Our first landscapes on the Llano Estacado were partly the result of favorite plants migrating with their owners during the bumpy expansion period that settled the West. William Welch and Greg Grant sketch a summary of this tradition in their book “The Southern Heirloom Garden.”
Many of these first plants were passalong plants, making their way from one home to another as they were shared between neighbors. Those plants not overcome by the challenging climate were found in greater numbers of West Texas landscapes.
It is easy to imagine that many of these early homes would have had a hodgepodge of plantings with the vaguest resemblance to contemporary landscape design. However, circumstances would naturally dictate that at least one modern landscape standard was practiced by early settlers of the staked plains; the principle of placing the right plant in the right place.
It would not take long for folks to notice that the most successful West Texas passalong plants were those native to the region. Stumbling upon a Texas Mountain Laurel in the Chisos Basin might easily have excited the senses of an early plant enthusiast even beyond the capacity of a color flush on a floral Pinterest page of today.
Establishing the right plant in the right place encompasses more than simply putting a sun loving plant on the Southwest side of a home or protecting a shade tolerant plant under a Northern portico. Many of today’s xeric (low water use) landscape principles were unwittingly developed by the early settlers of this arid land. A limited supply of rainfall and a lack of municipal water meant that few early homes were without water wells or storage cisterns.
Today, many West Texans have voiced a sense of urgency about our outdoor water use. Yet, homeowners desire attractive landscapes that contribute to the real value of their properties. Fortunately, xeriscaping is turning a corner in West Texas, becoming a normal topic of discussion rather than being unusual. Xeric landscapes do not have to consist of cactus and rocks. There is great beauty in our native plants, and many naturalized and classic landscape plants can also find a home in the well-designed xeric garden.
Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, the Permian Basin Master Gardeners and the Llano Estacado Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists advocate landscape principles that increase property values without overburdening our finite resources.
Floyd is a horticulturist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service. He can be reached at 498-4071 in Ector County or 686-4700 in Midland County or by email at Jeff.Floyd@ag.tamu.edu