The Nature Writers of Texas

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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Book Review
Texas Gardening the Natural Way
Ro Wauer, February 25, 2004, The Victoria Advocate, © 2004

Texas Gardening the Natural Way is a huge book (81/2x11 in.) filled with useful information about almost every subject one needs to understand about gardening in Texas. This 396-page book includes 833 color photos. Written by the well known gardener Howard Garrett, often known as “the dirt doctor,” it is subtitled “The Complete Handbook.” It is advertised as the first complete, state-of-the art organic gardening handbook for Texas.

Garrett's new book includes a variety of sections to help the user. These include How to plan, plant, and maintain beautiful landscapes without using chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides; gardening fundamentals: soil, landscape design, planting techniques, and maintenance practices; descriptions of native and adaptable varieties of garden and landscape plants; trees, including 134 species of evergreens, berry- and fruit-bearing, flowering, and fall colors; shrubs and specialty plants; ground covers and vines; annuals and perennials; lawn grasses; fruit, nuts and vegetables; common green manure crops; herbs; bugs; plant diseases; organic methods for repelling mice and other critters; organic management practices; etc.

I immediately checked out a number of the more familiar plant species. Although the varieties of trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials included are impressive, some of the photos were not as good as their descriptions. Each narrative included the common and scientific plant names, general description, habit, culture, uses, problems, and notes. For instance, the redbud narrative mentions that it is “easy to grow in any soil, drought tolerant,” but susceptible to “borers, leaf rollers.” The notes for Chinese tallow states: “I used to mistakenly recommend this tree, but there are lots of better choices.” I fully agree!

In shrubs, although Texas sage or cenizo, various sumacs, and viburnums are included, my favorite butterfly attractant - crucita or Eupatorium odoratum - is missing. And I found another excellent butterfly attractant shrub, butterfly bush or Buddleia, in the annuals and perennials. Most of the better known garden flowers were found in that section and in a later section called “herbs.” Red lantana was included in the annuals and perennial section. Garrett points out that lantana is an easy plant to grow, it likes “any well-drained soil,” but the “berries are poisonous.” He neglected to mention that the Texas native lantana is almost useless for attracting butterflies. The gold lantana, although not native, is considerable better.

I was especially interested in ground cover plants, grouped with vines, and did find a couple favorites: frogfruit and the nonnative ajuga. Garrett included lots of vine species, including Carolina jasmine, coral vine, a couple honeysuckles, morning glory, passion flower, and trumpet vine. But he also included kudzu, a nonnative vine that can literally take over massive areas of landscape if introduced. He does state: “Spreads too aggressively; however, livestock will keep it under control.” Ranchers and farmers in Tennessee must spend considerable money to control this dangerous plant. Planting it in Texas should be outlawed.

The pest management section contains some fascinating information, and topics range from aphids to wood rot. He divides each narrative into feeding habits, economic importance, natural control, and organic control. My attention immediately focused on chiggers. Garrett's natural control states: “Increased soil moisture. Some researchers say chiggers nave no natural enemies. That may be true, but the imported fire ants will certainly eliminate them.” Wow! I'm not sure which one I hate most. His organic control includes “Sulfur dust is a good repellent. So is lemon mint, also called horsemint. Take a hot, soapy bath to remove larvae. Stop the itching with baking soda, vinegar, aloe vera, or comfrey juice.”

The appendices include additional information such as various formulas used for pest controls and an excellent list of “organic fertilizers and soil amendments.” And there also is a very useful index.

Howard Garrett's “Texas Gardening the Natural Way” was published by the University of Texas Press (ISBN-0-292-70542-5), and it is available only in hardcover at $34.95. It is well worth the value to Texas gardeners.

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