A City Turning Wild

Tonight I attended a Native Plants 101 presentation by the River City Wild Ones, a local chapter (1 of 12 in the state) of the national Wild Ones organization. In the words of the Wild Ones website, the “Wild ones is a national not-for-profit organization with local chapters that teaches about the many benefits of growing native wildflowers in people’s yards.” Not only did I enjoy a presentation about native plants, but it was held at Brewery Vivant. As I told my Other Half, I could only have been happier if he was there with me and I was petting a kitten.

River City Wild Ones Preso

Amy Heilman, Education Coordinator for River City Wild Ones, did a great job in summarizing for the attendees why integrating native plants into the urban and suburban landscapes is important. These native plants create the foundation for a local ecosystem. Local pollinators whose numbers have been in decline depend on native plants for food. These pollinators, most being insects, are a food source for many bird species, and so on and so forth. As I learned at Bee Palooza last year, the act of supporting pollinators alone is really in our best interest.

Why Native Plants are Amazing

  • Native plants are as tough as nails. There is a bit of maintenance like any plant, but they often do not need to be pampered and can adapt to many site conditions.
  • Native plants provide a food source for many pollinators, you know, the little guys pollinating many of our agricultural crops so we have food.
  • Native plants often do not fall victim to diseases cultivated plants catch, eliminating the expensive (and harmful) need for pesticides.
  • Native plants prefer not to be fertilized and often do not need heavy watering while becoming established in the garden.

We Should Plant Weeds?!

The biggest challenge for native plants, I believe, is us. In the United States during the 1940s there was an increase in big lawns, shrubs and foreign plants. We have been raised to believe an orderly garden and huge expanse of well-manicured lawn is the ideal. This will secure in our mind and our neighbors’ we are indeed successful and responsible homeowners. Even roadsides are sprayed with herbicides and highway rest stops are landscaped with exotic plants. Business properties are limited to a few choice selections of shrubbery.

Many native plants are labeled weeds because they are not for sale at a garden center. Bees are dangerous! (nope) Bugs are terrible for our plants! (not really) Often we do not realize what sterile environments our “natural” gardens have become. So many natural and monetary resources are needed to maintain a style of landscaping that gives back nothing in return.

Know the Plants

Landscaping with Native Plants of MichiganSome native plants can become a bit unruly toward the end of a growing season. The sight of such could drive some gardeners to drink. However, learning more about native plants and their growing habits will reveal a large palette of options for even the most OCD gardener. A great book the River City Wild Ones recommends for our state is Landscaping with Native Plants of Michigan by Lynn M. Steiner.

One of the Wild One’s members shared some knowledge he gleaned while gardening with natives. When planting a bed, take extra effort to make the edging look nice. This alone can visually tidy up the unkempt look of some native plantings. Also, some natives get quite tall. Be sure to keep those plants back away from driveways where they would impede someone’s view of oncoming traffic.

You Can Start Small

Even after attending this presentation, I am not inclined to return home and rip out all non-native plants from the Lot. Instead, we will continue to integrate natives throughout our landscaping. As I told Amy, I am fascinated with the idea of reintroducing the natural world into an urban garden, blending native plants with commercial cultivars. I’m really excited to see how the native plants introduced to the Lot last season will look this season.

Gardeners can start small by planting a little, sunny strip as a butterfly garden. If you’re already raising veggies, dress up the edges of the bed with native plants that attract predators and parasitoids to cut down on the need to spray. Love birds? Try a colorful stand of native coneflower to provide the birds with delicious seed heads before their migration.

The First Steps to Reintroducing Native Plants

Planting at Brewery VivantAfter the presentation, attendees were able to participate in planting a large bed outside of brewery. Though it was a chilly 58 degrees outside, we filled the bed with a large variety of native plants and grasses. I will be checking back on these little ones throughout the season to see how they fair in the urban landscape. How wonderful that Ward at Brewery Vivant organized the event and the brewery as a business in the neighborhood supports this! Even while we were planting, many pedestrians passing by stopped to ask what we were up to, allowing us to spread the knowledge.

Buying Native Plants

When purchasing native plants, be sure to ask the nursery how the plants were grown. Plants from seed are best as they are more genetically diverse. Also, be sure plants were not grown in a different region and then shipped to your growing zone.

For my fellow Michigan gardeners, here are some names to look up when seeking native plants:

  • Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve, Grand Rapids
  • Designs by Nature
  • Hidden Savannah Nursery
  • Kent Conservation District
  • Michigan Wildflower Farm
  • Native Landscapes
  • Sandhill Farm
  • She is Growing Wild
  • WILDTYPE Design

The Larger Picture

The truth is, there is a larger picture than what our neighbors think of our landscaping. By integrating native plants into the garden, we are creating the first building blocks of a diverse ecosystem. Native plants spread throughout a city can create a type of “Green Corridor” or “Pollinator Pathway” to reintroduce nature to our urban landscape.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – May 2015

Today is Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, a meme hosted by May Dreams Gardens in which gardeners worldwide share what is blooming in their gardens. May on the Lot is when the garden beds really kick it into gear and the plants take off. Though we’ve had less rains than previous Springs, everything is looking good and growing well.

In a northern backyard bed this Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) is coming back with a vengeance and just starting to bloom. It is beginning to gobble up the poor Coral Bell. The little Labrador Violets are have been blooming for awhile now.

In one of the back alley beds Mt Airy Fothergilla is doing its Spring thing. It survived the winter with only a couple of snapped limbs.051515_mtairy

Blooming for its first time on the Lot is this dainty barrenwort (Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’) along the Eastern side of the house. The crocus leaves illustrates the small size of the plant.051515_Epimedium-lilafee

Another barrenwort I brought home with me from the 2014 Portland Garden Bloggers’ Fling has reappeared and is right at home as well on the Eastern side. Where the previous plant’s blooms remind me of little sprites, these flowers look like small spiders or crabs.051515_Epimedium-Portland 051515_Epimedium-Portland2

The fuzzy pasque (Anemone patens) flower is in bloom, looking soggy here as I snapped photos between rain showers.051515_pasque-flower

The dwarf irises are blooming…051515_dward-iris

… as are the bluebells which snuck under the fence from the neighbor’s property. The foreground gives a glimpse of some of the Forget-me-nots (or rather “if you plant me once you’ll be rid of me nots”) blooming around the backyard.051515_bluebells

The foamflower (Tiarella) is in bloom.051515_fence-bed

The bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis alba) is as huge and beautiful as ever.051515_gate-bed

Both cranesbill plants are brightening up the pathway back to the compost bin.051515_cranesbill

The Sweet Tea Coral Bell is beginning to bloom. Hmm, I didn’t notice until this photo I forgot to clean up those old leaves at the base.051515_house-bed

The brunnera is blooming. I much prefer this well-behaved version of Forget-me-not.051515_brunnera

Huzzah! I did not kill the Jack-in-the-Pulpit I brought back from the 2014 Nursery Crawl. At the beginning of the season it received too much hot, afternoon sun. It seems happier here. 051515_jack-in-the-pulpit

By the way, this is Jack. He’s a pretty dapper fellow.051515_jack

This is a Geum triflorum ‘Prairie Smoke,’ the prize find of the 2014 Nursery Crawl. I picked it up when it was already done blooming, only able to enjoy the seed heads (which admittedly is why I purchased the plant). This season I am able to enjoy the blooms as well.051515_geum-prairie-smokeLoki’s bed is looking great with the lenten rose (Hellebores) and solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum Variegatum) blooming.051515_lokis-bed

Here is a brand new bloom for this season. Our west-side neighbors have a beautiful strawberry patch growing against the fence. I’m wondering what these stowaways will get up to on the Lot.051515_strawberry-bloomAnother shot of the Eastern side of the house shows the rock foil (Saxifraga) and the dwarf  bugleweed (Ajuga x ‘Chocolate Chip’) in bloom.051515_rock-garden 051515_dragons-blood-bugleweedAnd for the very first season in bloom is our lilac. This shrub was given to us by Miss A after she received it from the Arbor Day Foundation. We placed it in the ground as a mere twig. It was mowed over not once but twice by the neighbors (oh the challenges of urban gardening)! It smells heavenly.051515_lilac

The last of the tulips are fading, and the Sweet William is full of buds in the South bed. The carpet flox is still full of color in the Southwest bed. That is all for the Lot this June! What is blooming in your garden?

Tulip Time on the Lot

A little town West of here is amidst a very large festival celebrating the tulip. People drive 3-4 hours to walk around and large variety of tulips. There is food. There is music. There are dances in wooden shoes.

Thought I would take the opportunity to log the little crop of tulips blooming right now on the South and Southwest beds of the Lot. The classic reds and yellows were here when we moved in. All others were planted in the Fall of 2013.

050415_tulips-southwest-bed 050415_yellow-tulips 050415_tulips-south-bed 050415_classic-red-tulips 050415_yellow-tulips-close 050415_red-yellow-orange-tulip 050415_yellow-maroon-tulip