Walsh takes a careful approach to prairie restoration and preservation through smart, sustainable landscaping.
To plan a development that takes advantage of every aspect of the great outdoors requires much more than simply planting trees, grasses and flowers that create an aesthetically pleasing landscape.
Instead, the real work begins with the preservation of the original terrain. Designed to appeal to buyers who appreciate the concept of a “hybrid mind” (the idea that both nature and nurture are equally important), it was up the developers at Walsh to take a significant look at the prairie on which this innovative community stands and—at the very least—bring it back to its former glory.
“We have a conservation and restoration approach,” says Tony Ruggeri, the co-CEO and partner of Republic Property Group, the developers of Walsh. “A third of our 7,200 acres will be open land forever and will never be built on. We partnered with the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (or BRIT) to actively restore the prairie that’s being lost in that development. The vast majority of this large open space is under prairie restoration.”
Seeking to be part of the solution, not part of the problem of building up a formerly untouched plain, the very first decisions began with what plants would not be beneficial.
“BRIT went out and surveyed all the different plant species and gave us information on the types of plants that are out there,” says Ruggeri. “I walked out there with them a number of times to identify different types of grasses and what they do for the environment, and how they were naturally maintained through traveling herds of buffalo back then and grazing animals now. We started making decisions based on that, and we learned (that) the Bermuda grass that everyone plants is actually an invasive species.”
Bringing in Anne Howerton of the New York- and San Francisco-based architecture firm Hart Howerton, Walsh and its developers took a studied approach to what was possible in lieu of that drought-resistant suburban stalwart.
“Our background is working nationally on many one-of-a-kind places,” says Howerton. “Because we’re an interdisciplinary firm, we think about it all together. We don’t think of landscape as the last thing to come—we’re more often introduced to piece of land and people with ideas of what they want to do that aren’t fully fleshed out, and we help them dream a little and think a lot and get them where they want to go.”
Partnering with BRIT, Howerton and her colleagues began with the main parkway planned in the first phase of the development. With its recent history as an actual working ranch owned by the Walsh family, the first step was restoring the land by re-seeding to support the natural ecosystem.
Sowing the Seeds of Possibility
With the help of BRIT, Howerton contacted Native American Seed, a source for natural wildflowers and prairie grasses in Junction, Texas. Known for their work restoring land with a customized seed mix, Native American Seed walked the land with an eye to providing food and support to local ecology.
Explains Howerton, “We knew we wanted to get a beautiful color seasonally and have all the benefits of supporting local butterflies and birds through the distribution of what’s in the seed mix. We put together the right percentages (of plants) based on the conditions we have—full sun with some seasonal moisture around the pond, and an area where we’d introduce more of a tree cover.
“The important part about it is you take all the work out of the equation if you keep your open space native, don’t disturb it and support the ecology of what’s there.”
Because Bermuda grasses had already been inadvertently introduced (and are notoriously invasive), a benign chemical was used to remove them from either side of the parkway.
“You can’t be a friend of the prairie and have Bermuda going in,” laughs Howerton. “When everyone goes to mow their lawn, all that seed goes into the air and finds a disturbed area and starts to take hold.”
Because Bermuda grass also requires more moisture to thrive, a low-maintenance alternative needed to be found quickly. The solution? Zoysia grass: a dense, traffic-resistant turf with a remarkable tolerance to heat and drought. Currently gaining traction across Texas, its ability to thrive in both sun and shade and to grow without heavy fertilization made it the perfect choice. With cultivars including “No Mow” and “Jamur,” the Zoysia varietals chosen for Walsh are vibrant in hue and slow growing, saving residents time and energy in fertilization or mowing.
Check back next week to discover what botanicals and trees were chosen to prettify the Walsh prairie.