Supplement Feature - April 2008
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Greenscapes

Trends in Park Landscaping

By Sue Marquette Poremba


GARDEN TRIALS

Down in Texas, Pam Smith, parks landscape manager for the city of Farmers Branch, is also concerned about water.

"It's a big issue," she said. "How do we keep things looking good knowing that water is going to be limited?" Smith is committed to do what she can to be creative and make her parks attractive while keeping down the water consumption.

Last year, Smith's landscapers installed an Earth-Kind demonstration garden in a historic park. Working with Texas A&M University in College Station, Smith and her team created a garden that is mostly roses but also contains other perennials.

Earth Kind is a designation given to certain roses by the Texas A&M Agriculture program. These roses have been tested and evaluated and determined to perform best in the landscape and possess outstanding resistance to disease and insects.

"We have a special bed preparation so our plants got off to a good start," Smith said. "We battled our clay by using a shell and compost mix. We use no fertilizers or pesticides."

The results, she added, are phenomenal and went so well that Farmers Branch parks again partnered with Texas A&M, but also with the Houston and Dallas Rose Societies, to put in a national Earth-Kind trial rose garden.

The Earth-Kind rose gardens take advantage of using one of the most popular garden flowers and creating a low-maintenance care program. Texas A&M recognized 11 rose varieties that thrive with minimum maintenance and minimal water.

In the Farmers Branch trial garden, they will be planting and evaluating 100 different rose cultivars in four randomized replicated plots. "Our goal is to identify a group of roses that will do well across the United States without supplemental fertilizers and pesticides and be low water usage," Smith said. "Roses bloom from frost to frost, so we feel like we can have something beautiful, low-maintenance and environmentally friendly."

In addition, the water controller used in this garden will water based on the horticultural needs and weather conditions. "We're only going to be replacing the water the plant actually needs," Smith explained. "We're going to apply it in drip form so it will be effective water. Once we get the programming down, it will take care of itself."

Texas is an area where it isn't uncommon for the temperatures to soar into triple digits, especially in areas where landscaping is close to asphalt and concrete. "We want to encourage water conservation, but as a plant manager, we have to water," Smith said. "We work hard to make sure our irrigation systems work properly."

Smith is also conscious about water runoff and water that puddles on non-grass surfaces. When that happens, she said, it is hard to give the impression that you aren't over-watering.

This is where roses make an ideal plant for these areas, especially in areas where there might be vehicle traffic. "When roses get run over by a car, they pop back quickly," Smith explained.

Smith added that her landscape crew has done a good job blending native plants and adaptive plants so there aren't a lot of high-water users while still providing a beautiful and interesting landscape year-round.