|Take inspiration from the Piedmont Prairie in the|
Blomquist Garden of Native Plants.
Photo by Annabel Renwick.
Native plant gardening is all the rage these days, and rightly so, but so often the reality falls short of its true potential.
The problem isn’t with the plants themselves. North Carolina native species are robust, colorful and charming, and they provide food and shelter for a wide range of birds, bees and other creatures. It’s really an organizational problem.
Effective design is what separates a beautiful meadow or functioning rain garden from a high-maintenance nightmare. Traditional garden placement, in which plants are treated as individual units separated by wide swathes of grass or mulch, just doesn’t measure up to the organic vitality and sustainability of landscapes organized by Mother Nature. But letting things run wild doesn’t always produce aesthetically pleasing results, bring in the species you’d prefer, or keep the homeowners’ association off your back.
What’s a busy, conscientious, nature-loving gardener to do?
In two upcoming events at Duke Gardens, landscape architect Claudia West will illustrate that it is possible to have a garden that is ornamental, functional and ecological all at the same time. The secret is to mimic the way plants layer and space themselves in the wild. It’s unorthodox but highly effective, and it’s not an exaggeration to say this will revolutionize the way you see the world.
West’s lecture on Thursday, March 30, will be based on the groundbreaking book she co-wrote with colleague Thomas Rainer, “Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes.” Duke Gardens is pleased to host this event as part of the annual Taimi Anderson Lecture Series.
Drawing on key archetypal landscapes—grassland, woodland and forest—West will explain how to find the one that best suits your project or property, and how to find specific species from that landscape that will work in your eco-region. She’ll also detail how to lay out the plants in functional groups based on their roles in the landscape, and how to space plants to avoid any pesky weeding after installation. The Piedmont Prairie in the Blomquist Garden, for instance, could be the perfect inspiration for a backyard meadow featuring native wildflowers and drought-tolerant grasses, or perhaps a border around a more traditionally mowed lawn. Aside from a few basic ground rules and concepts, the limits are only determined by your imagination and creativity in applying them.
Haven’t read the book? Don’t worry—copies will be available for purchase on site with a book signing reception following the lecture. The lecture is free for garden members and Duke students, and $10 for the general public.
For those who prefer a more informal approach, West will also offer a small group workshop on Friday, March 31. Capped at 25 people, this is the perfect opportunity to ask West specific questions about plant selection or home or garden projects and get personalized feedback. The workshop is $80 for Gardens members, and $99 for the general public. Lunch will be provided for participants.
Finally, if you’re inspired by West’s enthusiasm for native plants and eager to try out these principles for yourself, don’t forget our Spring Plant Sale on April 1, and the Preview Sale for members the evening before. Here you can purchase grasses, shrubs and other native perennials selected for their premier ornamental qualities, with unique colors and textures you can’t find in the landscaping section of the average big box retailer—and use them to create a beautiful, ecologically-designed and resilient native garden of your own.
“Planting in a Post-Wild World” lecture: Thursday, March 30, 7 p.m.
“Planting in a Post-Wild World” workshop: March 31, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: Doris Duke Center, Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson Street, Duke University, Durham.
Information/registration: email@example.com or 919-668-1707.
Spring Plant Sale: Saturday, April 1, 8 a.m. to noon.
Preview Sale for Members: March 31, 4-6 p.m.
Blogger Katherine Hale is an intern in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at Duke Gardens and a graduate student in the Field Naturalist program at the University of Vermont.