August 17, 2006

By Victoria County Master Gardener Maria Sobczak

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon


Landscape (lănd'skāp').   The definition of landscape includes many meanings.   As a noun, it can mean “an expanse of scenery”; as a verb, it includes the action “to adorn or improve (a section of ground) by contouring and by planting flowers, shrubs, or trees.” At the web site I found this information about the history of the word landscape.   “First recorded in 1598, it was borrowed as a painters' term from Dutch during the 16th century, when Dutch artists were pioneering the landscape genre. The Dutch word landschap had earlier meant simply “region, tract of land” but had acquired the artistic sense, which it brought over into English, of “a picture depicting scenery on land.” Interestingly, 34 years pass after the first recorded use of landscape in English before the word is used of a view or vista of natural scenery. This delay suggests that people were first introduced to landscapes in paintings and then saw landscapes in real life.”



So those of us, who wish to work on landscaping, must focus on how to arrange the grounds artistically.  Your garden is your canvas and the plants the palette from which you create.   My daughter once made the comment that one of my garden areas was too cluttered and not the sculpted arrangement that she thought I, as a Master Gardener, would have in my yard.  My response was that a Master Gardener’s garden is often an ongoing experiment in design and my experiment was not yet complete.  Since then I have rearranged or removed some plants and added new items, much to her satisfaction.  However, it is still an ongoing experiment!



“Moses-in-the-boat (in the left foreground corner), named for its bloom in a boat-shaped appendage, is a drought and freeze tolerant plant for this area with muted green spear shape leaves that have a purple underside. It grows in mounds and makes a spectacular border plant like shown in Master Gardener Maria Sobczak’s landscape.”


“With a bit of pruning and shaping, the pygmy date palm remains visible between these two esperanzas.   The plants’ different shades of green complement each other and the bright yellow flowers add color to the foliage to enhance the landscape.”




I found that using a variety of shapes, textures and color brought an interesting twist to my very evergreen front entryway.  One such addition I happened to find by chance while visiting Rockport several summers ago.  The plant seemed to be heat and drought tolerant, compared to the looks of the others around it.  Its leaves are spear-shaped, with tops a muted green and the underside a lovely shade of purple.  It grows in mounds of about 12 inches in height, spreading in clumps to make a spectacular border.  I found my specimen lying along a footpath, but I did not know the name of it.  I couldn’t just leave it there to be trampled and crushed under foot.   Picking it up, I tossed it in the nearly empty cup of water I was carrying.  Returning home late that evening, I forgot to take the plant out of the car’s backseat cup holder.  There it stayed for several days.  Lo and behold, when I finally cleaned out the car, it was still “hanging in there.”  I decided to see if it could really meet the requirement of being a part of my landscape, the ability to survive a western exposure and benign neglect.   Evidently, I found the right spot because it passed the test, has multiplied, filling in the area and thus far endured freezing temperatures, even the snow of Christmas Eve 2004.  The scientific name of this wonderful piece of vegetation is Rhoeo spathacea, commonly known as oyster plant or “Moses-in-the-boat”.  It gets its name from the small flower it blooms in an appendage shaped like a shell or a boat.  Some of the local nurseries have this plant in stock as I write this article.



After adding that bit of color, it was time to scrutinize the remainder of my landscape. Going to the Victoria County Master Gardeners’ web site at http://community.victoria VictoriaCountyMasterGardenerAssociation, I found Master Gardener Mary Logan’s article on exotic plants and found information about some of the plants already in my garden.  The pygmy date palm, with its graceful, flowing fronds, was being blocked by the prolific blooms and branches of my pair of esperanza. With a bit of pruning and shaping, the space opened up and everyone now is able to enjoy the beauty of both.  The plants’ different shades of green complement each other and the bright yellow flowers just make one feel happy.  That revelation took me to another Gardeners’ Dirt article written by Master Gardener Donna Roberts on using the color wheel to help set balance and unity in that space.


One of the Master Gardener training sessions provides the opportunity to analyze a variety of landscape arrangements, to comment on what is seen and to express how it makes you feel as you view or approach the area.


Now that may sound quite challenging to some, but it really is a wonderful way to apply your imagination and creativity.  Along the way, between learning and designing to the completion of the actual end product, there’s a lot of trial and error.  Thank goodness for the Advocate’s and Master Gardeners’ web sites that archive the information and make it available 24/7.  And in the event that there is not enough to satisfy my inquiries locally, I can always turn to Texas A & M’s horticulture web site,, for just about anything else needed to answer my questions. So what are you waiting for?  Put on your artist’s hat, your gardening gloves and your rose-colored glasses - and go create your very own masterpiece.


Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin.  The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas cooperating.  Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid, service or accommodations in order to participate in this meeting are encouraged to contact the County Extension Office at 361/575-4581 to determine how reasonable accommodations can be made.  The information given herein is for educational purposes only.  Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Cooperative Extension Service is implied.