You?ll soon hear the buzz-word “sustainable” until you want to scream. It?s important however to understand what a defines a sustainable garden. It means using native plants, having the right plant in the right place (drought tolerant plants in dry places; sunny plants in the sun); and recycling water or allowing plants to get along on what nature provides.
Native plants are those plants that were probably here before whites came to North America. I say probably because no one was around snapping pictures at the time. But very shortly after they arrived, newcomers started drawing what was already here. So we do have a record.
Over millions of years native plants evolved intricate ecosystems with all the attendant insects, birds and animals that are part of it. There are lots of plants we think of as native but aren?t. Take Queen Anne?s lace. It?s actually a native of Europe and was transported by accident or design very early in the great migration.
These introduced plants germinated quickly in an essentially virgin soil and spread furiously across the country without anything to impede their process. Some of these escapees we love (Queen Anne?s lace), and others have threatened the native population (dog strangling vine?a native of Russia). And that?s why we call them exotic aliens.
As gardeners it?s up to us to use as many native plants as we can for a couple of really good reasons. One is that they are out there to be attractive, to seduce, entrance, entice hundreds of species of bugs, birds and animals to allow for their own survival. It?s all about sex. They have nectaries which feed these pollinators, spread their genes around and we end up the beneficiaries. And we know what happens when we don?t have pollinators: our very existence is threatened. No bees, no food.
The second is that they look good. You throw a bunch of native plants together and you?ve got a design that nature approves of. The colours harmonize well and any well-balanced garden should be comprised of at least one third native species. Not the cultivars, but the simple plants they originated from. These are the ones to attract pollinators and they are the ones that will make a solid structure for any garden because they will survive.
- Purple coneflower, Echinacea spp, that means any form of purple cone-flower. They grow in any soil as long as they have sun. Attract bees especially native bumble bees.
- Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis, brilliant red flowers that bees, birds and hummingbirds love.
- Blazing star, Liatris spicata, is a must-have purple which draws in butterflies. Moist soil.
- Prairie smoke, Geum triflorum, important to bumble bees in spring.
- Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa takes dry soil. It?s also called bee balm for a good reason.
- Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium spp. Some are small and others will grow from 45 cm to 4M. Big umbels of pink to deep rose are magnets for Monarchs.
- Tall ironweed, Vernonia novaboraiensis, rich purple flowers attract songbirds
- Compass plant, Silphium lacinatum, huge butterfly attractor, yellow flowers. 2M.
- New England aster, Aster novae-angliae, for bees and butterflies.
- Milkweed, Asclepia incarnata, absolutely necessary for the life cycle of Monarch butterflies. Look at all the asclepias to attract pollinators.
- Wild columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, is out beloved columbine hugely attractive to songbirds.
- Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, a huge plant which ends up with gorgeous berries. It will move around however so be careful where you place it. It?s poisonous so be careful.
- Culver?s root, Veronicastrum virginicum. The white spikes attracts bees and other pollinators.
- Smooth Solomon?s seal, Polygonatum pubescens, woodland plant with white flowers in spring.
- Blue Phlox, Phlox divaricata, a little beauty that blooms in early spring, attracts hummingbirds and will put with almost any conditions.
- Goldenrod, Solidago spp please please grow this one it attracts all the beneficials and does not aggravate allergies. Huge variety which we should all be looking at.
- Meadow rue, Thalictrum spp,
- Bellwort, Uvularia grandiflora, a magnificent golden spring bloomer.
- Anemone, Anemone canadensis, is a great little plant that will run all over the place
- Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum, a terrific spring plant.