Dipping My Toe Into The Plant World

Yesterday after eating lunch, rather than sitting and talking for hours, my mom and I decided to go to a local nursery and look at plants. My mom has been working tirelessly in her back yard, doing a major overhaul of a significant portion of her back yard, and she needed a large shrub/tree for a specific area. So off we went, braving the hot and humid Texas afternoon, looking for just the right thing for her yard.

She had wanted to go earlier in the week, but I really wanted to go with her, and Wednesday afternoon was the soonest I could go. I wanted to tag along because, if I’m being really honest, I’m so intimidated by the whole world of plants, landscaping, gardening, etc. Plants are just not my world. Put me in just about any department inside a Home Depot, and I can pretty much thrive. But as soon as I walk outside, into the nursery, among the plants, I’m completely lost. I can probably name five plants, mostly indoor house plants, and beyond that, I’m clueless.

So I wanted to tag along and just dip my toe into this whole plant world and maybe ask a few questions, if I could even think of any intelligent questions to ask beyond, “What is this called?” 😀

We went to a small-ish local nursery called Bonnie’s Greenhouse, which I highly recommend if you’re local to the Waco area. The woman who helped us (who I think was the owner, but I failed to ask) was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable. And when I mention the name of the place to other locals who know plants, they say that she really knows about plants that are native to this area and will thrive here.

As I was looking through the selection, I recognized quite a few plant names from our landscape design. In fact, having that huge print of our landscape design in my studio has really helped me to study it more (and more often) and familiarize myself with many of the names that I’ll be looking for in the future. This huge print has made it so much easier to see and locate the different plants on the plan, and when I get ready to purchase plants, it’ll be so easy to decide which section I want to work on, take pictures of that section, find the plants on the plant key, and take pictures of the name. Then I can take those pictures to the nursery with me and find what I need. It’s so much easier than trying to find things with the landscape design pulled up on my phone, or even with a small printed version in hand.

So yesterday, I found a few different plants on our plan. Around the front of the house, the landscape designer put several boxwoods. That’s actually a plant I’m familiar with because when we bought our house, the front bedroom window was covered with boxwood. And we still have a ton of boxwood on the side of the house. But these plants around the front porch are boxwoods.

On the landscape plan, it says Japanese boxwood. Because I don’t know plants, I don’t know if that’s a specific kind of boxwood, or if it’s just the general name of a boxwood.

So I found a couple of different boxwoods at the nursery. The first one is this Sprinter Boxwood.

But according to the tag, this one grows 2 to 4 feet wide, and 2 to 4 feet high, so this probably isn’t the right choice for those areas on the plan.

She showed me something else that I think she called a dwarf boxwood, or something like that. I think a dwarf boxwood would work much better in those areas. So that’s one decision made! 😀 I was starting to feel like this might actually be doable for me! I didn’t actually buy any plants yesterday. I explained to her that I’m just at the very beginning, and I still need to bring in lots of dirt and get my planting beds prepped. So she recommended that I wait until the end of August before buying and planting any of these plants. I hope to have a very definite plan in place by then.

Another plant I recognized was the one that the landscape designer recommended for this area just in front of the front porch.

According to the plant key, that is a Gulf Stream Nandina.

The one that I found is a nandina, but it’s not a Gulf Stream. It sure is pretty, though!

But this one is called a Firepower nandina, and she said the foliage gets red in the fall, which is shown on the tag.

I’m assuming that I can swap out the Gulf Stream for the Firepower, but I’ll need to make sure before I make my purchases.

I came across a few plants that I didn’t find anywhere on my landscape design, but I definitely want to find a place for them. One of them is this Japanese Yew. I just love those long, skinny leaves! What a beautiful plant!

This one is a dwarf, so it could go just about anywhere. I read that if they’re left alone, they can grow up to 3-5 feet high, and 6 feet wide. But they respond well to being trimmed to keep the size under control.

But as I was looking up information about these plants when I got home, I came across this picture that has all kinds of plants that I love.

The description of that picture called that area with the low, round shrubs a “boxwood cloud”, and I’ve never wanted anything more. 😀 It’s made up of three different plants — sunshine ligustrum (which is one of my absolute favorite plants because of the bright green color), boxwood, and dwarf yaupon (which is also all over my landscape design). So now I absolutely must find a place for a “boxwood cloud”. And then the hedge “fence” is created with Japanese yew (clearly not the dwarf type) and N.R. Stevens hollies, which is actually what my mom ended up buying yesterday for her specific area in her yard. I loved the shiny deep green leaves of the N.R. Stevens holly. So now, after seeing that picture above, I’m dreaming about planting a row of alternating Japanese yew and N.R. Stevens hollies along the back fence of our property for a natural privacy “fence”.

Another plant that isn’t on my landscape design, but I want to find a place for, is this Texas sage. It can grow 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide, and has silvery foliage and purple flowers. It’s absolutely gorgeous when grown as a large hedge. It does require sun, but it’s native to Texas, so it’s drought-tolerant and heat-tolerant. I want to find a place in our back yard to put it.

Anyway, I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you for now. I took so many pictures, and by the time we left yesterday, I was actually feeling quite excited (and way less intimidated) about purchasing some plants and getting started on landscaping.

She also gave me names of two different people she recommends for helping me get my planting beds ready for plants at the end of August. So I’ll be contacting them in the next few days, hopefully meeting with them, and see if I “click” with either one of them. And then we can hopefully get started on hauling in dirt, getting the beds prepped, getting an irrigation plan in place, and having everything ready by the end of August when I’ll finally be able to purchase some plants. I’m getting really excited about this! Heck, I just may become a plant person after all!



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  1. I am heading out the door so I can only leave a quick comment and hate that it will be a negative one 🙁 Please research that Nandina – it is on the Texas invasives list (check texasinvasives.org) – it spreads through underground roots and is hard to get rid of. I’ll sign off with a positive note – the boxwood cloud idea is pretty cool 🙂

    1. I totally agree! I came here to say exactly the same thing! I had 2 small Nandina plants on either side of my front steps when I bought my house in ’81. I have done everything possible to get rid of them short of setting the house on fire! I have the kind that turns red and is a dwarf variety. So far, it seems to thrive on Round-up. I keep cutting it back and pulling it out with a big farm tractor without success in totally eliminating.
      Before you buy anything, make an alphabetical list of the plants on the list. Then go to texasinvasives.org or even Google invasive plants and see what matches up. You have plenty to keep you busy without having to stand over plants on a weekly basis. It can be very time-consuming unless you plan to hire a “yard-man” to take care of everything. I am also fighting Yaupon and Privet. Both are highly invasive here in FL. I am also dealing with “popcorn trees” coming up everywhere as the birds scattered seed in droppings. They are also called the Chinese Tallow Tree. On one hand, the oil extracted from the seeds can be used in place of diesel without further refining but on the other hand, who needs an orchard of these trees!
      Just saying, be careful what you wish for!

      1. Just chiming in, if you do decide to swap the Nandina for something else, I recommend Abelia -maybe a Kaleidoscope or Miss Lemon if you want a smaller variety.

  2. I love reading this!! Our landscape needs are totally different because I live near Seattle but I’m out puttering in my yard every chance I get. I’m so looking forward to how your yard progresses!

  3. I had Nandinas in my last time’s yard and I loved their frilly leaves and they were easy care. Be careful though, you have pets and Nandinas are poisonous. Toxicity is another factor to consider if you’ll have animals in your gardens.

  4. I’ve been getting “in” to plants lately and I’m having so much fun! I have been planting a lot of native plants and I find I’m having a much easier time keeping them alive. Also seeing more and more butterflies. Love the natives!

  5. Once you start it is hard to stop! Have fun and just enjoy the process, but definitely buy what makes you sing!

  6. Dwarf doesn’t necessarily mean small. My biggest landscaping mistake was not reading the labels for mature size measurements. So over the years I have had to remove some plants because they grew too big. Lesson learned. Most importantly, have fun and remember gardening is a continuing learning process.

  7. I can’t wait to see your garden grow. I also recommend that you check for invasive species and poisonous plants to pets.
    Since you aren’t a plant person, I hope you are planning to hire a gardener or yard guy to come at minimum once a month to properly trim and care for your yard once it’s done. It’s a lot of work, especially with a yard your size, to keep plants trimmed and the yard weeded. There is also making sure the plants and flowers are fed the recommended food they need to thrive. I wish you the best of luck, once you start buying plants, it’s contagious and hard to stop. 😁

  8. I’m excited about your planting plan. My husband is going to move our vegetable garden to the back of our barn so I’m going to get the area where the vegetables are now. I’m excited about that. I want more lilies and iris and some colorful flowers to round out the area. I don’t know when he is going to start “the move” but I need to be ready! I need to do what you did by going to actually look. I want to plant more trees too because we have lost so many trees since we moved here. Maybe 20 years from now, other owners would like to have some young trees.
    I know this is just June, but August will be here sooner than we want!! School starts August 1st. Can you believe that?

  9. Well you’ve got it…plantitis! It’s a very common disease picked up at a nursery or even from the garden department at Lowe’s. There is no known cure, and if not treated with buying a ridiculous amount of plants, soil, mulch, rocks, etc. it can be fatal. So please, do not ever stop planning, preparing, and planting, we DO NOT want to lose you to this terrible plight!

  10. How great that the experts are generously weighing in regarding their personal experiences in their own gardens. May I suggest starting an organized way of cataloging these remarks about specific plants, especially those listed on your hanging diagram, plus any advice you will be viewing online, etc. It would be helpful, especially if hand-written in a notebook (looseleaf? with dividers) for a quick look and reminder plus save you a lot of money in the long run.

    It will be a treat to see how your garden grows.

  11. You might like to look up Garden Answer of Facebook or You Tube. She gardens in Oregon so not everything she uses would be appropriate for your location, but she has very inspiring videos.

  12. Wow, there are wonderful comments here already. All I can say is, with plants, the best thing to do is just get started! Some things work, some will die. It’s ok.
    I got a job at a local mom & pop nursury in college, and I was so afraid of messing up, I begged them to please just let me sweep and clean bathrooms. Before too long I was spending half my paycheck on plants, and now we have a massive subsistence garden. I’m still observing, making mistakes, troubleshooting and compulsively researching, and it’s awesome.
    You CAN do it!

  13. Yes, I can see you being a plant person too! It will be a bit of trial and error, same for the rest of us, but over time you will find your favorites, and what works in your space the best. Sounds like you have a great place to buy and get good advice, and even someone to help get started. You are so lucky! I’m going to need the same kind of help next year…the lot we are building on is a blank slate, and I am avoiding Florida grass/sod as much as possible. You have to be a slave to it, and I’m not interested! 😂

    1. PS) I like the look of that Texas Sage so I looked it up…it grows well in Florida too…I will be looking for that too. SO pretty! Nice hedge or border plant.

      1. Texas sage has a beautiful cool silver gray color a d the flowers bloom profusely after it rains. Maybe continously in Florida. Lol. I’d does need good drainage. Shouldn’t be a problem for you!

  14. It’s fun to learn about plants, landscape.
    Mistakes I’ve learned from that I’m happy for others to learn from given the cost and effort of landscaping:
    o. planting things too close such that when they mature encroach on each other & they don’t thrive…. block needed sun, forces odd growth and strange plant shape or are too close to property lines that grow over
    o. settling for a variety of a species that was NOT appropriate…. dwarf vs full size, marginal for my growing zone, etc
    o. not checking out the disease risks of plants, particularly ones in my area,
    o. not staying away from invasive plants or taking care to plant them in restrictive ways so they don’t spread
    o. not always taking the time to plant as instructed. For example hole size, adding things like peat, sand, compost, black dirt, etc The plant has to overcome any shortcuts I take. When planted properly would be mature and thriving faster.
    o. not taking the time to prune and shape properly when needed or doing so at the wrong stage of the growing season so I lose next year’s blooming branches
    o. installing plants that were inconsistent with the amount of time and effort they needed vs what I could do
    o, believing that the professionals that I hired on occasion would consider all of the above.

    I’ve lost trees and shrubs because they couldn’t extract nutrients from clay soil or when reaching a large enough size their roots were growing under pavers or cement the landscaper designed and then couldn’t support themselves. Pine trees that tolerated winter but needed a quicker spring. I should have done more soil testing.

    Now I go to the local university’s landscaper arboretum, view plants in my local setting, talk to their expert master Gardeners and arborists. Landscaping is an investment . Have fun with yours .

    1. Amen to all this. For three years, I had a beautiful English garden. Then, when I couldn’t give it the amount of time and work it needed, it became an overgrown mess. Designing a garden and watching things grow and swapping cuttings with other gardeners and propagating all sorts of plants is great fun. But it’s also hard, time-consuming (and water-consuming!) work.

  15. Im so happy that you are in the plant world. I was also intimidated by them but i started first with inside plants little by little, and if they didnt die, it meant i was doing a good job with them. That gave me the courage to start with outdoors plants and now im in love with plants. I really cant stop buying them. Plants make everythink look more natural and prettier.

  16. I am in 6B in Missouri, so we are a bit different as climates go. I have had Dwarf Nandinas at both this home and my last one, and they perform as I want them to. You just have to be sure which type of Nandina you want. I bought more of them last year, and the tags were very vague, but the spot I planted them in could handle larger ones, so I was not worried. They did well all season, but refused to come back for some reason, so we had to replace them. We got some Hollies that will be the same size. There are so many varieties within each family of plants….Boxwoods have 150-260 different types alone!!! I usually will get Dwarf ones, but even those need trimming to maintain that “ball” shape. Gardening is a challenge, and you can have failure as well as successes. I would also advise you to buy the 3 gallon sizes if possible, because they usually have good established root systems, and are easy to handle. The one gallon plants sometimes are recently potted “offshoots” that may not have established a good root system yet. (I worked in a nursery for over 10 years, and forgot much of what I learned, but I recall basic info that I had to give on the regular!!!) Keep the key words in mind when shopping —– they are Maturity,(are they slow growers or fast?) growth habit (slow or fast, spreading, branching) Requires pruning, Evergreen or Deciduous (Deciduous means the leaves drop very fall) and water needs.

  17. Gardening is truly good for the body and soul. And, your landscape plan is stunning. I only want to caution against putting too much in prior to your future addition. Construction can be as messy on the outside as the inside and I would hate to see any of your hard work and investment trampled or even in the way of equipment going in and out. But if you can just start with the front to make a pretty entrance, you will have fun with it!

  18. Always best to buy from and get information from local nurseries. I hired a landscape designer a couple of years ago and she explained how different the climate is between Tucson about 30 miles from Green Valley where we live.
    Also we have a lot of Texas Rangers here that can have a pink purple flower and one has a silvery sage leaf. They do well here.

  19. When I lived in Texas my landscape was planted in the fall. We had a lot of winter rain and it had grown significantly by the next summer.

  20. Once you realize there are low maintenance house plants, the sky’s the limit. Houseplants bring a certain level of that calm yet lived in look to a home. Plus, they filter and clean your air… for FREE!

  21. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the Sunset Western garden book. It’s going to list all the plant varieties you’re interested in, and give you pertinent info about each one. It’s also going to provide you with Sunset’s own (much more accurate) growing zone info. You’ll make the cost of the book back in no time and save yourself a lot of frustration and disappointment.

  22. Well, once you start gardening you will become an addict! Especially with your creative mind. And you will lose weight!

  23. Soon you’ll be spending a lot of money on things like Cockledoodle Doo, Chickety Doo Doo, and Coop Poop. Real products. All good.

  24. Once you start to get into gardening you will be surprised how much you learn in a very short time, ..

  25. I LOVE plant shopping!!! My best advice is: #1 remember, you can always move a plant (a least the smaller ones) later if you change your mind. #2 If you have a plan, stick to it at least 85% of the time. It’s SO tempting to get every pretty plant out there!… but you’ll never love the look you get as a whole. It’s just like decorating the inside of your house.

  26. There are many varieties of nandina out there, your landscape architect would know better than to add an invasive plant to your design. Ask the nursery about non invasive Nandia. It’s best to start with prepping the beds with good compost and soil because you will only be as successful as your soil is rich!

  27. Buxus! (Boxwood)
    Taxus! (Yew)
    Salvia! (Sage)
    Heh, yes I’m such a plant person I have the scientific names memorized. Somehow I’m not surprised you’d love formal plantings. Some (yew, I’m looking at you!!!) require pruning to keep their shape but there are boxwoods that grow more naturally rounded. Good thing you found that local nursery, hopefully she can tell you if that Nandina will be an invader. I looked at the TX sages, those are so pretty.

    And yew, the foundation planting bane of the Midwest…nothing looks sorrier to me than an overshorn yew put in a too small area. Yet then I saw some yews that had been allowed to grow naturally and they were a handsome plant. I do have some yews, but only give them a mild pruning and encourage the others to have a natural shape. There are dwarf yews, too. Whatever you do, be sure to include some natives, and remember a very rigid formal garden requires more maintenance than a loosely formal one. And don’t forget to consult your past plant posts, the comments will have lots of tips!