Native landscapes are gaining popularity, and for good reason. They are eco-friendly, lovely, and provide a welcome relief to the uninterrupted American lawn.
Frequently large areas of former lawn are replaced with naturalized native plant gardens that resemble a meadow or prairie. These naturalized areas are wondrous, and on many levels, environmentally responsible.
Naturalized gardens provide native habitat, reduce harmful chemicals being introduced into the ecosystem, eliminate invasive exotic plant spread, protect water resources, and once established the native plant garden requires less maintenance. There is sometimes a misconception, though, that these kinds of gardens mean ‘plant ‘em and forget ‘em.’
All gardens benefit from TLC, and native gardens are no exception. Notice we said ‘less maintenance,’ not ‘no maintenance.’ Unfortunately, even at one state botanical garden we visited this practice was ignored, and the display was definitely unattractive. It would be no incentive at all for someone contemplating replacing a part of their lawn with a natural prairie garden. It would definitely be considered an eyesore by a neighbor. Don’t let this happen to you.
First, until the garden is established, which takes about a year, a native garden will require as much care as any other. Water, fertilizer, weed tending, mulching and cultivating the soil will help your garden get off on the right foot.
After the naturalized garden area is established some maintenance is still required, especially if you have neighbors with manicured lawns. Such ‘wild gardens’ will be offensive to many if you do not take care to keep things neat and tidy in your meadow or prairie garden
.Professor Marianne Cramer, of the University of Georgia School of the Environment and Design, teaches a valuable lesson on this principle. Professor Cramer was integral to the restoration and rebuilding of Central Park in New York City prior to her tenure at UGA. One of the projects in the park involved a meadow restoration in the section near the Harlem area. The meadow was lovely, and truly an asset to the overall esthetic. However, the local residents complained that only the ‘rich folks’ side of the park was being refurbished, while their area was just unkempt and uncared for, which was not true.
It was discovered that simply mowing a 3 foot strip at the edge of the meadow was all it took to make residents feel that their part of the park was well tended. A little maintenance went a long way to resolving what could have been a major glitch in returning natural areas to Central Park.
Edges are important. The same principle applies to your home native gardening efforts, especially as applies to a prairie garden or other naturalized lawn replacement area. Not only will your neighbors be more accepting of a little ‘wild space’ in place of turf grass if you keep it neat, but your plants will thrive. All plants need room and air circulation that weeding, pruning and removing dried plant material will bring. You will have fewer insects and diseases, too.
We heartily endorse native plant gardening as the most sustainable choice for your landscape.
Whether they follow your example or not, with care and maintenance your neighbors will appreciate your approach to landscaping as a beautiful addition to the community.