Toward a More Earth-Friendly Garden
One of the great benefits I have reaped from garden blogging is learning how to move toward more earth-friendly gardening practices. From the beginning of my gardening experiences, I have been committed to gardening without chemical pesticides or fertilizers. But only recently have I come to understand how my plant choices can affect ecological systems and environmental balance.
Last year, when Jan Doble at Thanks For Today invited garden bloggers to participate in her sustainable living project, I used the opportunity to educate myself about invasive plants (here). This year, I have been learning to pay more attention to native plants in the garden.
I have always included native plants in my garden, but it wasn’t a very intentional choice. Some of these, like Aruncus dioicus (Goatsbeard), Baptisia australis, Coreopsis verticillata, Geranium maculatum, Heliopsis helianthoides (false sunflower), Liatris, and Rudbeckia, were just plants that I loved; I didn’t even know they were natives when I planted them. Others, like Solidago (goldenrod) were already growing on my property when I created the garden and were incorporated to reflect my love of wildflowers.
|Some of my favorite native plants, clockwise from top left: Rudbeckia, Liatris, Coreopsis verticillata, Liatris and Heliopsis helianthoides, Geranium maculatum ‘Album,’ and Solidago|
This year, I’ve been learning to be more intentional about the use of native plants in my garden. In this regard, I’ve been educated by fellow garden bloggers, especially Adrian Ayres Fisher at Ecological Gardening. The most important influence on my thinking, however, has been Douglas W. Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home. (You can find my review of Tallamy’s book here.) I have found Tallamy’s gradualist approach particularly helpful. His message to gardeners is that you can be part of the solution to habitat destruction and species decline simply by increasing the proportion of native plants in your garden. He recommends two ways to do this gradually. The first is to replace alien plants that die with appropriate native plants. The second is to include a high proportion of native plants when adding new garden areas.
In the coming months, I will have an opportunity to put both of these suggestions into practice. In my Gettysburg, Pennsylvania garden, I will replace a non-native shrub, Pieris japonica, that didn’t survive with a large native perennial, Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum). In my Maine garden, I am developing a new flower bed at the edge of the woods (for details, see My Not-So-Secret Garden, Planning the Serenity Garden, and The Plan), and I’m making a special effort to include many native plants in the design. If I count only plants that are listed as native to New England, more than a third of the plants in this garden area will be natives. If I count plants native to other parts of the eastern United States, the proportion goes to about half. The beneficial effect of native plants in my Maine garden is further enhanced by the acre of native trees and wildflowers that surround it.
In trying to move toward a more earth-friendly garden, one stumbling block for many gardeners is identifying appropriate native plants. Garden reference books do not always provide this information, and plant catalogs and tags are not always reliable. (Some list plants as simply “North American native,” which is not particularly helpful. It’s a big continent with many different ecosystems!) For gardeners in the United States, I would recommend the following as good sources of information about appropriate native plants for the garden: Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home, which includes a 30-page appendix of native plant recommendations, organized by region of the country; the website for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, which includes both a searchable plant database, and a list of recommended native plants for each state of the United States (and also for Canadian provinces); and the searchable plants database of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which uses maps to identify plant native habitats by state.