Next Week in The Columbia Paper: "Lab Coat and Artist's Smock"
on the roles of science and art in our relationship with nature in
FEP's next Perspectives on Place column in The Columbia Paper,
September 16, 2010.
Gardening with Natives: Background Exploration
Purple Loosestrife is one of our most invasive plants. Because of
its outstanding ornamental value, it is nevertheless still widely sold
Other invasive plants are unfortunately still commonly promoted for
their looks and hardiness. Please avoid planting the following most
popular invasive species in order to protect the natural plant
communities in our County:
Invasive Trees: Norway Maple
Invasive Shrubs/Vines: Japanese Barberry, Winged Burning Bush (Euonymus), Oriental Bittersweet, Privet, and Autumn Olive.
Ground cover: Goutweed (Bishop's Weed).
The New York Invasive Species Council has published the results of their
invasiveness assessment for plants on pages 103-108 in their Final
Home" by Doug Tallamy has been a great inspiration and motivation for
many people to pay closer attention to the plants they choose to
cultivate in their yards.
reminds us that more land in the US is in suburbs than in National
Parks, which means that there is tremendous potential for gardens in
suburbs to contribute to the conservation of native plants and animals.
Especially the choice of our ornamental trees can make a big
difference. Native tree species can feed an enormous amount of moth and
butterfly caterpillars, who will turn into such beauties as the Luna
moth or the smaller Rosy maple moth. But these caterpillars also serve
as the main food source for many song birds and other animals. Native
oaks, willows, cherries, and birches rank high in the number of
caterpillar species they support.
Judy Sullivan introduced workshop participants to some native plants of high ornamental value.
Designing a garden with native plants might limit ones ability to "paint with flowers". However, increased
attention to the variation in "off-season" leaf/stem color, texture,
and plant shape provides new opportunities for pleasing designs.
Furthermore, a native plant garden invites designs that are inspired by
native habitats. At the Creekhouse, we plan to create a small woodland
springflower community around the base of our deciduous shade tree. A
bed of late summer flowering native wet meadow plants will replace the
lawn area that currently collects the runoff from the parking lot.
The catalog of Project Native is an invaluable resource and quick
reference guide to the horticultural requirements and wildlife value of
more than 150 native trees, shrubs, perennials, sedges & grasses,
8/19 column: "Gardening with Native Plants on a Budget"
by Claudia Knab-Vispo
don’t have much of a track record as a gardener. At heart, I am a
botanist who loves to study which plants like to spontaneously grow
together and what habitat each species tends to most associate with,
when free to choose. But now that our program has moved into its new
home, the Creekhouse in Harlemville, we have become stewards of a piece
of land that bears the scars of recent excavator activity and needs a
helping hand to become beautiful again. But how are we going to define
beauty? We did enjoy the scattered peony flowers that unexpectedly rose
above the weeds earlier this year in a neglected ornamental bed along
the roadside. And I am very tempted to sow the seeds of the
multi-colored Columbines that grow so prolifically in my parent’s
garden in Germany. However, after long deliberation and research, we
decided to define beauty in our future garden by more than the size and
color of the flowers or by their sentimental value.|
We are embarking on a quest to showcase the beauty of the plants that
have grown in this region before European settlement and the resulting
arrival of many new plants from the other side of the Atlantic. Some of
the showy ornamental plants we had originally invited into our gardens
have become invasives, which means they escaped from the gardens into
natural communities and are so prolific that they have a serious impact
on the native plants and animals. The gorgeous Purple Loosestrife that
currently graces so many wetlands in Columbia County (and beyond) with
its abundant, deep purple flowers, is an example of such an escaped
ornamental plant. As conservation-minded people, we feel a
responsibility towards the natural heritage of each place, the plants
and animals that have evolved in each particular region. In Germany, my
sympathy is with Purple Loosestrife. It has evolved there, belongs to
the natural heritage of Europe and has lost much of its habitat to the
“improvement” (i.e. drainage) of wetlands. Here, I feel responsible for
Swamp Candle, Turtlehead, and Monkeyflower, some of the native plants
that used to live in the swamps of Columbia County now dominated by
So, what does that have to do with our choices for ornamental plants?
Well, for one, we definitely don’t want to introduce any more invasives
into the landscape. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to predict
which exotic plant is going to be the next invasive. Sticking with
native plants who have co-evolved with the other plants and animals in
this region avoids the danger of releasing the next invasive into the
wild. Favoring native plants in landscaping has other advantages as
well. In his book “Bringing Nature Home”, entomologist Doug Tallamy
reminds us of the inter-connectedness of all things wild. Many insects
eat plants. Native insects tend to prefer native plants because, over
evolutionary time, they and their digestive systems have become
accustomed to dealing with the unique chemical composition of certain
species. Most native leaf-eating insects, including many butterfly and
moth caterpillars, utilize only a single or a few closely related
native plant species and are extremely slow in adopting novel foods.
Before we can enjoy the colorful butterflies nectaring on the showy
flowers in our gardens, their caterpillars had to be eating the leaves
of suitable host plants. Similarly, before we can enjoy the birds
eating seeds at our bird feeders, these birds had to be raised by their
parents on the protein-rich diet of insects. So, why not think about
our yard as a place of beauty where we not only try to attract colorful
butterflies and birds, but where we also provide some of the resources
these creatures need during their less colorful phase?
Landscaper Ruth Dufault of Bittersweet Garden is helping us with the
design and implementation of our native plant garden. We also
frequently consult with Judy Sullivan at Project Native. Their first
advise: inventory what you’ve got. Then start envisioning different
areas of your yard as different habitats: dry and sunny; moist, but
sunny; cool and shady. Next, decide who is to stay and who has to go.
In our case, the peonies and day lilies along the road were dug up,
while the Beardtongue and Three-lobed Rudbeckia, as well as a clump of
native Wild Rye, were marked with little red flags as “keepers”.
Finally, shape the beds around the “keepers”, prepare the soil for
planting, and add native plants who you think will feel at home in the
particular habitat provided by each bed. The catalog of Project Native
is a great resource to learn about the habitat requirements of native
plants. The plants will tell you if you got it right…
Now, a word of caution. You might think “if use native plants, why buy
them, if I can go to the meadow or forest and just dig up what looks
good?” Please don’t! One of the reasons for gardening with natives is
to bolster native plants that are no longer very common in natural
habitats. If you were to dig up a specimen that has found a suitable
spot in the wild, you would deprive the wild community of one of its
established members, reducing the likeliness that its kind can maintain
itself at that location. Even more, transplanting is a risky business
and you might not find just the right spot for that wild plant in your
garden, and it will perish. Nursery-raised plants are much more
forgiving. Happy to finally be released from their pots, they can adapt
well to a spot in the earth of a garden bed. We have decided not to use
any transplants from the wild in our native plant garden. But we are
planning to collect seeds from abundant wild native plants and seed
them in suitable locations in the garden.
This is going to be a project over several years, but please do stop by
the Creekhouse in Harlemville any time and have a look at how the
native plant garden is coming along. I hope we will all be able to
learn from each other.
We invite your observations of the landscape, your comments, and your questions (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you would like to participate in designing and installing the Native
Plant Garden around the Creekhouse, please let us know.
Claudia Knab-Vispo is a botanist with the Farmscape Ecology Program
at Hawthorne Valley Farm. The Creekhouse is located at 1075 Harlemville
Road, just east of the Taconic Parkway.
Gardening with Natives: Background Exploration (cont.)
For more ideas about great reads, please check out the list of favorite books, internet resources and nurseries for the native plant gardener. The books available in our reading room are marked with an asterix on that list. Consider coming on any Thursday, 5-8pm to "Browse in the Reading Room at the Creekhouse". Simple food, book browsing, natural history inquiries and conversation. Walk-ins are welcome and there is no charge.
Ruth Dufault (second from right) leads a workshop that allows
participants to witness and contribute to the planning and
implementation of the native plant garden around the Creekhouse.