A sustainable garden or landscape has so many benefits for our earth, for our health and for the preservation of native species. By choosing plants that are appropriate for our gardens' existing moisture, soil and light conditions, we won't have the need for chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides or fungicides. In fact, we'll have very little use for any of these additives even in the organic form. And of course, by not using chemical products, there will be no harmful run-off into our watersheds which directly affects our water sources and, potentially, our health.
Native wildflowers are adapted to our regional weather conditions like high humidity or heat, drought conditions and heavy snow or very low temperatures. They are the easiest and most natural way to "go green" in our gardens. And they reward us with a multitude of colors, textures, and scents.
Plus natives will bring the pollinators we need for our flowers, veggies and herbs, and they are the only way to bring not only adult butterflies but the host plants that are crucial for their larvae to eat. Adult butterflies aren't so picky when searching for nectar and will drink from natives and non-natives, but their larvae must have native hosts to survive. I'll get to that in another post!
http://highline.org The variety of sedges on display alone will make you want to rip out your turf and put in these varied and tough beauties instead.
I'm still working on my husband but haven't won that battle yet! He won't completely give up on his "grassy patch" but maybe we can leave the turf for the skinny baseball "strip" we have and get rid of the rest of the grass that dies by late july anyway. Maybe he'll look at Little bluestem for our obviously infertile patch of backyard which can even be mowed short like traditional turf grass. It can be left to grow in the fall, standing erect and turning a beautiful rusty gold - so it even gives us some winter interest if it doesn't get blanketed with snow like we had this winter. It will also do well in dry, hot weather that we always get mid-summer here in Connecticut -- when my husband starts cursing at his patchy crabgrassy tiny backyard. He tries every summer to have some pretty green "traditional" grass, and it starts well...but it never ends well. Maybe he'll let me convert most of it to one of the many versatile sedges.
A sustainable garden or landscape must have native plants in its design to truly work. A native is any plant that lived in our region before Europeans settled on our continent. So in the New England region, we need to use native plants that live in our region. If you are in another part of the country, use your region's natives. Nurseries are stocking natives more and more often, and this trend will hopefully continue to grow as more and more of us become aware of how these plants help us create sustainable landscapes, preserve species and bring wildlife back to our gardens. We'll see more bees, butterflies and birds visiting the habitats we create for them, and we'll enjoy learning more about them and the land around us with our families.
As a designer, I create ecologically sustainable gardens, but I also love many ornamentals and understand their value in our gardens as well. We don't have to exclusively use natives, but having them as the backbone of our sustainable landscapes, we'll still receive all the benefits. And we can mix in our favorite ornamentals plants, making sure they fit into the site chosen so they are healthy and happy. Plus herbs and vegetables can be incorporated into our gardens with our flowers for a harmonious, colorful design that will bring bees and butterflies and give us food for our summer table.
A native, sustainable design doesn't mean out of control and wild. If natives are chosen properly for the site you have, planted in optimal soil and maintained the way they need to be, the garden will be as refined as a garden with all ornamentals. In fact, creating a sustainable garden has all the same criteria as creating an ornamental garden, but we reap all the healthy benefits and we'll help instill our neighborhoods with their own unique and special regional and cultural identity. We all probably have many natives in our gardens now, like this common coneflower...lovely and happy home to many bees and butterflies.