Tending Our Garden, Tips and Resources

Wild and Edible Landscapes for Us and Our Companion World

Plus Resources and Tips on Dealing with Homeowner Associations

April 2020

In the midst of our current problem, people in Houston and all over the world are finding solace in tending a garden, if they are fortunate enough to have access or space for one. It could be a vegetable garden or a wildflower garden, though it seems that, as happens during crises, our thoughts turn to growing our own food.

This is a logical response. Not only does gardening benefit mental and physical health. It’s also wiser and more practical not to rely on long-distance supply chains that can be disrupted during floods or pandemics. Or wars.

Local nurseries and seed providers, considered essential businesses during our local shut down, have reported a surge in interest.

Lawns Really Bad. Alternatives So Much Better

But the growing movement towards edible landscapes, as well as edible forests on public land (see also “food forest” Dallas and Austin), is not just for human food. It’s about feeding the insects and birds and the entire ecosystem without which we cannot survive. Scientists, concerned about an insect apocalypse, are urging landowners to get rid of their lawns.

The state of Minnesota is actually paying homeowners to replace lawns with wildflowers, clover, and native grasses. It’s called rewilding. Interesting historical fact: clover was the preferred lawn cover in the US up through the 1940s. In Houston, the Native Plant Society of Houston is encouraging native frogfruit. In even grows in shade!

During this devastating pandemic, we might also want to consider the importance of urban biodiversity on our health. That means everything from soil microbes to plants and animals.

Father Meyers Pocket Prairie, University of St. Thomas, Houston, June 25, 2018. Photo by SC

Also Reducing Flooding, Pollution, and Temperature

It so happens that turning our lawns and vacant lots into planted gardens and prairies also helps protect us against flooding. Anything that helps slow and absorb rainwater from the time it hits the roof and the ground is going to reduce the peak flow in our streams and streets.

Planting vegetable, native plant and wildflower gardens also reduces carbon emissions, helping to protect us against climate change. Maintaining our thirsty American lawn is hugely polluting to our land, air, and water. Lawns are the number one irrigated agricultural “crop” in the US.

More green space, and less concrete, helps cool the city, reducing the heat island effect, which attracts disastrous weather.

Gardens Everywhere: Roofs, Parks, Vacant Lots, and Prairies

The City of Houston is encouraging gardens of all sorts, and even edible forests. (p. 86)

The City’s Resiliency Plan, released in February 2020, promotes community gardens, green roofs (which include rooftop gardens), urban farms, and prairie restoration, as well as denser development—building the city up rather than out, replacing the urban sprawl that is destroying so much of our native prairie, wetlands, woodlands, and the few remaining riparian areas needed to help protect us from flooding. The Resiliency Plan, citing the Gulf-Houston Regional Conservation Plan, also has a goal of preserving as green space 24 percent of the land in the eight-county region by 2040. (p. 153)

In support of this project, the City’s goals are to conserve city parks as nature preserves, “discourage development in sensitive upstream areas” (west Houston, among other places), and restore native prairie, wetlands, and woodlands. (p. 153) This includes, apparently, planting pocket prairies in neighborhoods. (p.128)

Natural Area Permits, Homeowner Associations

The City’s Natural Resources Management Program, a part of the Parks and Recreation Department, already has ongoing projects to restore prairies and riparian areas in city parks along our streams like Sims and White Oak bayous. (Note also that the City in theory has been encouraging urban farming for some time. See also here.)

Habitat restoration in White Oak Park by the City of Houston. Photo March 13, 2020 by SC

Perhaps a lesser known fact is that the City also has a Natural Area Ordinance which provides permits to property owners who wish to turn their land into a native prairie or native plant garden, wildlife habitat, vegetable garden, or rain garden. The permit, however, does not override deed restrictions or homeowner association rules.

Which brings us to a common complaint: how to deal with homeowner associations that enforce conformity and environmentally unsound regulations about yards and lawns?

Here are some tips about dealing with homeowner associations when rewilding or recreating your yard:

Sway Your HOA

Homeowners Associations and Wildlife Gardens

Making Messy Look Good (Hint: mow the edges)

How to Pass Weed Inspection—A Real Life Story and Guide

Golf Courses and Butterflies

As an aside, note that the Audubon Society has a program, Monarchs in the Rough, to encourage golf courses to plant wildflowers to sustain monarch butterflies. So far in the region there are only four golf clubs participating: The Club at Falcon Point in Katy, Lakeside Country Club in west Houston, Kingwood Country Club in Kingwood, and Bay Oaks Country Club in southeast Houston.

Further Resources

And here are some further resources, tips, and guides:

Center for Urban Agriculture and Sustainability, University of Houston, Downtown

Clay Soil Gardening

Community Garden Program, City of Houston

Container Gardening

Edible Forest Gardens

Farmer’s Almanac Planting Calendar for Houston

Growing a Food Forest

Healthy Lawns, Healthy Waters Program, Texas A&M

Houston Urban Gardeners

Jump Starting Your Victory Garden

Leave the Leaves!

Native Plant Society, Houston Chapter

The Top 14 Super Trees for Houston from the Port Houston and Houston Wilderness Tree Planting Program

Urban Garden Program, City of Houston

Urban Harvest’s Gardening Advice

Native Plant and Seed Sources:

Buchanan’s Native Plants

Green Star Wetlands

Houston Audubon Natives Nursery

Joshua’s Native Plants

Nature’s Way Resources


Turner Seed

Wabash Feed and Garden

Coastal Prairie Conservancy

Houston Chapter, Native Prairies Association

Natural Area Permit, City of Houston

Organic Horticulture Benefits Alliance

Urban Organic Gardens

Rewilding Your Yard

Nine Natives for Simple Gardens

Bringing Nature Home, Doug Tallamy

Making Your Garden a Carbon Sink

Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife

The Audubon Society Guide on How to Make Your Yard Bird Friendly

Audubon Society Native Plant Database

Roof Gardens and Green Roofs

Green Roofs, City of Houston

Starting a Rooftop Container Garden

LiveRoof Texas

Texas Edible Landscapes

Year Round Gardening for Metro Houston