I came to Dallas with my new wife, Judy, in 1970, after graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Tech University in 1969 and completing a short stint in active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps reserves. My first job in Dallas was with Club Corporation of America (CCA) as a laborer. The idea was to learn the golf-course design and management industry from the bottom up and ultimately become a golf-course architect. That way I could use my degree in landscape architecture.
It was there at Brookhaven Country Club in Farmers Branch that I found my true interest—landscape design. It was a much better fit than the labor and mechanical problems of the superintendent's life. Not to mention that those pesticides just didn't interest me and that I began to question other things. Even before my organic epiphany, I started looking at things in a different way. Instead of planting only evergreens, live oaks, hollies, and azaleas, I started asking about and even using deciduous plants and natives as well. I also watched different companies plant trees and noted some significant differences in planting techniques that seemed to work better. By paying attention to Naud Burnett, Cody Carter, and, later, Carl Whitcomb and my own projects, I developed the tree-planting recommendations that are found in this book.
The total organic change began in 1985, when our daughter, Logan, was born. It was at that point that I decided to look into the nonchemical method of gardening. At nine months, she started walking, picking up things, and tasting those things. Why it doesn't hit every parent, I don't understand, but it hit me hard. I wanted no more toxic chemicals around my little girl. I had no idea at that point what an organic program was, so the learning process began. My education consisted of reading tons of books on the subject and learning from personal interviews with people like Beth Bittinger, John Dromgoole, Malcolm Beck, and other vegetable-garden specialists. Converting their techniques to landscaping was easy, and I'm still curious today why so few in the industry use organic programs. Beth was a very special part of my learning curve. It was her enthusiasm and help that connected me with others in the industry who could help me. I had no idea that at the time she was dying of leukemia.
In the late 1980s, there were 110 stores in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that carried some organic products. There were only two completely organic stores in the entire state—Garden-Ville in Austin and in San Antonio. Now there are more than 600 retail stores in Texas that sell a complete line of products for organic gardening and pest control. Over 60 of those stores are 100 percent organic—offering no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers at all. Those numbers are growing, and Texas has the bragging rights of being far ahead of any other state in the country in the spread of stores offering organic solutions. Many of these same stores have also gotten on board the native plant bandwagon. Several commercial sites around the state are now on total organic programs. The most notable is Frito Lay's national headquarters in Plano. It has been under my organic specifications and consultation since 1990.
Unfortunately, there are still many who not only don't believe in organic methods, they have worked hard to try to talk people out of even giving it a try. I call these people organiphobes. They actually come from two camps, those who actively oppose the organic approach and want it to fail and those who unwittingly go along with the toxic chemical recommendations of others. Some of those people do it out of laziness; others are afraid to go against the grain and take on some responsibility.
If you follow my plant recommendations and the management recommendations in this Complete Handbook, it will be crystal clear that the Natural Way is the only way.
HABIT: Wide-spreading ornamental, purple or white spring color, yellow fall color.
CULTURE: Easy to grow in any soil, drought tolerant.
USES: Ornamental garden tree, understory. Flowers are edible.
PROBLEMS: Borers, leaf rollers.
NOTES: White variety seems healthier than the purple native. Crinkled-leaf Mexican variety is the most drought tolerant, 'Oklahoma' has dark green glossy foliage, and 'Forest Pansy' has red-purple foliage in summer. Native to the eastern half of Texas.
Deciduous Perennial Shrub—Shade/Full Sun
HABIT: Red, fezlike flowers in summer. Red fruit resembling rose hips in the late summer. Bushy, shrublike growth with many stems from the ground. Considered a perennial, but it looks more like a shrub.
CULTURE: Can be grown easily from seed, which can be started indoors in the winter or outdoors after the last frost. No treatment is needed.
USES: Flowers are excellent for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. Flowers and fruit make a good herb tea. The fruit is full of pulp and seed; cooked down, it produces a good jelly or syrup. The flavor of the raw fruit resembles that of watermelon or apple. Attracts pollinators like bumblebees and hummingbirds.
PROBLEMS: Various leaf-chewing insects like caterpillars and grasshoppers, but none serious if the plant is in healthy soil.
NOTES: One of the best flowering plants for shady areas.
Perennial, grown as an Annual—Full Sun
Spacing 8"-16" between pieces in rows, 36" between rows
HABIT: Leafy vegetables that sometimes flower in cool weather, potatoes are tubers, which are actually modified stems, not roots. The tubers will tend to swell out of the soil. When they do, the sunlight hits them, and they turn green and will give you a tummy ache. Keep them covered with soil or mulch.
CULTURE: Fertilize fairly heavily when planting rather than doing a lot of side-dressing later. Keep the soil slightly moist. Many gardeners plant on Washington's birthday (used to be February 22). Others plant potatoes as early as January. Potato shoots can be frozen back without much damage to the crop. Official planting dates for spring are 2-3 weeks before last frost; for fall, 12-16 weeks before first frost. Plant the entire seed potato.
HARVEST: Harvest after 90-120 days, when the foliage starts to turn brown or, even better, just before the foliage starts to turn. Dig and eat as new potatoes as soon as they are large enough. Foliage needs to turn completely brown or the potatoes won't store well. Cure potatoes in a dark place above 50° and then store for as long as six months at 40°-48°.
PROBLEMS: Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, garden fleahoppers, aphids, nematodes, wireworms, root fungi, leaf fungi.
NOTES: The best part of the potato is the skin, but unless you use a totally organic program, don't eat it.
Howard Garrett is a landscape architect, certified arborist, horticulturist, and organic practitioner in Dallas, Texas. He promotes his organic gardening program, The Natural Way, through his WBAP radio and Channel 8 TV shows, weekly column in the Dallas Morning News, monthly Dirt Doctor's Dirt magazine, The Organic Manual: Natural Gardening for the 21st Century, and regional and national speaking engagements. His previous UT Press books are Howard Garrett's Plants for Texas, Dear Dirt Doctor: Questions Answered the Natural Way, Herbs for Texas (with Odena Brannan), Texas Bug Book: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (with C. Malcolm Beck), and Plants of the Metroplex: Newly Revised Edition.