Stevens Park resident Van Johnson doesn’t just have a green thumb, he has two! His gardens have not only been certified as a Monarch Waystation, but also as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. He has also created a lizard habitat by reusing the limestone rock found in his yard. He regularly sees geckos and anoles. He calls his Green-eyed Susan plant an “instectory.” When it blooms, it attracts six or seven kinds of bees. “The pollinators love it,” he says.
Most intriguing to me has always been the ecologically balanced pond. What started out as a passive solar reflector to warm the greenhouse in the winter has turned into a beautiful wildlife habitat all complete without electricity or a pump. How does he keep it beautiful without a pump? It is about ratios. For example, you want 65 percent of the pond covered in plant materials and 35 percent left open for oxygen. Then for fish, you can have 1 inch of fish for every square foot of water. So if you have a 54-square-foot pond, you could get 54 one-inch fish or one 54-inch fish, or some variation thereof. Also, his pond plants are planted in gravel baskets. This lets the roots clean the water and the bacteria attaches to the rocks. “It is another plant collection,” he says. His favorite is the lotus because of its beauty and symbolism of purity. “It grows out of the muckiest part of the pond and displays a pure white flower tall enough the muck can’t get to it,” he says.
His newest purchases come in the way of a White Texas Star, Lemon Cypress and two Japanese Maples. I asked him why he purchased the Lemon Cypress and he said, “For the color!” as he held it against the dark evergreen creeping fig ivy that covers the exterior walls of his home. By covering the exterior with that plant, he has saved on his electric bill. Also newly renovated is his Asian garden, with the two Japanese maples, inland sea oats that sway gracefully in the wind, hostas, Japanese spurge and fox-tail fern.
Would you think you could successfully create a bog garden or ferndale garden in North Texas? Well, Johnson has done it. “I love shade- and moisture-loving plants, but don’t want to spend all my time and money watering them,” he says. One day inspiration struck, and he thought to use some left over pond liner to create bogs and a ferndale.
In addition to all the ornamental plants, Johnson also grows edibles. He has grapevines to shade his greenhouse in the summer. His potager garden is used as a perennial vegetable and herb garden supplemented with vegetables and fruits that are expensive to purchase in the store. “Why would I grow potatoes?” he asks. “They don’t cost.” Surrounded by asparagus, swiss chard, sorrel and herbs, he plants yellow, orange and red bell peppers. It does make good sense to purchase three bell pepper plants (approximately $6) and get around 30 pounds of peppers, than to pay $6 per pound at the store. He has fruit trees, an olive tree, citrus trees and 34 kinds of mint. He says his favorite is the berries and cream mint. It does smell and taste wonderful!