Jeff’s Laws of Gardening: Kabloom’s Jeff Law tells all about tropical xeriscaping.
By Marene Gustin
With summer’s horrific heat, gardeners may be tempted to shower their blooms and blossoms with attention, particularly when it comes to watering. But that can be a bad thing for both your garden and your water bill.
“If you cater to them,” says Jeff Law of Kabloom Landscaping in the Heights, “you get a co-dependent relationship, like those kids on drugs who won’t leave home.” Not that you really want your foliage to leave, you just want it to leaf, but that’s where tropical xeriscaping comes in.
The term Xeriscape, a registered trademark, was coined in 1978 by the Denver, Colorado water department, by combining the Greek word for dry, xeros, with landscape. Like that other great idea that starts with X , as the practice caught on, it entered the vernacular as a verb. Xeriscaping is about planting what works in your environment in order to conserve water and energy while still keeping a lush, beautiful garden. And Law is an expert at it.
“We do easy,” he says. “If the plant is that petulant, it’s time for it to go to plant heaven.”
Fifty-five-year-old Law learned about low maintenance as a kid, when his father had him doing lawn chores. “We didn’t have irrigation,” he remembers, “so I learned in the first month what survives with little water.” But he didn’t start his professional life as a landscaper. He began as an art teacher and artist, then ran the popular Oktober Gallery, which he rehabbed, which led to dabbling in rehabbing old buildings and lofts, which eventually led to landscaping as well.
His current home is a lushly landscaped lot on Columbia in the Heights that includes the Indian Summer Lodge for weddings and special events. Law shares his home with partner Warren, two dogs, three cats, and “thousands and thousands of plants.” The whole space, on a former industrial dumpsite, is a mix of tropical paradise and Route 66, with canopies, fountains, decks, and meandering garden paths. It’s all created from found items and hearty plant life. There’re no silver bells, cockleshells, or marigolds all in a row. No, this garden grows with little maintenance, an artistic bent, and common sense. So we asked him for a few pointers.
Step one is to plant what thrives in Houston. Lazy daisies, Mexican honeysuckle, African iris, and bougainvillea are all good choices locally. When it comes to grass, Law uses zoysia. “There are five kinds of it that grow in Houston,” he explains. “It’s like a golf course — it grows real slow and I weed-eat it about once a month. I’ve never even owned a mower.”
Law explains that new plants need water for about a month, then they can be left to fend for themselves. He also warns that too much watering leads to lazy plants, whose roots hang around the topsoil where you’ve dumped all that water. If left alone, the roots grow deep, seeking water and nutrients from below, resulting in healthier plants and less maintenance.
“Disconnect the irrigation system,” Law says adamantly. “Take it off the timer. If there’s mold or fungus in your beds, you’ve over-watered. If there’s a drought you may have to water them. Otherwise, leave them alone; they’ll adjust to the real world.”
As for feeding, Law uses organic fertilizer but cautions that feeding also leads to feeding the weeds. “If you spray for weeds and bugs, you’re messing with the natural cycle,” he warns. “Besides, all those chemicals just end up in the Gulf killing the shrimp.” Law adds that the bugs were here long before us, and as for the weeds, he uses the advice he got from a gardener he describes as an “ol’ coot.”
When he asked about an organic way to get rid of weeds, he says the man looked at him and replied, “Bend over and pull them.”
Other tips Law has used on projects, from ranches to backyard beds, include gravel instead of asphalt, use of boulders, and juxtaposing recycled items with new, such as using an old sink as a fountain. The environment and easy care are always top priorities. Which explains his fondness for bamboo.
“I’ve been growing it for 12 years,” Law says, “long before people knew it made a beautiful privacy fence. And you can also harvest it for flooring, fabric, and fiber. It’s a miracle plant.”
Law may be a lazy gardener, but he’s also a very smart and environmentally friendly one. And, judging by his own lush landscapes, he’s pretty darn good at it.
For information on Kabloom Tropical Xeriscaping by Jeff Law, call 713/869-0444.
Marene Gustin is a Houston freelance writer and a frequent contributor to OutSmart.