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Growing Native Gardens & Why They Matter

Few things get me as excited as conservation landscaping. It wasn’t always this way, but as I learned more and more about the importance of native plants in the environment, I became to appreciate and value them.

Yellow coneflower and Joe-Pye weed (purple) and butterfly weed (orange) in the distance.

There is something about natives that fascinates me. I get excited about what value they offer. The landscaping plants of my parents: English ivy, Japanese barberry, and dwarf spruce trees and Bradford pear trees from China can be thought of as statues in a garden. Meaning, as Doug Tallamy puts it, they offer very little/no benefits to the ecosystem. Not to air quality, insect life, bird communities, or soil health, and can be detrimental to other plants as they invade and take over.

 

But to think of the plants native to the Chesapeake Bay region, you can see the big, interconnected picture take shape. Plants like milkweed (Asclepias spp) and white turtlehead (Chelone glabra) are the sole host plants for native butterflies, monarch (Danaus plexippus) and Baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton), respectively. This means without this plant, those butterflies can’t reproduce! That’s how interconnected they are.

Butterfly weed is a host plant to monarch butterfly caterpillars, but also provide food as nectar and pollen to many species of bees, butterflies and other insects.

Mountain mint stretches along 6th Street in the Alliance’s front garden, standing 4 feet tall. According to some, it is one of the best pollinator plants in the region.

Joe-Pye weeds (Eutrochium spp), bee balm (Monarda spp), and mountain mints (Pycnanthemum spp), to name a small few, are incredible sources of nectar and pollen for all sorts of insects, birds and small mammals. Many of these plants produce hardy seeds which sustain overwintering birds. Native trees, like oaks (Quercus spp) can host over 500 different species of butterfly and moth larva on their leaves and bark alone!

 

My wife and I are working diligently at our home to re-naturalize our yard. We’re planting tall, sun loving natives with showy flowers in our sunny front yard and, slowly but surely, replacing a carpet of English ivy with native ferns and perennial ground covers.

Yellow coneflower reaches 5 ft high to the bottom of the sign in the Alliance’s front garden in Annapolis on the corner of 6th St and Chesapeake Ave.

And as the Alliance struggles to get more freedoms with our rented office property, we’re converting garden beds of spirea and liriope with native grasses, shrubs and flowering perennials. In fact, the photos used throughout this post are from our front garden, year 2 after planting.

 

Whether you have the opportunity to add some native plants on your property or you can help a friend, business or volunteer organization with their’s, being involved in the planting and care of the garden makes you appreciate their beauty and ecological significance all the more.

Butterfly weed, Joe-Pye weed and yellow coneflower showing shining brightly on the corner of 6th St and Chesapeake Ave in Annapolis, MD at the Alliance’s front garden.

One of the biggest stigmas of native gardens in the public’s eye is that they are ugly. Weed patches, if you will. While native gardens have many benefits, like less watering and fertilizing, they’re still a garden that require care and upkeep to keep them shapely and beautiful to the public.

 

Let’s think of them as a ‘garden with benefits’. They can offer beauty, style, flare and at the same time become a driving force for the local ecosystem. The local ecosystem in which you are also living.

Switchgrass and mountain mint give height and texture to the garden.

If you’d like to learn more about conservation landscaping, I’d recommend:

Special thank you to Blue Water Baltimore who helped with the phase I design of the garden and providing the plants through their Herring Run Nursery.

All the photos from Year 2 of the Alliance’s conservation landscape adverture is available on flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allianceforthebay/sets/72157645585895211

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Marissa Spratley Communications Manager, Maryland & DC Office

Marissa is the Communications Manager at the Alliance’s Headquarters. Her job includes managing communications strategies across the organization and our regional offices.

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