Monday, May 27, 2013

Some Thoughts on Gardening with Nature in Mind

About a month ago, I started a group on Facebook called, Gardening with Nature in Mind.  It's mostly for local people, because I want to create a network of folks who can share their experiences with plants and critters in our area, but I have welcomed some of my blogging and other FB friends to the group.  Anyone interested in the topic is welcome.  I am pleased that some of us are offering plants to others, and asking for starts of plants we'd like.  Sometimes it works out to do a trade, but since there were specific plants I was looking for, when I have given a plant to someone, and they offered me something, I said they could offer what they had to others on the site.  

Each of us probably has different ideas on what it means to garden with nature in mind.  I want to share some things Larry and I do in this area.

Each year, I plant parsley, and the swallowtail caterpillars seem to like the ones in tubs by the house the best, so I planted more in them this year, and also in the herb garden.  They also like the dill that comes up each year in the vegetable garden.

We have several bird baths, and do our best to keep water in them, but they also like the water in the tub.  This is Larry's garden.  He actually laid claim to this tub when I brought it home a few years ago, thinking I was going to put plants in it.  This year, he put a couple tadpoles in it.  I haven't seen them, because they hide.

One of the things I do to garden with nature in mind, is find as many native plants as I can get my hands on.  They grow well in our area, and many provide nectar for bees, wasps, and butterflies, and a food source for the caterpillars.

The silvery leaved plant is Leadplant.  I normally cut it to the ground in the early spring, but I'm thinking I didn't get that done.  Now, I'm glad I didn't.  It takes a few years to get to this size, but it's worth the wait.  Click on the name for more information on it.

Amsonias and Baptisias are two of my favorite flowers.  I rarely apply fertilizer to the flower beds, but when I do, it's an organic one of some kind, and even then, I don't use it for the native plants.  (Added 3/26/17:  I haven't used any, even organic fertilizer for a number of years, unless maybe worm castings in some of the tubs.) 

I NEVER use pesticides of any kind.  The last couple of years, the Genista Broom Moth caterpillars have been causing a lot of damage to this Baptisia.  I didn't figure out what the problem was the first year, but did last year, a little late.  I cut the plant way back with a bunch of caterpillars on it and threw it in the garbage.  I don't know if that was a good thing for nature, but that's what I did.  I am pleased to see that the plant is back as healthy looking as ever.  (Added 3/17:  These plants are still coming up each year, and doing well.)

 I have a number of books I've learned about native, or prairie plants from.  One of my favorites is Gardening with Prairie Plants, by Sally Wasowski.  She has helped me sort out some of my concerns, and come to terms with the way I garden.  I'd like to share some of the things I learned from this book. (May, 2019:  Heather Holm's two books are now my favorites.)

Wasoski explained that very few people have the opportunity to restore prairies, but more are able to replicate prairies by using locally acquired seeds or plants.  She said that if you use prairie plants that are not local genotypes, and even some that are native in other parts of North America besides your area, you will not have a replicated prairie, but may still have the drought tolerance, minimal maintenance, and benefits to wildlife.  She also said prairie plants can be used in formal or other styles of flower beds.  One of the examples of someone's property showed how they kept some of the non-prairie plants they loved planted in the area with the prairie plants.

I don't remember if she addressed using cultivars.  I didn't find the word in the index.  The Goldenrod in front of this Baptisia, which I've not seen the caterpillars on, is 'Wichita Mountains'.  I got it from our local arboretum, and enjoy its bushiness.  I've been cutting these types of plants back a bit so that they won't get leggy.  I haven't gotten to this one yet.  So, I don't even let nature take its course with the plants.  ;o)

Our flower beds are not formal, but I have come to terms with the fact that I will not be having a prairie here.  Some of the flowers I have are from friends, and I think of them when I see the plant.  The daylily here is from my friend, Jo, and even though we don't see each other often, we have a connection through our love of gardening.  The basket is keeping the Woodland phlox safe from the rabbits.  (May 2019: The daylily and a few others in the photos are no longer there.  There is just one daylily left in the yard now, and this is its last season.)

I have seen a few bees, and one wasp so far this year, and a few butterflies.  (I see lots of them in the summer.)  I've seen bees climb into the Comfrey blooms.   The plant grows large enough to hide the meter on the house.  This is one that I love that is not native to the U.S.  After it blooms it gets a bit leggy, and I cut it way back to put on the compost pile.  It is very good for the compost, helping it break down.

This common milkweed was planted in the curb bed by birds or the wind a few years ago.  It is sending shoots up here and there where there is not room for it.  They pull out easily, and seem to stay pulled.  I am pleased to see monarch caterpillars on it each summer.

This is the third season for this area, but some of the plants have only been in one or two years.  It is filling out pretty well.  The plant by the pole is Narrowleaf mountain mint.  It looks to be a spreader, but I like it enough to keep it in check.  I clipped the ends of the Monarda so that it will get bushier, and not sprawl.

Maybe I should have trimmed the Meadow rues.  They sure are tall and almost lanky, I suppose, because of all the rain we've had.

I cut the metal cage in half today, so that the Purple prairie clover can be seen.  I hope the rabbits don't try to get to it.  Maybe the spikes around the top of the cage will deter them.

Back to the book, I like the details about the kinds of prairies there are in North America, and the plants that grow in them.   Even if I was going for a prairie looking garden, some of the plants I grow do not grow in the same areas in nature.  I do seem to be a bit of a collector.

 It's hard to see the Culver's root behind the Cup plant, and next to the Zizea aurea, a host plant to swallowtail caterpillars.  I will need to make sure the Culver's root gets some moisture, but there didn't seem to be a problem last year, even with the drought.  I do hope to water less and less as the plants get established.

This is how the Cup plant has its name.  The leaves meet at the stem in a way that leaves a place for water to collect.  Birds and insects drink it.

I planted seeds of Praire larkspur and Illinois bundleflower last fall, but it doesn't look like they came up.  Through the Gardening with Nature in Mind group, and a mutual friend on FB, I met someone who works at a prairie, and accidentally pulled a few larkspur while weeding yesterday.  Since they will go dormant this summer, I put them near plants that will get tall and bushy.  They are hard to see in this photo, but they are there.  Shell leaf penstemon and Fremont's clematis are another two of my favorite plants.  The grass is Little bluestem.

I think it will grow!  (3/17: A squirrel kept digging it out, and I kept replanting it, but after a few times, it gave up.  I have since learned larkspur is poisonous, so I won't be trying again.  I have other plants that are, and need to check on their level of toxicity. Our granddaughter, who will turn three in June picks plants and puts them into her mouth.  I think I have her being more careful, but don't want to take chances.)

The Wild quinines are getting ready to bloom, and the Wild sennas will soon grow to be taller than me.

This is Rudbeckia maxima.  It only had two blooms last year, but the clump is larger, and it looks like there will be more this year.  On the left is a hyssop of some kind, and the Salvia, 'Black and Blue' is still small.  I'm surprised it survived two winters in a row.  The last two falls, there have been hummingbirds enjoying these two plants.  They are not native plants, but the butterflies and bees also enjoy them, and so do I.  That's a native Columbine on the right.  (May, 2019:  I haven't had any hyssop or 'Black and Blue' salvia for a number of years.  I may see if I can find them anywhere to put into a pot.)

I am tickled to see how well the Purple milkweed is doing, and it sent up another little stem a few inches to the left of it.

The shade plants in the planter had to be moved when the tree was cut down.  The Liatris, Heleniums and, I think Outhouse flower are filling in.  The Lily of the valley and Peonies were Larry's mom's, and will stay.  I am in the process of taking out most of the Painter's pallet and all of the Lamium so that the strawberries under the bench can spread into this area.  (May, 2019: One of the peonies quit blooming a number of years.  Last season, I dug them out, giving the two that still bloomed to my sister-in-law.  There are now a number of different native plants in raised bed and where the peonies used to be.)

The rain last night was hard on the plant, but the blooms are opening.

I am so excited spring finally got here!  I am looking forward to seeing everything grow and make this into a little outdoor room.

I am also excited about getting Illinois bundleflower from someone I already knew and is in the gardening group on FB.  I put it in two spots a few days ago, and I think they have grown some already.

Later this week, I have 38 plants coming from Prairie Moon Nursery, I'm thinking, 6 different kinds, and this is the main area they are going, but I have other spots for them as well.  I hope the soil dries enough to get them planted.

Here's one more look at the area where the tree used to be.  Yes, things sure are growing, and I can relax knowing that even if this is not a prairie, it is a garden that is loaded with butterflies, bees, wasps and such in the summer.  And yes, I sometimes include photos with the neighbor's homes and cars in them.  We live in the city, and I'm thankful for our neighbors.  Some don't pay attention, and don't care what we do, and others wave and make nice comments.  While it was my dream as a young adult to live off the land on an acreage, Larry pointed out that we are not handy, and I will be satisfied tweaking this.

What does it mean to you to garden with nature in mind?


  1. Gardening with nature in mind is VERY important to us. I've NEVER used a chemical on my property and though I don't stick with just natives, I think any kind of habitat we provide benefits some creature. My neighbors are like yours-some comment, others are oblivious. I DO notice , though, that when I visit one couple that there isn't ONE sign of any wildlife-no bugs, no birds....nothing. She uses chemicals with abandon. We call her place "Silent Spring". How very sad..........

  2. Wow, Sue what a GREAT post about your gardens and gardening in your area. I am so glad spring is there for you and to see so much growing and starting to bloom. I am fascinated seeing gardens come alive after being asleep during winter. Here everything grows year round.

    Happy Gardening ~ FlowerLady

  3. I love what you are doing with native plants. Nature gardening for me is mainly planting things to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. I like natives because the will do well in our hot and humid climate and our usually very dry summers. I learned to quit depressing myself by trying things (like delphiniums) that enjoy cooler climes.

  4. Hi Sue...your garden has just exploded with beauty!! It filled in so nicely. It's so nice to know so many people garden with wildlife in mind. It's so important! Thanks for some great information!!

  5. Love it! It's great to see all the natives really taking off and also to know that I'm not the only one who plants the front yard full of wild plants. Once you get rid of lawn you never go back!

    Keep the pictures/blogs coming. They really help get me through the work week

  6. I think what you are doing with your garden is wonderful, Sue. I've always admired all your native plants--such an amazing collection! When I first began gardening in earnest--not that many years ago--I planted things that would attract hummingbirds, which I've always loved. Then I saw all the butterflies and added more for them. Then I learned about the decline in bees and added plants that would provide nectar for them. Over these past few years, I've learned more and more about the importance of helping wildlife and have gone beyond just planting what I think is pretty to planting for the wildlife and using practices (like no pesticides) that will benefit them. I've always wanted my own mini-prairie, too, but I still like my daylilies and hydrangeas, so my garden is a mix of those pretties along with the natives. I'll have to check out your Facebook page!

  7. Hi Sue, What is the plant with tiny yellow flowers that looks kind of like Queen Anne's lace, only yellow? I see a lot of it in the city park's native prairie and oak savannah.
    Great post! I am going to check out your FB page.

    1. Hi Beth, The plant with the yellow blooms is Zizea aurea, Golden Alexander. The one very similar to, and related to it on the east side of the house is Lovage.

      Thanks for joining the Gardening with Nature in Mind group today.

  8. Your garden is looking great and I am certain that in a another year you will see lots more bees and butterflies. It takes a while for the plants to get noticed.

  9. Your gardens are beginning to look full. One day there is nothing and then all of a sudden it is crowded, like mine. Beautiful Sue.

  10. I'd say you are doing a great job of gardening with nature, and for yourselves! I enjoyed the tour. We have some of the same plants, but I must say you have many native plants that I do not. I am a bit jealous. I also plant parsley and dill (and fennel) for the swallowtails, but have not gotten any caterpillars yet. I don't try to have a prairie, but more of a cottage garden with many native prairie plants. I do use cultivars of native species, which is entirely approved of by Douglas Tallamy in Bringing Nature Home. He says the cultivars still are attractive to native insects, which for him is the essential criterion.

  11. I have a very similar philosophy, Sue. A lot of non-natives live here, but most were here when we moved in. I have trouble pulling plants out, unless they're invasive or they just aren't thriving. So I live with the Burning Bush and the Pachysandra. But my preference is for native plants and gardening with nature in mind. Your garden is incredible. I'll have to check out the Facebook group.

  12. You are so good about using natives in your garden. I do love to use prairie type plants like coneflowers, black eyed susans and grasses, but I choose them mostly for their low water needs. I just can't get past the "weedy" look of some natives! But you go girl, I'm just a fuss pot. LOL

  13. Don't you just love Spring? It is my favorite time of year for sure. Now we are into Summer when things will really fill in for us. Everything looks so wonderful in your gardens. Keep up the good work....

  14. I like when you asked the last question about what does it mean to you to garden with nature in mind?
    I like really like to push nature to the limits in extremes and yet able to glorious fully thrive in that conditions.
    And that is what I like about gardening - breaking the rules.

    Have a great weekend!

  15. Sue,
    That was the best garden tour. You are doing so many good things for the creatures in your garden and for you. I can tell you really think about your choices. I can't recreate a prairie either but I sure can bring some of the prairie into my little space.

  16. I have been away for quite some time and am happy to be back. Your garden is looking fabulous, and I too try to garden to attract the critters. I enjoy sitting out by the garden to watch for all my visitors.

  17. Your spring gardens are lovely and the combination of the Lady's mantle and catmint is spectacular! I also enjoyed seeing how you use many native plantings. You have done it beautifully and your gardens are so pretty and inviting!


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