Landscaping Techniques

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Using Natives in Your Garden

Famed landscape designer Larry Weaner gave Garden Club members and guests an important presentation on gardening with native plants of the Northeast. Here are some of the the main points of his illustrated talk that may be helpful in planting your garden:

Plant Communities

A plant community with Liatris spicata (blazingstar) and Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver’s root). If plants grow together in nature, they most likely will be good companions in a garden.

• HABITAT: Look at plants, how they grow, and “who” they grow with.

• The same plant combinations that grow successfully in the wild can be planted successfully in a garden with the same temperature, water and soil conditions.

• Match each plant to its ideal habitat. For example, as shown in the photo below, perennial lupines typically grow at the forest edge in well-drained, sandy soil with slightly acidic pH. Scatter seeds of Lupinus perennis in the spring in a partly-shaded spot that has well-drained, sandy, slightly acidic soil, and within two years you may have a beautifully flowering stand.

Wild Lupine0010

A naturally occurring stand of Lupinus perennis (perennial lupine)

 

Disturbance 1

A naturally occurring stand of Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower)

• DISTURBANCE: Many seeds lie dormant, and when an event happens, like a fallen tree branch, it creates a disturbance that causes the seeds to germinate.

• Scatter seeds after disturbing an area to encourage growth. Monitor area for weed growth, most intensively during the establishment phase.

Disturbance 2

Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower) in the garden with Phlox paniculata ‘David’ (summer phlox), Amsonia tabernaemontana (blue star flower), and Heuchera villosa var. macrorhiza ‘Autumn Bride’ (hairy alumnroot)

• SUCCESSION: Use shorter-lived plants (you may start from seed) as “place holders” until longer-lived perennials develop.

• Choose plants that grow and mature at different time frames.

• Use plants that spread seed and roots to fill gaps naturally.

• Structure your garden in layers (tall, medium and low) as they would grow in a woodland setting or meadow.

• Use logs and stumps in the garden as a habitat for plants and wildlife.

Natural Design

“Natural Design”: a planned meadow with Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot) and
Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan)

• “Meadows” can get weedy if not properly managed. But once established and if managed appropriately, a meadow’s dense vegetative growth can inhibit weed seed germination. Weed to favor desired species and discourage undesirables, especially during the critical establishment phase.

• Cut weeds instead of pulling. Pulling disturbs the soil, encouraging more weeds.  If you must pull, plant in the gap. To get rid of vines or larger weeds, cut and paint with a herbicide rather than digging.

Competition 2

A border of natives: Aspclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed), Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), Liatris spicata (blazingstar), Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ (switchgrass), and Silphium perfoliatum (cup plant), Arctostaphyllos uva-ursi (bearberry), Cornus alternifolia (pagoda dogwood), and Rhus aromatica ‘Gro lo’ (fragrant sumac).

• If you consider views and vantage points — like viewing the garden from a distance looking up to the house — and plant using natives imitating the patterns of plant communities in nature, the results could be as rewarding as the two properties above.