Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Planting for Nature

Doug Tallamy is a well-known advocate for native plants. In his book “Bringing Nature Home: How you Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants,” he discusses strategies for planting landscapes that attract insects, birds and other animals who have developed specific relationships with native plants. As an entomologist, Doug is particularly interested in attracting herbivores like caterpillars, which serve as a vital food source for birds and mammals and provide the foundation for a healthy ecosystem.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Monarchs depend on milkweed for survival.

Monarch butterflies, for example, depend on native milkweed plants as their sole food source. With the number of milkweed plants in decline, Monarch populations have declined as well. With nature suffering around us, what’s a homeowner to do?

There are a number of strategies you can act on and some of them might surprise you. Most people think of adding native perennials to attract butterflies and bees as a first step. In terms of positive impact on the environment, priority tasks for homeowners who want to be more sensitive to our natural world include removing invasive species; planting native, disease resistant woody ornamentals (trees and shrubs); and reducing lawn space.

Eliminating Invasives

Not all the species within a genus are invasive, but many are. Buddleia davidii is on the invasive list, but some of the newer cultivars are sterile. The same is true for Berberis, Ligustrum, and Euonymus. With over 3300 documented invasives in North America, I can’t list them all. Consult with your state’s department of conservation and natural resources or your local extension office for additional information on invasive species. Pennsylvania maintains a comprehensive list of the current offenders. You can also research Invasive.org for extensive information on invasives in the United States and learn about methods for control. We need to eliminate invasives on our own properties to help mitigate their consumption of our forests and other natural habitats.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Invasives like this barberry consume our forests and destroy the native landscape.

Planting for Impact

In a recent online interview, Doug Tallamy informed the audience that a Chickadee needs access to 6000 to 9000 caterpillars to raise a single brood. Even the red fox we love so much depends on insects, which make up 25% of its diet. A single perennial won’t support that kind of food source, but a white oak would help. An oak supports 557 species of caterpillars. In your own landscape, start your native plant transformation by installing trees and shrubs. In an environment where rampant construction and pests like the Emerald Ash Borer are destroying the woodlands, one of the best things you can do for our ecosystem is to plant a native tree. For additional information on the most suitable trees and shrubs, I recommend Garden for Wildlife, created by the National Wildlife Federation and Native Back Yards. Both sites offer helpful information. Another great resource for attracting birds to your home garden is the Audubon Society’s native plant database.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Make sure you have some native trees and shrubs on your property.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
My Amelanchier (Serviceberry) attracts many birds with its edible berries and feeds an estimated 124 species of caterpillar,
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Chickadees and other birds need our help to provide the food sources they need to raise their young.

Limiting Lawn

Many homeowners are very proud of the expansive, emerald-green lawns and go to extreme measures to keep them weed free and perfect. But a pristine lawn does nothing for the ecosystem except pollute it with chemicals. A better approach is to reduce your lawn space by 50% and install plants instead.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Limit your lawn to best provide for nature.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Cedar waxwings spent three days frolicking in my water feature.

Once you have addressed the priority tasks in your garden, keep going. Install a water feature to simulate a wetland environment. Plant drifts of native perennials to attract pollinators year-round. Most of all, notice the change in nature’s response. In my own garden I have witnessed a flock of Cedar Waxwings in my water feature, welcomed hundreds of other birds and pollinators, and seen a lot of mammals trapsing through the garden. I couldn’t feel more at home in my little wildlife preserve and I wish the same for you. Don’t let me keep you. I know you have some research and planning to do, and I fully support those efforts.

Amsonia hubricthii

Cutting a new garden instead of the lawn

In the April 2019 issue of Fine Gardening Magazine, Editor Steve Aitken shared his thoughts on the significant moments in time that shape our evolution as gardeners. I had to chuckle at his comment that a true gardener would explain to a non-gardener that “The lawn is just the place you stand when looking at your plants.”

As a passionate plant person, I am often tempted by plants at the nursery. I’ll see a new perennial, tree or shrub and think to myself, “I have to have one of those.” This addiction of sorts explains why I continue to remove more lawn and add more gardens. Some of my friends think I’m crazed to add more beds to maintain in my 1.3 acre garden, but I find joy in the new plantings and feel the reward of the continually changing landscape is worth the effort.

To that end, this year I added a bed over 100 feet long which parallels a wall at the front of my property. On a slope, this new area has sections in shade, part shade and full sun and is well drained. The best part about developing this space into a garden is that I no longer have to mow on a hill, which was becoming harder and more dangerous the older I got. Sounds like a good reason to remove tons of sod, don’t you think?

Newly installed garden bed on a slope
My newly installed garden bed with many of the new plants in place.

I planted some favorites like Helleborus HONEYMOON® ‘New York Night’, Deutzia ‘Nikko’, Amsonia hubrichtii and Lonicera pileata ‘Moss Green’. I also added some new plants including Penstemon ‘Black Beard’, Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’ and Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’. I incorporated Pycnanthemum muticum, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and  Aster ‘October Skies’ to attract pollinators and Molinia ‘Skyracer’ as a ‘see through’ plant. Some wonderful nursery friends gave me unique specimens including Indigofera kirilowii and Hypericum x Blue Velvet™ and I’m saving space for a Cercis ‘Flame Thrower®’ which I am hoping will be available in 2020. Is that enough Latin for you? Are your eyes glazing over yet?  How about if I stop my plant talk and share some photos of these beauties so you can see why I am so enthralled!

Agastache Blue Fortune
Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ blooms from mid-summer into fall and attracts many pollinators
amsonia hubrichtii
Amsonia hubrichtii was the 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year and is a favorite in my garden. The fall color can’t be beat.
Chinese Indigo
Indigofera kirilowii (Chinese Indigo) has Wisteria-like pink flowers in the summer and showy yellow leaves in the fall.
Diervilla Cool Splash
Diervilla Cool Splash adds nice contrast to the border.
Molinia Skyracer
Eventually the tall plumes of Molinia ‘Skyracer’ will steal the show when backlit by the sun.
Mountain Mint
I’m very excited about Pycnanthemum muticum and its ability to attract pollinators.

While the new bed is immature, I look forward to seeing the plants grow in the years to come. I promise to share my triumphs and my trials. After all, that’s what gardening is all about. We collaborate with Mother Nature and make adjustments as needed to achieve the desired aesthetic. Now like a true gardener, I will prepare the garden for winter and patiently wait for spring!