Native Plants Make for a Carefree Garden Landscape

Add native plants for carefree and environmentally beneficial landscape.

| January/February 2010

Rediscover the past and imagine your land as the pioneers saw it, with native plants growing vigorously. Natural landscapes provide an escape from the modern world. Their curved lines and randomly spaced, informal plantings create a relaxing retreat from formal gardens, and these natural oases welcome birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

A common definition for native is a plant present in a particular area prior to European settlement, approximately 1850 in Minnesota, earlier in the eastern United States. Selecting landscape materials native to your locale almost certainly guarantees their health and hardiness since they have existed in your geographic region for hundreds to hundreds of thousands of years without irrigation or maintenance.

Carol Andrews, an environmental engineer from Duluth, Minnesota, is national president of Wild Ones, a nonprofit organization that promotes environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity through the establishment of native plant communities. She believes landscaping with natives embraces the local beauty and uniqueness of a given area.

 “Living with a natural landscape is just more fun,” Andrews says. “It feels good, it looks interesting all year-round, and it helps sustain wildlife. We have stripped the earth of so much natural habitat that many species are barely hanging on.”

Doug Tallamy, chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark and author of the book Bringing Home Nature, agrees that biodiversity within the United States is in serious trouble. Up to 33,000 species in this country are on the brink of extinction, and the figure grows worse every day.

“That’s because we humans manage 95 percent of the land either for agriculture or as cities or suburbs, so there is only 5 percent of the land that is relatively pristine,” Tallamy says. “We have 54 percent of the country in suburbia. That means our plants and animals are going to have to make it in those managed ecosystems. When we landscape primarily with plants that evolved someplace else – and it’s usually China or Europe – typically those plants do not become part of the local food web, and if they’re not part of the local food web, they are not capturing energy from the sun, turning it into food and passing it on to all other living things.”

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