Monday, May 21, 2018

Using Native Plants in the Home Garden and Landscape

This weekend I volunteered at the Cooper Young Garden Walk in Memphis. The focus this year was on using native plants in the urban landscape and the featured speakers were Dr. Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home and "local garden guru" Chris Cosby.

There were 89 participating gardens and 5 featured gardens listed as demonstration gardens. I was a volunteer at two of them and it's always fascinating to see how different people create vastly different gardens with different goals in mind.

Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor and nature
Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor and nature

I have to admit that I like a certain amount of tidiness but as a lifelong gardener and nature lover, I am keen to create an outdoor space that is a real garden and not just landscaping. As suburban lawns go we have very little grass, choosing instead to allow a bit of wildness around the edges. There are weeds. My standard for a naturalized feel is that it needs to look like it was done on purpose and that there is some design in mind. I like things trimmed and purposeful looking. Unkept things can easily make your home look uninviting or even abandoned. Like most other parts of my life, I am on the constant quest for balance. Here's a picture of my front garden on the left and the backyard on the right.

Read about my quest for balance indoors and out. 

How can you make the best use of your space to enjoy yourself and also support local wildlife and be part of the solution to disappearing habitats and a host of other issues like water run off?

We do like some lawn and weed free gardens. So what does it mean to use native plants in the landscape then? And more importantly why bother?  If you are wondering where all the birds have gone or why you don't see fireflies in the evenings anymore, the answer may lie in modern landscaping practices. Pristine lawns and non-native species don't support the insect populations necessary to sustain birds and their offspring.

Click here to watch a 2015 talk by Dr. Tallamy explaining how and why we can all do better. 

When we moved in 26 years ago our lot was all lawn with the exception of pine trees at the edges and a small rose bed in the center of the backyard. Over the years we have added trees, shrubs, gardens, as well as compost areas, a rain barrel along with chickens and bees. I've dug up grass from large areas to plant gardens and slowly over time watched our wildlife numbers increase dramatically. I now see things I have never seen before in my life like nesting bluebirds and a bumblebee nest along with countless varieties of bees and insects. We have many species of birds. There are skinks, tree frogs, bullfrogs, and toads. And of course countless squirrels and chipmunks.

Read What to Plant Now to Help the Pollinators.


When our neighborhood was built in 1966 the old farmland was flat and devoid of all trees save a few. Now 5 decades later we have otters and blue herons fishing in the creek behind our house. Not over landscaping or using fertilizers and pesticides on our lawn also means that we aren't contaminating that waterway with toxic runoff.

Just adding a few native plants to your landscape would aid the insect and bird populations tremendously. Saving the world can seem overwhelming, but planting a few native plants? Sure. I think we're all up for that.

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