is truly amazing – has needed to water only twice. In the springtime, the landscape explodes with color from masses of wildflowers and flowering shrubs.

What’s her secret? Over the years the Wasowski landscape has been renovated from traditional (a large expanse of lawn in the front, a shaded area in back where grass and most other plants refuse to grow) to native. By using plants that were “born” in the area, Wasowski ensures a thriving landscape. And it’s a plan that anyone can follow; no green thumbs needed to apply.

“I really have a brown thumb,” she says, referring to her previous gardening attempts. “That’s why I got into native plants.”

Gardening ability (or lack thereof) aside, native landscaping does have its advantages, Wasowski says. First, since the plants are native to the neighborhood, they need little extra preparation or care. After all, the native plants were thriving in our neighborhoods long before we came along, with no help from our sprinklers, fertilizers, weedkillers and the like. Maintenance on a native-plant landscape is thereby decidedly easier than on a traditional lawn-and-garden plot.

Secondly, since there is shade in nature, there are native plants that thrive in the shade. By creating a “woodland” garden, using native trees and groundcovers, perhaps with a rustic garden bench in the center, a homeowner can turn what once was a shaded mass of mud into a restful, lush landscape feature.

Achieving a native landscape need not be too time- or money-consuming, Wasowski says. Since many yards in the area are rather small, a complete renovation conceivably can be done in a year. And with more native plants being grown in the marketplace, Wasowski says, the prices are competitive with traditional plants. And that doesn’t even take into account the money you’ll be save in the long run – cutting fertilizer and chemicals off your shopping list can make a big difference.

The key to native landscaping is to reduce turfgrass areas. Sally suggests first planting a native understory tree such as Mexican plum, redbud, rusty blackhaw viburnum or Mexican buckeye and giving it to two or three years to grow. Then, in the shady area the tree will create, plant one of the native groundcovers like horseherb or inland seaoats. There groundcovers will also work well in the shade of the large trees that typically grow in our back yards. Accentuate your landscape with other quality native plants.

Wasowski admits the average homeowner probably would think she and her husband have gone overboard on their Westlake lot, but that’s OK. Native landscaping is not so much the look you create as much as it is the principle you adhere to. That is, don’t fight Mother Nature; grow with her.

There are many places to turn for help and advice in creating a native-plant landscape. Locally, Sally cites Texas Blooms Organic Garden at 5016 Miller Ave., 821-8292, and Mother Nature Garden Center at 2001 Skillman, 823-9421. And area libraries and bookstores will stock the Wasowskis’ classic native-plant reference, “Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region” (Gulf Publishing, 1988) as well as Judy Mielke’s authoritative “Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes” (The University of Texas Press, 1993).

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