Discover the Enchantment of a Grotto in the Texas Hill Country

Wonderful Outdoor Adventures Await Exploration

John Gusky, award-winning guest photographer, shares this beautiful image of a grotto near the Westcave Preserve in southwest Travis County with A natural grotto is a small cave near water; it is also a common design used in man-made landscape sculptures. The lush foliage covering the rock formation along with sky-reaching trees and emerald pool enclave create an ambience reminiscent of, and generally only seen in movies of enchantment and adventure.

Grotto Texas Hill Country

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Backyard Composting Made Easy

January 30, 2008

Composting In 3-Easy Steps

Composting is easy and requires little time, effort, or expense. With the environmental benefits, composting offers tremendous return on investment!

Getting Started: Creating a Compost Bin

1. Select a dry, shady area with easy water access

2. Build a compost bin; suitable materials include galvanized chicken wire, cinder blocks, or wood

3. Supplies You’ll Need: Pitchfork, shovel or machete, water hose

4. Identifying Compost Materials

  • Brown Materials: Includes materials such as dead leaves, branches , twigs
  • Green Materials: Includes materials such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds
  • Water

Composting In 3-Easy Steps

  1. Alternate layers of green and brown materials in compost bin, spraying each layer with water
  2. Rotate pile weekly, using a pitchfork or shovel; to aid in compost breakdown efficiency, use a shovel or machete to cut up larger pieces of refuse
  3. A properly maintained compost pile will take a minimum of two months, to turn into a soil enrichment compound. Once the compost turns into a dark brown soil-type mixture; it is ready to be tilled into your soil.

The Science of Composting

For optimum compost development, mix equal amounts of brown materials in alternate layers with the green. The green materials provides nitrogen, while the brown ones provide carbon; the water provides moisture necessary to break down the organic matter. A note of caution, as the compost begins to cook, temperatures can reach 160 degrees!



Composting can be fun when shared with family and friends and it’s a great way to nourish your soil, recycle, and save money.

Benefits of Composting

January 23, 2008

Making a Positive Impact with Composting

Composting offers several benefits, including making a positive impact in our community and environment.

Composting Enriches the Soil

Compost reinvigorates tired soil with needed natural nutrients. Since it increases soil moisture retention, compost decreases watering needs.

Composting Reduces Pollution

Often compost reduces the need for chemical fertilizers which are harmful to the environment when flushed away by rain water into our water reservoirs. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yard wastes generate methane gas and acidic leachate when they decompose in landfills.

Compositing Provides Good Recycling Stewardship

Instead of filling landfills with bags of grass clippings, leaves, and kitchen refuse, these natural elements combine to make a nutrient-rich compost.

Composting Saves Money

Since compost reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and watering, cost-savings are an added benefit! Composting is an easy project with many benefits and requires little time or effort.

Making a positive impact on our environment is easy with composting. Why not start today?

Butterfly Gardens by Design

Designing Landscapes to Attract Butterflies

Bring the lovely dance of butterflies to your home garden by choosing plants that attract the delicate beauties. Butterflies rely on plant life for their nutrition through each stage of their life. To attract a variety of butterfly species and create a visually pleasing floral garden, plant more than one kind of flower in a sunny area as butterflies require the sun’s warmth.

Popular flowers to include consider when creating your butterfly garden:

  • Ageratum
  • Bougainvillea
  • Coral Vine
  • Daisy
  • Lantana
  • Milkweed
  • Pincushion Flower
  • Plumago
  • Periwinkle
  • Petunia
  • Salvia
  • Turk’s Cap
  • Zinnia

For optimum results, it’s important to remember to carefully prepare the soil before planting. Break up the soil, dig a hole sized appropriately for each plant (see plant tag), and fertilize regularly.

Whether your butterfly garden is a few potted plants on your patio, or a large garden, enjoy the beautiful symphony of the butterfly dance all season long.

Your Distinctive Landscape Design Style

Exquisite Landscape Transitions

Your distinctive style made your house a home. Now that same exquisite touch can transform your backyard into a landscape of elegance. As the trend in outdoor living increases, so do the many wonderful options for landscape designs, furnishings, and accessories.


Photo provided courtesy Kichler Lighting

Fire pits, fountains, and outdoor kitchen grilling areas can be easily incorporated onto your deck or patio. Furnishings, lighting, and blooming plants in decorative containers complete your outdoor living area while adding personalized ambiance.

Natural stone offers a functional beauty that resonates with the soul. It’s strength is timeless and the variations in color a subtle elegance. Stone can be used for patios, walkways, retaining structures, and as accent pieces.

Wood structures connect in natural harmony with plant life. Decks, decorative fences, and trellis’ are just a few of the popular uses of wood in landscape design. A pergola creates a ceiling for your outdoor living room. Drift away from the stresses of the day in the private romance of an arbor.


Photo provided courtesy Cedarshed

Landscape lighting, available in low-wattage and solar, performs as both function and design. A safety feature providing navigation, lighting also delivers lightwash effects that add dramatic appeal.

The great thing about planning your lawn and garden is incorporating a little bit of ‘you’ in the design. Extend the beauty of your home’s interior into your landscape with your personal watermark.

Vivid Xeriscapes: A beautiful water-wise, low-maintenance landscape solution

Water-wise, Low-maintenance Xeriscapes

Xeriscaping offers a wonderful solution for beautiful and colorful landscapes. Like traditional landscapes, a xeriscape may be designed to minimize maintenance, conserve water and protect the environment. By selecting plants that are well-adapted, organic mulches that suppress weed growth and conserve water, along with drip-irrigation systems directed at the plant roots, xeriscapes can deliver visually stunning and fragrant landscapes.

Taken from the Greek word xeros, meaning dry, xeriscape embodies the principles of water conservation through creative landscaping. In the metroplex, as in many areas of the country, there is growing concern about water shortages. Water usage varies, but the American Water Works Association suggests as a general estimate that as much as 50 percent of water consumption can be attributed to landscape use. Proper planning can greatly reduce water usage.

“The Dallas Water Utilities host the annual Xeriscape Tour of Homes to showcase the most impressive water-wise gardens in Dallas each June,” says Yvonne Dupre, program coordinator for Dallas Water Utilities. “They also conduct free classes to train residents on xeriscaping.”

Seven Principles for Successful Xeriscapes

  1. Start with a plan. Consider soil type, drainage and water availability. Determine how the space will be used: entertaining, play, gardening or storage.
  2. Analyze and improve the soil if needed. Adding an organic matter, such as compost, will improve drainage, moisture penetration and retention.
  3. Determine the best turf. Since grass needs more water, consider if the area will benefit more from a ground cover, shrub, deck or patio addition.
  4. Select native or drought tolerant plants. If unsure, consult plant experts at local nurseries.
  5. Water efficiently. Water less frequently, but more deeply to develop healthier root systems. “When you use misting sprinklers or sprinklers that throw water high into the air, the water often evaporates before it hits the ground,” Dupre says. “Drip irrigation applies water slowly to the soil directly surrounding the plant roots.” The Rainbird Landscape Dripline System is one such system that offers the advantages of watering each plant, not the surrounding soil. This results in fewer weeds, greater water conservation and faster growth. Additionally, it reduces the runoff of excessive watering and the burden of unwanted and wasted pesticides in our lakes.
  6. Use organic mulches to conserve water and slow weed growth. Mulches reduce soil water loss and erosion. Common organic mulches include pine bark, composted leaves, shredded cedar, and landscape clippings.
  7. Maintain appropriately. A properly maintained yard is hardier and better equipped to withstand drought, freezing and pest problems.

Trees and shrubs should be pruned annually. Flowering plants need frequent pruning to stimulate blooming and keep a neat appearance. Remove weeds so they do not compete with plants for water. Raise the height of the lawn mower so grass blades are able to shade their roots. Fertilize in moderation; allow grass clippings to remain on the lawn as a natural fertilizer.

Plants, trees, shrubs, perennials and even natural rock offer homeowners unlimited design tools for creating functional and stunning outdoor-living spaces. Beautiful, eco-friendly and low-maintenance, xeriscapes offer the perfect solution for conservation-conscience homeowners.

Landscape Design for the Senses

Designing Beautiful Landscape Designs and Outdoor Living Spaces

A beautiful garden or outdoor living space that truly resonates deeply with one’s soul goes beyond the obvious visual appeal and touches each of the senses. When designing your landscape, consider elements that appeal to taste, touch, sound, and of course, visual.

Designing for Taste:

Ornamental in appearance, an herb garden is fragrant and rich in flavor for culinary uses. There are many easy-to-grow herbs to choose from. Some of the the more popular herbs include basil, oregano, and mint and can be grown in the ground, raised boxes, or in container gardens.

Innovations in outdoor kitchens now allow state-of-the-art grilling centers complete with refrigerators and sinks. Outdoor dining has never been easier, nor a more wide array of selections available for a complete landscape design.

Designing for Touch:

Sink into plush, over-sized cushions on elegantly designed wood, iron, or wicker stylish and comfortable furnishings. Select pieces perfect for your outdoor room from elegant selections in chairs, rockers, loungers, sofas, and loveseats.

Outdoor ceiling fans create a delightful breeze on those still summer nights when the air is thick. The air circulation contributes to an overall temperature reduction increasing outdoor comfort on warm evenings.

Misters installed discreetly in any landscape design, deck, or patio environment provide added comfort. The evaporation process absorbs the heat and may lower the outdoor temperature by as much as 30 degrees according to Rapid Cool Misting Systems.

Designing for Sound:

Landscape accents such as tall shrubs, trees, and decorative wooden fences can serve as a buffer to diffuse nearby traffic, barking dogs, and noisy neighbors.

Soothing sounds can be added with an outdoor music sound system, wind chimes, and fountains. Woodstock Chimes offers an impressive array of precision-tuned wind chimes. Popular selections include the repeating melody of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Amazing Grace, and the Salsa Chime, resonating with the syncopated Latin rhythm sounds.

Fountain selections today are a visual work of art delivering the peaceful sounds of a waterfall. They can be as grand as in-ground falls surrounded by lush landscape and natural stone, or as simple as a tabletop accent–with many options in between.

Designing for Smell:

The fragrance of a garden is a delightful pleasure. A natural aromatherapy, some of the more fragrant flowers include Azaleas, Jasmine, Jonquils, Hybrid Tea Roses, Plumeria, Sweet Alyssum, and Gardenias.

Designing for Visual:

Your distinctive style can transition from indoors to out with the selection of garden decor. Find design inspiration for unique decorative accent items available from a variety of retailers at

Available in low-wattage and solar, landscape lighting performs as both function and design. Kichler manufactures a variety of stylish outdoor lighting that includes chandeliers, lamps, wall sconces, and path lights available in aluminum, copper, brass, and stainless steel. A safety feature providing navigation, outdoor lighting also delivers a lightwash effect that adds dramatic architectural appeal.

For added visual beauty and harmony, choose flowering plants that attract butterflies and birds for a symphony of nature.

A memorable, luxurious landscape design is one that stirs the senses as it touches and renews the soul.