AgriLife Extension, Myer’s Park team up to tout Earth-Kind principles

Park is venue for world’s most extensive Earth-Kind research trials  

By: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, paschattenberg@ag.tamu.edu

Dr. Steve George, 972-540-2019, s-george3@tamu.edu

Dr. Greg Church, 972-548-4232, gtchurch@ag.tamu.edu

Judy Florence, 972-548-4792, mpec@collincountytx.gov

MCKINNEY – Myer’s Park and Event Center not only provides a beautiful backdrop for a variety of public and private events, it is also the venue for the most extensive Earth-Kind research and demonstration trials anywhere in the world, said Dr. Steve George, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service landscape specialist, Dallas.

The Earth-Kind trials on perennials and annuals at Myer’s Park provide a beautiful backdrop for tours and photography. Couples have also been married in the garden. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

The Earth-Kind trials on perennials and annuals at Myer’s Park provide a beautiful backdrop for tours and photography. Couples have also been married in the garden. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“Earth-Kind testing is currently taking place in multiple states throughout the U.S. and in five foreign countries, but the largest of any is here at Myer’s Park near McKinney,” said George, creator of the Earth-Kind Environmental Landscape Management System. “Earth-Kind landscaping uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum garden and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting the environment. Here at Myer’s Park, there are Earth-Kind trials being conducted on annuals, perennials, grapes, herbs, shrubs, ornamental grasses, tree-form crape myrtles and vegetables.”

George said the objective of Earth-Kind landscaping is to combine the best of organic and traditional gardening and landscaping principles to create a horticultural system based on real-world effectiveness and environmental responsibility.

“Earth-Kind is a registered trademark of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service,” George explained.

He said Earth-Kind landscaping principles have been used since the 1990s. They encourage water conservation, reduced chemical inputs and less landscape waste entering landfills.”

The park, which covers more than 158 acres, features The Landing and Pole Barn event venues, a show barn, stall barn, gazebo, pond, the Collin County Farm Museum, an amphitheater and award-winning gardens.

“At Myer’s Park we are testing 42 annual varieties and 111 perennial varieties, as well as 40 herb varieties, nine grape varieties, 25 crape myrtle varieties, 17 shrub varieties and 10 grass varieties, plus various vegetables,” said Dr. Greg Church, AgriLife Extension horticulturist for Collin County. Together, Church, George, park personnel, Collin County Master Gardeners and others worked to build and maintain the park’s several Earth-Kind test plots.

The parks test plots include the Earth-Kind Perennial Research Garden, Earth-Kind Annual Research Garden, Earth-Kind Herb Research Garden, Earth-Kind Grape Research Garden, Earth-Kind Crape Myrtle Research Garden, Earth-Kind Shrub Research Garden, Earth-Kind Vegetable Research Garden and Earth-Kind Ornamental Grass Research Garden.

the Earth-Kind perennial Research Garden is a collaboration of Myer's Park, AgriLife Extension and others. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

The Earth-Kind perennial Research Garden is a collaboration of Myer’s Park, AgriLife Extension and others. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

The perennial and annual research gardens, as well as those for herbs and grape varieties, are located near the park office, while research and demonstration plots of shrubs, crape myrtle, vegetables and turfgrass have been established elsewhere throughout the park.

“We are very pleased with our relationship with AgriLife Extension and the Collin County Master Gardeners,” said park manager Judy Florence. “They have helped us beautify our park with these gardens and do most of the work toward their upkeep. Many people come to the park just to see the gardens and learn more about how they were created.”

Church said the annuals and perennials are being tested for their ability to perform with little or no maintenance.

“In our annuals and perennials research we are looking to identify attractive, sturdy plants that do well with minimal watering and little to no chemical input,” Church said. “For the shrubs and crape myrtles, we are also looking for varieties that grow in such a way as to require little or no pruning. In all our trials, we are looking for varieties that remain healthy and perform well while conserving water and eliminating the need for fertilizers or pesticides.”

Florence said the perennials research garden, which was established in 2010, is very popular among those getting married.

“We have a lot of weddings at the park and people enjoy using the gardens as a backdrop for their wedding photos,” she said. “We’ve also had several couples get married in the garden.”

The design for the perennial garden and adjacent gardens was developed by Church for aesthetic purposes and to keep within the practical necessities related to his research.

“This is a concentric circle design broken into four different sections with each quadrant being a research replication,” he said. “There’s one of each of the plants in all four sections, but they are placed randomly within each section.”

Earth-Kind vegetable trials are among the additional types of research being done at Myer's Park. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Earth-Kind vegetable trials are among the additional types of research being done at Myer’s Park. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Church said to prepare the soil for planting, it was tilled to a depth of 6-8 inches, and three inches of compost was added, then re-tilled. After the varieties were planted, three inches of hardwood mulch made from shredded tree limbs and branches was added around the plants and to cover the soil of each section. He made similar soil preparations and replications at the other test plots.

“Earth-Kind is the epitome of low maintenance,” George said. “For example, if you are growing a woody plant that lasts a hundred years, with Earth-Kind you only add compost one time in 100 years and work the soil one time in 100 years. From then on you just mulch.”

According to Church and George, Earth-Kind also conserves a great deal of water.  Compared to the typical homeowner using overhead irrigation, they estimate that after its establishment year supplemental irrigation in the Earth-Kind Perennial Research Garden was reduced by 96 percent.

Rainwater harvesting is also emphasized in Earth-Kind landscaping and gardens. For these gardens, two 500-gallon tanks capture rainwater from a section of the  park’s Collin County Farm Museum roof for use in irrigation.

Recently, about 20 individuals from George’s Earth-Kind Landscape Design and Management School  toured the park’s many research and demonstration plots, seeing firsthand how to apply Earth-Kind principles.

George holds these landscape design schools each year in Dallas and other Texas cities. The two-day course consists of an in-depth classroom program and outdoor laboratory session, plus a personalized 1.5-hour landscape design consultation.

Attendees of Dr. George’s landscaping school got a firsthand look at the Earth-Kind Trials at Myer’s Park. Here the group looks at table-grape varieties undergoing tested. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Attendees of Dr. George’s landscaping school get a firsthand look at Earth-Kind  table grape trials at Myer’s Park. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“We like people to come to the garden to look at the plants, see what they like and get an idea of whether the plants will work for them when they are at a mature size,” said Diane Sharp, the 16-year Collin County Master Gardener and project lead who coordinated the recent tour.

“Having a closer look at these plants really helps with plant selection for your own landscape,” said Ed Waldrup of Plano, an Earth-Kind landscape design course attendee who took the tour. “But the real secret is in the composting and preparation of the soil.”

“The amount of information I have gotten toward applying these landscaping principles, as well as having Dr. George help me develop my own home landscape design, has been incredible,” added Louise Pontius of Coppell, another landscape course attendee and tour participant.

Others who toured the gardens also had praise for their beauty, design and the extensive amount of research being done.

“This is a great place for people to come and look at a lot of different research trials and a lot of different plants,” Church said. “Here they can learn about the plants and Earth-Kind principles and see how they can be successful if they replicate this approach.”

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