Texas A&M Leach Garden Exploration: Principles of Design

Leach Garden Sign

The more design principles become ingrained, the more they are seen. The Leach Garden incorporates many design principles, often in surprising ways, helped along by nature doing so also. Thinking about design principles while touring the garden adds interest, although anyone can enjoy the gardens even with a cursory view. All those garden club programs, flower shows, and design minutes since I’ve joined garden club are starting to have a serious impact on my point of view while touring gardens.

Color: Our Handbook for Flower Shows points out yellow advances the most. Orange and red are also advancing colors. White is listed as advancing and some say white helps adjacent colors stand out better.  Green, blue, black, and gray are all receding colors, called cool colors. Monochromatic colors are also appealing.

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“Clean up your dirt!”: This principle is seen throughout the garden to advantage. Mulch and rock cover dirt and add to visual appeal by adding space, pattern, and texture, as well as decrease water needs.

“Put things together in threes or odd numbers”

Lines to give rhythm and direction as the design is viewed

lines in plantsmulch and cool colors


contrast dark mulch light mulch colors
advancing color red against retreating color green. light mulch vs dark mulch. bright flowers versus vegetables. lines in the fence.

Pattern and texture

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fountain structure dominates this view. Notice how your eye is drawn to the yellow and pink and orange colors

A visit, and repeat visits, to the Leach Garden is recommended if you are in the area. A&M Garden Club helped make the Leach Garden a reality through monetary contributions and has participated in a community event for children to enhance the educational aspect of the garden. Some of our members are a part of the garden through their work on the A&M campus. Although I always enjoyed a visit to the old demonstration garden on campus that some might remember, the Leach Garden has those rectangular, mostly uniformly planted beds that were in that old demonstration garden, beat. More blogs looking at different aspects of the Leach garden are planned, so stay tuned.

Road Trip Garden Report on the Georgetown Garden Club Flower Show

A visit to the Sunken Garden in Georgetown, Texas is always rewarded with blooming beauty and the Georgetown Garden Club’s Flower Show on May 7, 2019 added up to be a powerful plant pilgrimage. An herb tasting educational exhibit allowed participants to try out delicious recipes made from home grown kitchen herbs. This herb theme was a nice companion to the lavender herb beds that are now part of the sunken gardens outside. For those looking to find plants to take home, there were many young plants and tastefully done succulent dish gardens made out of re-purposed containers including cowboy boots and a margarita glass.  Fun May theme floral design categories included derby hats, Mother’s Day and barbecues, and Cinco de Mayo. Horticulture entries took center stage with many native and unusual plants on display including a native milkweed, antelope horns, which is an important plant for our monarch butterflies and a pitcher plant in bloom. Our garden clubs really shine when they host a flower show, and this one certainly shined brightly.

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Prickly Topic of Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia species)

This article was originally published in the Lone Star Gardener some years ago and is copied here with only a few edits


Prickly pear cactus is an easy to grow native plant with beautiful rose-like flowers. It grows best in a sunny location and well-drained soil, although it has been known to grow in the forks of trees. Large spines and the smaller hair-like spines, called glochids, around the base of the large spines, flowers and on the fruit discourage some gardeners from including it in their landscapes.

Except for the spines, most of the above ground parts of the prickly pear cactus have been used for food or medicine. Many medicinal uses have been studied, including: antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, reduction of alcohol hangover symptoms, and diabetes. The fruit, also known as the pear, tuna, or fig, is eaten after removing the prickly parts by cutting, rubbing, pealing, burning, or straining if a jelly is made. The pads are eaten like a vegetable, also known as nopalitos, and like many vegetables, has a low glycemic index. The flowers are used to make tea, often combined with other things. Native Americans used prickly pear medicinally for many things, including applying it to external wounds. Consultation with a healthcare provider knowledgeable about complimentary medicines is recommended before using this or any plant for medicinal purposes. A red dye for use on yarn or fabric can be made from an insect that lives on the prickly pear cactus.

Consider adding prickly pear cactus to your landscape for its beauty and interest, if the thought of removing spines from your body parts does not scare you.

One World Flower Show A&M Garden Club a success!

So many wonderful plants and designs to share, but will only include a few so you can get a taste of what you missed not attending the show in person. Our Facebook page has a good collection of people pictures from the show.

Flower shows with extensive horticulture entries are a great way to get more educated on different types of plants, including ones that grow well and look good in your area. Exhibitors have to include the common name of plants they enter and are in their designs and/or the scientific name. Crowd favorites of this show included an elephant ear plant that sadly wilted within a few hours, but we learned from experts at the show that to enter such a large cut leaf it may need to be conditioned by soaking it in a bathtub full of water to keep the leaf rigid enough to last through the show. Do you have any tips on how to keep cut specimens looking their best? Please share in comments.

Floral designs in National Garden Club Shows often take viewers by surprise as these designs are more intricate and creative than what you would get delivered from a florist. Often having more space in the design is key to pleasing the judges. Designers use rules and tips published in “The Handbook for Flower Shows” 2017 revision published by National Garden Clubs, Inc., to help them know what to do. Many designers attend classes or undergo the rigorous requirements for getting the flower show judge credential.

The shows usually look so easy to the casual observer, but many hours of volunteer work happen behind the scenes to make it such a pleasure to attend, not to mention the work designers and growers of horticulture entries  put in to be able to enter an exhibit. Sometimes gardeners get lucky and have something blooming and in top condition without putting much work into it, but usually special attention is given to a few plants a month or more in advance that they think might be show worthy. Horticulture entries must be in the possession of person entering it for at least 3 months prior to the show.

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Garden Night Visitor

What was digging every night in different beds at the community garden? Inquiring minds want to know. The garden is closed at night, so there is not a way to stay up all night and wait out the visitor. As an organic, certified wildlife habitat garden, the welcome mat for critters is out, maybe even a red carpet if you are a bee, lady bug or butterfly. A trail camera, of the type often used to photograph deer at feeders put out by hunters, can come in handy for learning about wildlife visiting an area while you are home safe and snug in bed.

rabbit small               skunk small

Our woodland friends rabbit and skunk like locally grown organic vegetables and gardens, too!

Luckily, the fence around the garden will at least keep deer out.

What critters have you caught causing havoc in a garden?



Container Gardening Tips from A&M GC September Program

Flower Show Judge, Master Gardener, National Garden Club Instructor for Gardening and Landscape Design School Beth E gave plenty of tips at our September A&M Garden Club meeting on making container gardening easy, despite Texas summer high temperatures. Watering containers at the same time each day with the same amount of water helps. This can be easier if a drip irrigation system on a timer is set up to water all your containers. Including a coleus plant or plants in one or more containers also helps with watering because it wilts when the soil is dry and signals that all the containers need to be watered. Coleus recovers from wilting quickly after being watered. Use larger rather than smaller containers. Hanging baskets can be challenging to keep watered enough during our Texas summers.

When setting up a combination of plants in a container, the classic inclusion of a plant to thrill, a plant to fill, and a plant to spill is still recommended. Be cautious about including more than one variegated variety as it can be distracting. Sweet potato vine is an example of a commonly used “spill” plant in containers, but there are many others. Consider putting in some landscape cloth at the bottom of the container to keep dirt from escaping while allowing for drainage. Some gardeners recommend adding a layer of rocks at the bottom of pots to help with drainage. Before adding plants to a combination planter, soak the small pots with your plants you will add to a larger container in water for about 2 minutes. As you assemble your plants in small pots for your combination planting, consider taking the plants with soil around the roots out of the pots they came in after soaking the whole thing and setting the plant with soil aside briefly while you nestle the empty smaller pots around in the larger container to mark where plants will go and so there is space for them after you fill in soil around the empty pots nestled in the larger container. After lightly packing down soil around the empty pots in the larger container, you are ready to quickly add your thrill, fill and spill plants once you lift out the empty pots. Giving the empty place marking pots a slight twist helps as you remove them from the larger container to make way for your transplants and keep the space ready for the plants you are adding.

Some plants to think about growing in containers all by themselves because they just do not do so well with other plants in the same container are grasses and rosemary.

Succulents are especially popular as of late and a tip to make their containers more attractive is to put chicken grit, which can be purchased at feed stores, on top of the soil to make it neater and help your succulent to really stand out visually. Some crafty ideas for making a snazzy looking container for your succulents is to spray paint a pot you already have or spray paint a large PVC pipe end cap that has holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. If you have not visited the spray paint department at your favorite hardware store lately, you’ll be delighted at the variety of multi-color and textured spray paints available to jazz up your craft projects, including succulent containers.

pvc pot

For gardeners entering judged flower shows, there are things you can do to make your specimen more blue ribbon worthy such as covering the surface of the soil with something like chicken grit, using a real pot as opposed to a black plastic pot or putting the black plastic pot inside a real pot making sure the inner pot sits below the top of the outside pot, cleaning your pots of all dirt and grime and price tags, removing dead leaves or trimming damaged leaves in the same shape of healthy leaves.

One last tip about container plants that might be surprising to some is to under pot rather than over pot. What this means is that it is better for plants to be root bound than have extra soil.

Time to get planting.

Hidden Gardens of Bryan/College Station, the College Station Municipal Cemetery: blog series highlighting public gardens with an A&M Garden Club history

The College Station Cemetery and many other cemeteries are another place to find joy or get comfort from a public garden. The A&M Garden Club planted many of the crepe myrtles at the College Station Cemetery, including the row along the fence, in memory of garden club members who have passed on. Arbor Day often marks the day trees are planted in memory of garden club members and this year the club plans to put in a tree or two at Richard Carter Park in memory of garden club members we lost this past year.

In addition to the crepe myrtles bringing blooming beauty of pinks and white, there are many flowerbeds at the College Station cemetery, as well as interesting plants growing among the blades of grass throughout the cemetery. Many years ago, the club helped install rose bushes in the beds along the front, which are reported to be Martha Gonzales roses. Wildflowers mostly crowd out the rose bushes now.  Day lilies were also planted at some time in the past there and a wild passion vine was spotted during my visit which was food for a caterpillar.

The club also used to maintain the designated children’s area of the cemetery, although as club members came and went, maintenance is now done primarily by the City of College Station to keep the gardens and plants watered and groomed at the cemetery to keep it looking nice for all who visit.

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If you have additional information to share about this garden, please comment below or share what you know at our next garden club meeting.