Going Native

July 02, 2013






Over the last few years I have been trying to educate myself via trial and error about landscaping with native plants. We live in an urban area, but our yard is quite large, thus plenty of room for gardening. I've made mistakes, but there have been small victories too. We try to have a good balance of a garden that provides food for us, as well as filling the rest with native plants that will feed and provide habitat for bird and insect, and overall, encourage biodiversity. 

Early on I was planting cultivars of native species, instead of investing in the non-cultivated versions. The differences to a native bird or insect that feeds on that plant can be significant, and so if the aim is for biodiversity, non-cultivated is the way to go. I initially planted cultivars of purple cone flower and monarda (bee balm). They're so pretty, but I never realized how different they were from their wild versions until I planted a 'prairie patch' in our back yard from wild harvested seeds. The cone flower and monarda in the prairie patch are much more modest and understated than their cultivar cousins, but just as beautiful. 

This year we obtained a lot of new plants from a local conservation group fundraiser. All the plants were from wild harvested seeds. Amongst other things we got American Elderberry shrubs, and Smooth Hydrangea, but the one I am most excited about it a little Burr Oak tree. I have always wanted an oak tree. A few years ago, before planting natives became so important to me, I hastily bought a Red-Spire Oak on sale. Red-Spires are hybrids between an English and White Oak created for the the nursery and landscaping industry. They are beautiful, and I love the flame red that the tiny leaves turn  in autumn. That said, I now kind of view that tree as a sterile ornamental; not sure it will even make acorns. Burr Oaks are native to the Illinois prairie savanahs that used to be common here in the northern part of the state. We're still trying to decide on a spot for it in our yard, but once in, I hope that it will thrive.

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