Go a Little Less Green for the Environment: Rethink Your Lawn…

February 13th, 2010 § Comments Off on Go a Little Less Green for the Environment: Rethink Your Lawn… § permalink

The Front Wildflower Walk in my Garden in June…

Lush, wide, green and rolling; in America we love our lawns. We like to sprawl out on the grass for a picnic, gather on the neighbor’s lawn for a game of touch football , and set up our folding chairs and tiki-torches in the backyard green for summer barbeques. I like doing these things too, and I have a small lawn of my own in Vermont. But it’s important to remember that lawns, from and environmental perspective, provide little support for the ecosystem. In fact, the tremendous amount of water, fossil fuel, fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides used to maintain most suburban lawns makes our green-fixation downright irresponsible. And although green areas do reduce heat in cities, tightly cropped lawns do little to create habitat and provide food for birds, bees and the many other creatures sharing our world…

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’, attracts a buzzing dinner guest…

 

So, how do we balance our desire for outdoor recreational spaces with environmentally friendly landscaping? When I design gardens for suburban homeowners, I like to suggest a compromise: keep some lawn in the backyard for play-space if it is truly used, and devote the front yard to nature. Usually, the front yard in an urban environment is no more than a strip of earth between the front door and the sidewalk or road. This part of the property is often dry and dusty, and it is rarely used for recreation. Sometimes the area between the house and street is steep and difficult, or even dangerous to mow. In many neighborhoods, roadside turf grass turns brown and unattractive by midsummer, (if it ever looks good at all). There are far more appropriate plants for such spaces; plants that will provide food and habitat for wildlife. In may areas, simply replacing grass with clover or another flowering ground cover is an excellent choice. For the more adventurous, a front garden filled with a mixed selection of native plants can be both beautiful and rewarding. Although there will be initial expenses and work involved, replacing front yard turf grass with more viable plantings can eventually save money and make a home more appealing and marketable as well as ecologically friendly.

For experienced gardeners, alternatives to turf grass will immediately spring to mind, but for novices the sea of choices and garden plan decisions can often seem overwhelming. If you are at a loss for ideas, Liz Primeau’s Front Yard Gardens is a great place to look for inspiration. This lovely paperback book is filled with hundreds of photographs of front yard garden designs, taken in a wide variety of climates. But more important, Primeau is quite practical, her book includes detailed plant lists and step-by-step plans to suit all climates, tastes and budgets. Usually I advise simple design plans and lower maintenance, native plants for new gardeners. Of course, what is considered a native plant will vary tremendously from one place to another, and this is where a bit of research comes in handy. It’s important that your garden suit your location. Perhaps one of your neighbors has a successful front yard garden. What plants grow well for them?  Most gardeners love to talk about plants and they tend to be very generous with advice. Also keep in mind that many communities have gardening clubs and plant swaps groups, and they usually welcome newcomers with a wealth of tips and information – sometimes even perennial divisions !  A small, neighborhood garden center is also a fantastic place to go for advice. Ask experienced, local nursery staff for some native plant recommendations. Be sure to mention that you would like to grow plants with open flowers and extended bloom periods to attract bees, butterflies and birds to your yard. If you are new to gardening, remember to start with a modest plan, and expand your garden as you develop confidence and success…

 

Why mow on a dangerous slope ? When terraced with natural stone, this ‘problem area’ in my garden became a lush, mixed border filled with shrubs, ground covers and perennials, blooming from early spring to late autumn…

Purchase Liz Primeau’s Front Yard Gardens( 2003 ed.): from Barnes and Noble

Purchase Liz Primeau’s Front Yard Gardens (new 2010 ed.): from Amazon

 

An excellent choice for beginners to more advanced gardeners, mixed daylily gardens cover ground, (even those tough to maintain slopes), and bloom from early summer through frost. Expand the early spring bloom time by adding bulbs in the fall. This beautiful daylily combination in my front garden is from White Flower Farm

Hosta are a good choice for new gardeners with shady outdoor spaces. Hosta produce white to lavender blossoms, providing pollen for hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, and cool summer shade for other living creatures. Early blooming bulbs can be planted between hosta in autumn, to extend a landscape’s bloom period. The image above is from White Flower Farm

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This article was originally written by Michaela (TGE), for The Honeybee Conservancy Blog as part of a volunteer, collaborative effort. Please visit the HBC site to learn more about this important cause, and how you can do more to help support and protect earth’s pollinators.

Article and photographs, (with noted exceptions), © 2010, All Rights Reserved : Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without written consent. Please do not use anything on this site without permission

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Autumn Brilliance Part Two – Plants for Spectacular Fall Color…

October 13th, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai’ (Purple Beautyberry)

Could a gardener be diagnosed with OCD if she compulsively checks her ornamental shrubs for changing berry color? Can a collector’s passion for a particularly beautiful cultivar cross the line, where she becomes a stalker of plants? Sometimes I fear I’ve gone too far; slipped off the raft; teetered past the point-of-no-return. But I think you are with me, aren’t you? We can’t help ourselves. The itch simply must be scratched.

I am obsessed with Callicarpa dichotoma, (Purple Beautyberry). Truly, I am. And who wouldn’t be? Her fantastical berries are pure, poetic inspiration; begging to be written into myths and fairy tales. Just look at all that temptingly plump fruit, beckoning the unsuspecting in a glorious shade of shimmering purple. Why I can hear the old witch now… “Come sample the sweet violet berries my pretty.”  *POOF*  Deep sleep for decades. The gullible heroine slowly becomes enmeshed by lacy vines, lost in a trance, awaiting her handsome prince.

For years I have coveted the bright purple fruit of our native American Beautyberry, (Callicarpa americana), but this autumnal prize is hardy only to zone 6. In my desperation, I have killed several plants while attempting to over-winter them here at Ferncliff. Undaunted, I also tried my luck growing Japanese Beautyberry, (Callicarpa japonica), with similar, necrotic results. But last year, just south of here, I was visiting a nursery display-garden when I spotted something that stopped me dead in my tracks. Yellowing leaves, cobalt violet fruits – my heart raced as I rounded the corner and pushed past the browning hydrangea – could it be… ?

Indeed, it was the elusive Callicarpa. Only this time, the shrub I encountered was a hardier member of the family, Purple Beautyberry, (Callicarpa dichotoma). Graceful, arching, elegant in habit, the leaves of the Purple Beautyberry were just turning gold when I met her, highlighting the candy-like quality of her glossy, purple clusters of fruit. There are two excellent C. dichotoma cultivars, ‘Issai’ and ‘Early Amethyst’, both reliably hardy to zone 5. I have been warned to expect a bit of die-back; to be pruned in spring when I fertilize to encourage new growth. I snatched the last ‘Issai’ from my wholesaler’s lot, and placed it carefully in the garden, protected from wind by the American cranberrybush Viburnum, and alongside the blazing fall foliage of fragrant Abelia, (Abelia mosanensis). The color combination is delighting me this October. Will she survive the brutal winter? Only time will tell if Purple Beautyberry is a permanent addition to my garden. But for now, the fantasy is all mine.

So today I will leave you with images of some other bewitching favorites here in my autumn garden. I will elaborate on some of these woody plants over the coming weeks, as I continue to share my favorite design recipes for fall color …

Acer griseum  (Paper bark maple)

The Hay-scented fern, (Dennstaedtia puctilobula), after hard frost

Buddleia davidii, (Orange-Eye Butterfly bush), blooms past the first frost

Abelia mosanensis, (Fragrant abelia), autumn color

Cotinus coggygria, (Smokebush), with a rosy leaf-glow

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ (Peegee Hydrangea)

Hydrangea paniculata, ‘Limelight’, turns mauve-purple in cool weather

Hydrangea quercifolia, (Oakleaf hydrangea), foliage variation

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf hydrangea), drying flowers

Oxydendrum arboreum, (Sourwood tree), a coveted autumn red hue

Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Seiryu’, (Blue Green Dragon), begins to color

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’, all ablaze in backlit orange and scarlet

Vibrant Stewartia pseudocamellia with gilded Rodgersia aesculifolia

Stewartia pseudocamellia, (Japanese stewartia)

Article and Photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden 

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