Celebrate Diversity
Including Nature in Your Landscape Plans


Spring is here and thousands of avid gardeners and new home owners are itching to set trowel to soil. All through the winter months we have been making lists, tweaking our designs and dreaming of dynamic plantings that will produce glorious banks of colour We envision that all our hard work and money will produce picture perfect results, just like in the magazines. We are disappointed when our effort is rewarded with less than a spectacular performance. We are angry, when after spending so much money, our investments become a side dish for local wildlife. We feel cheated when the plants we have been sold turn out to be prima donnas that require constant pampering.
     The problem with falling in love with story book gardens is how the story starts - “A long, time ago, (when we had time to devote to gardening) and far, far away (in the place the garden in the picture was INTENDED to survive) When we attempt to create a landscape that requires more time than we have, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Selecting our plants from the latest designer cultivars with the biggest blooms and the fastest growth does not necessarily insure quality or health. Losing beautiful plants to disease or the vagrancy of weather is frustrating and so is the maintenance.
     There are other ways in which traditional urban, suburban and commercial landscape design has failed us. Manicured lawns of short green grass attract golfers and Robins, little else. In areas of the property where shrubs and trees are planted, home owners systematically remove all deadwood, every stick, twig, and fallen leaf is raked, bagged and hauled away. Stumps are pulled, rocks removed and trees and shrubs pruned and shaped to look “Tidy”. Nature hates “Tidy”. Tidy means no where to hide, no where to nest, and few places to forage. We are left with a sterile environment that will attract and support only a handful of bird and insect species and very few mammals. So we try to attract birds with feeders and artificial housing.
     We are beginning to understand that our landscape preferences have done more than just displace wildlife. The popular image of a lush green lawn and big beautiful flowers has fueled a chemical dependency. The grass we grow is not a natural ground cover, and in many places is only kept healthy by routine applications of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Chemicals, ingested by insects, that are consumed by birds, which are eaten by the hawk and fox. All in the chain of consumption suffer and many die though few are seen. Chemicals, that we submit ourselves, our children and pets to daily. Chemicals, that wash off our lawns, into the street, down the storm drain (where no one will see) and into our lakes, rivers, and streams. The algae blooms, increases water temperature, reduces oxygenation and aquatic life perishes. Fish disappear and swimmers get slimmed. All this for the sake of a green patch of grass just like your neighbors As it turns out, our urban lawns are as much to blame for poor water quality as rural farm practices. Two years ago Minnesota Legislature banned the residential use of fertilizers containing phosphorus from the seven county Metro Region. This year they will consider creating a state wide phosphorus ban. (R-E March 31,04).
     This Spring, when the urge to dig into the soil and plant something wonderful hits, go natural. Native landscaping is gaining in popularity and is among the top ten trends in gardening for 2004. It’s simple, low maintenance and disease resistant. With a little research, you’ll discover local resources for native plants and plenty of help for planning your landscape project. The transition can be gradual. Start by enlarging flower beds or breaking ground for a few new ones. Plant berry bushes and invest in self seeding perennials. Soon you’ll have plenty of plants to move to other places in the yard. Let a few areas grow wild and unkempt. Visually softening the landscape helps blur the line between neighboring properties. Reaching out visually, connecting with natural landscapes, helps preserve a sense of place.
     Best of all are all the new birds and butterflies that start showing up! Towhees and Thrashes forage in the underbrush. Catbirds and Red-eyed Vireos sing from thickets. Orioles and Indigo Buntings may raise their young right in your back yard! Butterflies, like dancing jewels sipping nectar, seem to find your small patch of flowers by magic. Skippers and Red Admirals. Coma’s and Question Marks. Painted Ladies and Aphrodite. Common butterflies with names that conjure up a Gilbert & Sullivan musical. Add in the daredevil, swash buckling bravado of a couple of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and your stage is set. Adding feeding stations and offering additional housing is still a good idea. Feeders spotlight the many visitors. Thoughtful placement frames the feeders in aesthetically pleasing settings for indoor viewing pleasure. Springs pageant unfolds before us. All we need to do is set the stage and let Nature play her part.

Resources:

MN Environmental Partnership
Editorial: Statewide fertilizer ban
Released: March 26, 2004
Click Here-then scroll down in the new window

Landscaping for Wildlife &
Woodworking for Wildlife
Carrol Henderson, MN DNR Publications

Minnesota DNR:
Native Plant Gardens
Prarie Restorations Inc
U-of-Mn Extension Service
EPA-Using Native Plants
Windstar Wildlife Institute
(On-line wildlife habitat resource)