Native Garden Promotes Conservation

Arlington’s native plant and pollinator garden serves as an educational venue and a gathering place for community activities

Native Garden Promotes Conservation

Students from the University of Texas-Arlington helped plant drought-resistant plants in the Lake Arlington Native Plant and Pollinator Garden.

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The city of Arlington Water Utilities planted the Lake Arlington Native Plant and Pollinator Garden in 2022. The demonstration garden has since become a tool for teaching the community about water conservation and drought-resistant plants, as well as a gathering place for a variety of activities.

“Most of the people who have come to the site have been working there and helping with planting, and most have been volunteers,” says Traci Peterson, communications coordinator for the utility. “After our first year, we tried some things that weren’t necessarily about volunteers. We had a yoga class at the garden and the people who came out had a great time.”

The city also sponsored a photography class with a teacher from The Arlington Museum of Art.

“The morning they had the class, we went out there at 7:30 in the morning and there were all these bunnies in the garden,” says Peterson. “The 20 photographers in the class were just so excited to go out and take pictures of those bunnies.”

While yoga and photography classes don’t focus on water conservation, just bringing people to the garden helps: “That gets people out there who might not be interested in volunteering, but they can still see the plants, and we talk to them about what the garden is.” There are ID tags on the plants and QR codes in the beds linking to a website that explains more about the plants.

The garden won the Texas AWWA Water Conservation and Reuse Award in the Large Utility-Indirect category. The garden was built on three acres of the emergency spillway site near the Lake Arlington dam.


Craig Cummings, Arlington Water Utilities director, knowing the city takes part in the Bee City USA program and the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, thought the spillway would be a good site for a pollinator garden. The area is a park-like setting but can’t be used for buildings or permanent playground equipment.

“He had heard about the things other city departments were doing for pollinators and thought we could do something, too,” says Peterson. “He thought that would be a great place to have not only a pollinator garden, but a place to teach people about drought-resistant plants.”

In addition to wildflowers and native grasses, the site has demonstration plots that exhibit different styles of gardens such as a cottage garden, a rain garden, a traditional garden, a wildlife garden and a xeriscape garden. All gardens have plants suitable to the Texas climate.

“All of the plants are drought-resistant, because we’re trying to show people that you don’t have to put plants in your yard that need a lot of watering during the summer,” says Peterson. “I love it when people come out, especially in spring when it’s looking so beautiful, and they see that they don’t have to sacrifice beauty to have plants adapted to this area.”


The utility used volunteers to do the planting, often high school and college students who needed community service work. There are volunteer days twice a month when people come in to spread mulch or to do other maintenance.

“We’ve had classes where people come to the library and watch slideshows about drip irrigation or planting drought-resistant plants, but there’s really no substitute for them actually getting their hands in the dirt and seeing how it works,” Peterson says.

The drip irrigation system is supplied by a line installed by the utility’s operations team. A 60-inch pipe that supplies the water treatment plant from the lake runs under the spillway. A 1-inch water line was connected at a blind flange on that large line to feed raw water to a tank for the drip system.

Peterson says the site shows the value of drip irrigation for keeping the water where it is needed: “Right there by the lakeshore sometimes it’s very windy. I just can’t imagine what it would be like if we were just trying to water it with traditional sprinklers.”

Funds and technical support for the project came from a Conservation Treasures grant from Tarrant Regional Water District, the area’s wholesale water supplier. The grants have helped build numerous outdoor water-conserving features for cities, schools and nonprofit organizations to educate residents in the primary service area. 


Arlington Utilities has more than 4,000 customers signed up for high-bill or high-use alerts, which sometimes call attention to leaks or over-watering with irrigation systems. Residents whose homes show continuous usage for a 48-hour period also receive proactive email alerts.

The utility also has a leak repair program for low-income residents. If they qualify, residents can ask for help dealing with a leaky faucet or similar problem. The utility then sends a licensed plumber to the house to evaluate the problem and inspect for other issues.

“We basically have the plumber go through the entire home, because usually if there’s one thing wrong, there’s a few things wrong,” Peterson says. “They send us an evaluation of what we can do to help this person save water. Then we sign off on it, the plumber does the repairs and we pay the plumber.”

Arlington Water works with the Tarrant district on other conservation programs. One sends weekly emails to residents telling how much water their turf grass will need in the coming week based on local weather station and rainfall data. More than 1,600 Arlington customers get the emails.

Betsy Marsh, conservation education supervisor for the regional district, says the emails help people avoid over-watering: “More than 30% of the water used annually by single-family residences is spent watering lawns and ornamental plants outdoors. We want people to make smart choices and reduce water use where they can. The weekly advice is really helpful. It’s local and it says specifically how much water they need to keep their turf grass healthy.”


TRWD also has a free program to send a licensed irrigator to evaluate sprinkler systems for homeowners. The district makes significant investments in water conservation through grants to municipal utilities and through programs for residents who are customers of the various utilities.

“It’s in everyone’s best interest if we work together to educate people about how to use water wisely,” Marsh says. “If we can protect our supply and conserve as much as possible, when we experience droughts our water supply will last much longer. Conservation delays the need to search for additional sources.”

Peterson says the Lake Arlington Pollinator Garden could ultimately be part of school field trips that include the water treatment plant, the lake and the pump station, all of which are near the garden. It would be a good way to demonstrate to students where their water comes from.

“If we could connect all of that together for kids, that would be a great thing to do,” she says. “And then show them how to save water with the native plants.”


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