Creating city landscapes is art in Waxahachie, Texas

How many cities have a full-time artist on staff?

Talk to Chris Seale and you’ll quickly learn that that’s how he sees his job as horticulturalist for the city of Waxahachie, Texas. Seale was hired two years ago to lead beautification efforts in this city of roughly 32,000 just south of the Dallas suburbs. “I love that I can take my ideas and run with them,” he said. “It’s all for the citizens, and they definitely love it. This is the best job I’ve ever had, by far.”

Plants create a prettier town

Plants play a big role in forging the identity of cities, and Waxahachie is no exception. In 1997, local residents succeeded in getting the Texas legislature to designate it the Crape Myrtle Capital of Texas. The city celebrates its favorite flowering tree with a Crape Myrtle Festival every July.

But ensuring that public spaces remain a source of beauty, and not blight, takes constant planning and maintenance. Waxahachie’s Community Development Corporation—an entity funded through the city’s sales tax—funds Seale’s position.

“They realized that there were some landscaping and beautification needs in Waxahachie,” he said. One of the first problems he tackled was making a major highway overpass—a main gateway o the city—more attractive. “There’s a lot of concrete, but the idea was that if we could somehow beautify this area through landscaping or some other means, we could draw people in from off the highway to visit our city,” he said.

Seale was concerned about the toll that heat and car exhaust could take on plants in this environment. Adding to the challenge was the lack of any grassy median to transform.

He ended up purchasing large, sub-irrigated concrete planters up to 6 feet in diameter. The planters can be topped off with water a few times a week, bringing a touch of green to what had been a vast mass of concrete.

“Any time I introduce myself as the city horticulturalist, people always ask, ‘Are you responsible for those pots down on the highway?’” Seale said.

Beautifying areas large and small

Seale has also helped spruce up areas that are more accommodating to pedestrians.

When he first saw Claude Bynum Plaza, a memorial park in a residential area, it contained a few crape myrtles and minimal planting. The plaza was surrounded by the Victorian homes that have given Waxahachie the moniker, “Gingerbread City.”

“I thought it would be great as a hybrid Victorian-type garden,” Seale said.

So he drew up a knot garden design and got to work. In the process, he got a lesson in just how much of an impact his work could have.
Seale wanted to use a vibrant yellow shrub called “Sunshine” Ligustrum to contrast with dwarf yaupon hollies in the border.

“This was a couple of years ago, and you couldn’t find them anywhere,” Seale said.

After a few phone calls to nurseries, he had the plants ordered from a nursery in Alabama. Once they went in the ground, “They got people’s attention,” Seale said. “I got so many phone calls, even from local nurseries in town. People were asking, ‘What is that?’”

Today, it’s a popular choice among local landscapers and homeowners.

Introducing new varieties

Before his job in Waxahachie, Seale worked for the Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden.

This is where he learned about many of the new plants he has brought to Waxahachie landscapes, like the Leopard Plant.  Seale has used this as he has landscaped pocket parks on odd-sized tracts of land the city has received over time as part of development approval agreements. These new additions don’t go unnoticed.

“I’ll plant new plants that nobody has heard of, and then I’ll start seeing them in nurseries, which is awesome, because that tells me people are writing these down and asking for them,” Seale said.

Importance of beautification

His time at the arboretum gave Seale an appreciation for the importance of plant labeling. That’s something he’s tried to bring to his work in city beautification, with the help of Plants Map.

Seale found Plants Map’s interactive plant signs and tags when he was searching for a way to label the plants he placed around town without having to invest in his own engraver. He likes Plants Map tags because their black color doesn’t overpower his landscapes, and because the price is reasonable.

He has worked with the Ellis County Master Gardeners to create a collection for the butterfly garden they maintain, and is preparing to order and place tags there to help people identify these pollinator-friendly plants.

Seale is constantly coming up with new ideas for city landscapes, and enjoys creating new combinations of annuals and surprising residents with new colors and varieties.

Since he started this work, he’s seen many private landowners follow his lead. Many downtown businesses have added planters to their properties. Several businesses in other parts of town have replaced grassy areas along the street with more attractive annual beds.

Seale encourages this initiative by helping downtown merchants decorate their planters for the holidays, and by giving talks to groups of master gardeners and master naturalists.

“It’s all about quality of life,” he says of his work. “It’s listening to what everybody wants or needs, and trying to make it happen. That’s what I do.”

To learn more, follow City of Waxahachie, Texas, on Plants Map