Bruce Randall put two Brandon families to work for weeks. But they can't thank him enough for their days of being dirty, tired and sweaty. Randall, the horticulturist for Lowry Park Zoo, helps do-it-yourself landscapers create a beautiful yard and save money. He makes a plan and they do the work.
Mike and Letha Doiron said they tried the Randall plan after moving into their fourth home.
"In the past we wasted a lot of money doing the wrong things," said Letha.
Mike added, "This was the most barren place we have ever moved into. We toyed with the idea about what to do and then decided, "Why don't we get somebody to help us?'
They wanted to do the labor themselves and save money, so they called Randall at Accented Landscaping. After visiting the Doirons and seeing their stark yard, Randall went to his drawing board and came back with a plan.
"He made it so simple for us," said Letha. "When he drew the plans he made everything to scale. We had 287 plants. We were initially concerned about how we were going to do it, but we just took out the tape measure and said, "Here's where it goes.'
Randall also included a step-by-step list for the Doirons that Letha said was so easy "even a dummy could follow it."
The scale drawing identified the placement of plants by name, the size of container to buy, as well as the estimated retail price of each plant.
"I recommend people take the plant list I give them and take it to a couple of nurseries," said Randall. "Ask them to give a bid on it. On a bigger buy, they will usually give you a discount. If they don't, suggest that they do."
The Doirons had no trees on their lot, but having lived in the Southwest for a while, they preferred large, open areas, landscaped with hardy shrubs.
Randall's challenge was to choose shrubs that were sun-loving and drought- and freeze-resistant. In the Doirons' yard he included Crinum lilies, African irises, Aztec grass, Silverthorn and Texas Blue sage as well as several other sun-loving species of plants.
The Doirons began the project last April, and they worked for five days, beginning at 6 a.m. until dark.
"We took a water hose and laid out the beds and then sprayed the lines with spray paint," Mike said. The project was under way, and they didn't stop until it was complete. "Since we are both procrastinators we knew either we do it all at once or it doesn't get done."
The Doirons said they spent $1,200 on plants, and Randall charged $120. They figure they saved at least $2,000 by doing the planting themselves.
Another Brandon family, Tim and Sue Miley, used Randall's services but spread their work over a period of six months.
For the Mileys' yard, Randall had to select plants that thrived well under lots of shade. He also planned the landscaping for the back of their house, integrating plants around a lava rock waterfall, a Jacuzzi and a black-surfaced pool.
When they bought their home six years ago, Sue said the whole yard was nothing but weeds and trees.
"Bruce made it real easy for us," she said. "With the estimated price list that he gave us we knew how much to budget since we were doing the labor ourselves."
Randall said he appropriated both his and the Mileys' priorities in their plan.
"The approach to a house is probably one of the most important areas to look at, to make it inviting," said Randall. "I knew the Mileys liked bromeliads, so on the plan I just put assorted bromeliads around the front porch and let them choose which kinds they wanted."
The front yard is now about one-third grass and two-thirds plants. Small pathways radiating from a birdbath weave through the flowers and shrubs giving the area a park-like atmosphere. Azaleas, impatiens, ferns and palms make up some of the 30 varieties of plants now under the trees.
For the pool area, Randall said he wanted to use lots of color without flowers because flowers are harder to maintain.
"There are so many textural and color variations in the color green," he said, "that with variegation or red highlights, you get lots of color."
For that area Randall chose nun orchids, spineless yucca, sword ferns, lady finger palms, peace lilies and birds of paradise.
The overall result is that of a tropical lagoon hidden away on some South Sea island.
The plants in and around the waterfall are kept in containers for mobility in the event of a pending freeze or to simply change the overall look by changing plants, said Randall.
Rather than traditional tile or cement decking, Randall designed wood decking and connected it intermittently with stepping stones.
Any fear about plants and chlorine being incompatible is dispelled by seeing the plants, some only fractions of an inch from the water. Randall said chlorine can become a problem for plants in the area where back washed pool water drains. A salt buildup in that area could harm plants, he said.
The cost to the Mileys for their landscaping endeavor was around $1,700. This included plants and design fees.
Randall contends yards that are easiest to maintain are those that were thought out in advance, and he preaches the idea of conservation: preserving nature and conserving water by using native plants.
"These are less problematic than plants that have been introduced into the area, whether it be insect problems or fungus," he said.
Randall's objective is always a cohesive plan. "The whole idea of design is to try to soften the lines of the house, which is most often rectangular or cubic," he said.
Randall said people who want his services primarily want to save money, but they also want to have the experience of doing it themselves.
"If you aren't involved in the process, if you didn't put that effort into planting and nurturing, you just aren't going to care for it as well. A homeowner will do a better job because if it has to be done over again, it is their sweat."
Sue and Tim Miley say they have absorbed a great deal of knowledge. Sue said that her friends think she is an expert now.
"It was a good experience for us and has given us confidence to do more," she said.
SOME LANDSCAPING TIPS
Bruce Randall gives the following suggestions to novice landscapers:
If you're not going to tackle the project all at once, clear off only that which you can handle so the area doesn't erode.
When it comes to planting, he recommends enriching the soil around the plants only. Dig a hole twice the size of the container and improve the soil 50 percent, using existing soil and a peat mix.
Don't be afraid to use a plant because you've heard it's toxic. Instead, teach children to respect plants, because they might encounter them somewhere else later.
Fertilize every other month during the growing season.
If you don't recycle newspapers, stack them outdoors with a brick on top to use later as an underlayer for mulch. Getting it wet makes it more manageable.
Use pine bark or punk tree mulch rather than cypress for ecological reasons. Cypress trees are not replanted when harvested.
Buy smaller plants and let them grow to fill in the spaces. Don't plant new plants close together. It is tempting to try to get a mature look right away, but there is no room for the growth that comes later.
_ TERRY WIGGINTON