Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Your Natural Garden: mark your calendars

The Wildlife Garden in Duke Gardens' Blomquist Garden of Native Plants
Photo by Stefan Bloodworth

We hope you'll take advantage of the fantastic array of instructors and workshops at our 2010 Spring Gardening Symposium: Your Natural Garden, on Feb. 20. You can see the breakdown of offerings here and register at or by calling 919-684-4444. For more information, call 919-668-5309.

In the meantime, landscape architect Jan Little, our director of education and public programs, offers the following advice for developing your own natural garden. It was first published in The Herald-Sun's Homes & Garden section Feb. 6.

Urban, suburban, and rural residential areas occupy 94 million acres according to a 2002 USDA report. That’s roughly 5 percent of the entire U.S.

That is a lot of lawn mowing, weeding, fertilizing, pruning and clipping! Perhaps there is a better way of working with our landscapes, an approach that builds a partnership between homeowner, landscape and the natural world.

A place to begin creating this new approach is an understanding that we don’t live alone on this planet. There is an intricate web of life that helps support all living organisms by storing and cycling nutrients, slowing and storing water, shading and regulating the temperature of the planet.

There is much evidence that we are damaging this amazing system. From things we do on a household level to decisions made by corporations and governments, human activity has far-reaching effects. We can learn better ways to work with nature rather than against it. So why not begin at home?

First step: Native plants. Using these plants in our landscapes helps in countless ways. These are the plants that have grown and evolved here for millennia. As they have grown, they have attracted insects, birds and other life forms into their sphere. Plants are ground zero for environmental health. Over time the type of plant in a site impacts the soil, the insects, the birds and the mammals that can thrive alongside these plants. On a large scale, plants impact weather systems, including humidity, rainfall and average temperature. When we don’t include native plants in our landscapes we put an enormous roadblock in the natural systems.

Second step: Plan for wildlife
. Did you know that one of every three bites of food you eat was created by an insect pollinating a plant? Add plants to your garden that these critters will enjoy – it is time to pay them back a little bit. This can be a simple as landscaping with a variety of flower types and blooming times to keep pollinators occupied all season. You can then layer in seeding and fruiting plants that ripen at different times to help feed birds and small mammals. In the end, you can reap the benefits of watching the antics of birds, fireflies and others.

Third step: Keep the water on site
Most of our landscapes are designed to shed water rapidly into storm sewers. This slowly impoverishes our underground water sources and feeds a lot of nutrients and fertilizers into our streams and rivers, where they cause problems for the aquatic systems. Developing a rain garden on your site will delay water drainage and give it time to percolate and feed the underground water systems. Again, this can be a wonderful addition to your life, with the dragonflies and toads it attracts to entertain you.

Finally, see what others are doing. There are so many innovations going on to improve the environmental health of our land. Join us at the “Your Natural Garden” symposium to learn more. We have nationally regarded speakers and authors to address each of these topics, and we will end the day with a design challenge that will showcase an environmental landscape designed for a local home.

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