BETWEEN THE LINES: The natural gardener

I have become quite a yard person.

Living in Austin in the 1980s, I started listening each Saturday morning to John Dromgoole on KLBJ-AM. For 27 years, Dromgoole has hosted his "Gardening Naturally" show, preaching his gospel of selecting native plants and avoiding traditional fertilizers by using compost, mulch and Dillo dirt.

I favor blooming plants that produce flowers during spring and summer. Roses fit that bill, and none are more prolific than knockouts. Although I love mountain laurels, their short flowering season is disappointing. Nevertheless, they are in my backyard.

Looking back, my strategy was to acquire plants that struck my fancy, then decide where they would fit into my yard. I never started out with a grand design. Consequently, I have had to rely on do-overs and in some cases third chances to get things right. The key to successful gardening, however, is knowing what plants need.

So I thought I would share with readers some of my favorite plants. To begin with, identifying flora can be very confusing because plants have scientific names and one or more common or nicknames. For example, take the firebush, which has a scientific name of Hamelia. However, it also goes by the nickname of hummingbird plant.

One of my very favorite flowering shrubs is a duranta, also called a Brazilian skyflower or golden dew drops. It is a prolific late-spring and summer bloomer that has large clusters of small purple flowers. The plant is deciduous, but is an aggressive grower and will reach a height of 6 to 8 feet in one season. The duranta will spread out and is drought tolerant, needing little maintenance.

When it comes to smaller trees, I love my desert willow. It is a rapid grower and will reach its mature height of 15 feet in just a few years. The tree starts blooming in May and will be a steady bloomer during the summer. The flowers are pinkish and the branches are airy.

Bougainvilleas are great patio plants that come in a variety of colors. They can also be planted in the ground, but in this neck of the woods they are annuals.  My favorite is Thai delight.  Another popular tropical plant is Pride of Barbados, which produces beautiful large, orange blooms in summer. Both of these love the hot dry weather and, once established, require little attention. They usually can survive a mild winter.

Finding blooming plants for shaded locations can be a bit challenging, but one I highly recommend is Orange Marmalade Crossandra. It produces large orange flowers that last a long time and require no direct sunlight.

Friends can also be helpful finding less common plants. My wife’s friend, Sally Burget, gave me some Jack Bean seeds to plant along with a couple of Mexican flames. Both species are excellent vining plants that produce attractive flowers.

My journey as a natural gardener has taught me the nearer one gets to nature, the closer you get to knowing God. Our heavenly father’s creation speaks for itself.

Laughlin is a Christian Libertarian. He is an economist, teacher, father, husband and most recently a grandfather. He has written a weekly column for The Tribune for 13 years. He and his wife Gina reside in Meadowlakes. To contact him, email He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *