Going Native

This garden site tells the story of a lifelong gardener and part-time designer who discovered the beauty and usefulness of native plants about halfway through the creation of her current gardens.

Visitors may follow the progression to native plants as the gardener was introduced to the concept and benefits of planting with natives. From the first beds designed and planted in 1997, with a small percent of native plants, a walk through the gardens from the front yard through the side yards and into the backyard demonstrates a steady increase of natives mixed with introduced plants, culminating in a wildlife haven and woodland  garden which is over 90 percent native in the back.

As information about, and availability of, native plants increased, the percent of natives in the borders, island beds and foundation plantings increased at this suburban home. Following the garden installation timeline, more and more natives appear in the beds, sometimes cultivars of natives, but many native species grow alongside “introduced” plants from the garden centers.

By the early 2000’s, learning more about our native plants was a priority for this gardener, design was still important as long as native plants were accommodated. This resulted in a PRAIRIE SAMPLER in the back. Three different Silphium (Prairie Dock, Compass Plant and Cup Plant), mix with examples of prairie grasses (Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem and Switch grass). Several species of Baptisia bloom in spring along with Golden Alexanders, Prairie Phlox and Smooth Penstemon. Three species of Rudbeckia, Asters, Coneflowers, Ironweeds, Milkweeds, several  Coreopsis and Goldenrods finish out the summer and fall bloom. A basic design plan is followed, but the birds are allowed some plantings of their own. (The Prairie Sampler also functions as a RAIN GARDEN helping to solve drainage issues).

An introduction to the work of Doug Tallamy (Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants) resulted in an increase of plants which attract pollinators; then, of course, birds –and- lots of little furry creatures. Soon there was a sign in the backyard announcing “Certified Backyard Habitat.”

The need for a barrier to 116th street (not far to the south) offered an opportunity for a mostly native BIOHEDGE.  Spicebush,  Hazelnut, Sweetspire, Deciduous Holly, Dogwood, Nannyberry, Meadowsweet, Sweetshrub , Prairie Rose, American Cranberry and Arrowwood provide privacy plus great food and nesting for wildlife. Of course, lovely scents, beautiful blooms and four seasons of interest also please the gardener.

An all native WOODLAND GARDEN, containing Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Starry False Solomon Seal, Doll’s eyes,  Merrybells, Coralberry ,Canadian Violets, Fire Pink, Solomon’s Seal and among lots of asters and ferns, is fighting for shade as huge a Maple tree dies from heart rot. Rough-leafed Dogwoods are popping up to provide interim shade. Nature protects.

Lessons learned through the years and suggested by this gardener who recommends Going Native:

  • A native bed can look as neat as a manicured Hosta bed
  • Allow some plants to “pop up” – birds can have a good sense of design
  • “Introduced” plants can be more invasive (weedy) than natives in a garden
  • Native plants are low maintenance, but you can deadhead, stake and fuss all you want anyway

views of the garden in spring

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