Thursday, August 17, 2017  

Why Native?
How did this native plant get in my garden and why should I plant more?  

By Judy Ripley

This part of the world is unique for its diversity. We are sur­rounded by many species of birds, animals, plants and yes, humans.

Mankind here, Manicus here abouticus, has been divided into several species. The “Born Heres,” with blood tests positive for ham biscuits, collards and grits (pronounced greeeeets) are the first on the genetic scale. They are greatly valued for their heritage and generations of history of the times and spaces here. The process of becoming a “born here” can take 3 generations or more.

They need no adaptation; they KNOW the winds, the water and the land. Their history is of being here.

Next there are the “Come Heres.” They come from anywhere else to here. They bring a wide diversity and a sense of global influence. The may have come from Asia, Europe, Florida, New England or Naawthern Virginia.

We all come together here, in this place and garden bringing a wide range of experiences and definitions to what we want to accomplish.  And so it is with the plants.

In the beginning as Adam named all the plants and animals, the Garden was rich and full. Man had not yet messed with it.

Over time with travel to foreign lands, exotic varieties of plants valued for their difference in color, shape and structure, were brought to our shores. Vast writings of botanical findings were published and remain our guides today.

Horticulturists, a specialized breed of researchers, patiently develop varieties of plants according to desired features. A nondescript sweet potato vine grown agriculturally was developed by Alan Armitage to have leaves of burgundy and chartreuse and to be an ornamental addition to our gardens.

So we have filled our yards and gardens with what strikes our fancy. The catalogs are filled with color and varieties that go on our “must have” list. And so we plant.

We plant, we weed, we try to handle the insect and critter damage and it becomes a way of life. We strive for the “perfect” garden. “You should have been here last week, my garden was in its prime” is an appropriate sign for most gardens.

Maintenance is always a concern. No one requests more maintenance.

Change is the most difficult thing to accomplish and the most enlightening. Over centuries our gardening styles have changed. Garden (Paradise in Persian) use to be the term to describe large estates and their attractive, expansive areas devoted to plants. Herds of gardeners maintained these areas.

With time gardens became more a personal attachment to every home. Only now homes were not palatial mansions, but private spaces with small plots of land surrounding them. Everyone became involved in gardening.

So the stuff in the seed catalogs and garden centers became a prominent part of our landscape. Our land was stripped of valuable topsoil by most developers and planted with the appealing varieties from China, Asia, France and other exotic areas. Everyone had to have the latest and best for longer bloom…some even bloomed twice a year.

And so it went. Until…we began to notice that the Kudzu brought in for erosion control, floribunda rose, bittersweet and honeysuckle began to take over the world…our world.

The beneficial qualities of the native plants in supplying nectar for butterflies, seed for birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and browsing animals began to diminish. These natives were being forced out by the invasive “alien” plants.

Suddenly the butterflies flew somewhere else. The bird varieties diminished. Animals became “pests” because their normal habitat was disrupted.

Plant people observed, charted and cataloged. Perhaps, they thought, the balance of natives had been disturbed. We should concentrate on getting back to nature…to native.

Only it appears it is not that simple. A piece of land, left on its own, will quickly fill up with invasive plant material. Honeysuckle, bittersweet, kudzu thrive and overwhelm. A concentrated effort is needed to overcome the mistakes of our past.

We begin our journey into the world of natives. The critters know it well. Berries from plants answer the need of migrating birds by ripening at just the right time to supply the needed starches or sugars. Blooms of milkweed ripen and open as a host plant for monarch butterflies. Abundant beekeepers are supplying our needed pollinators.

Invasive plants are being identified, attacked and eliminated. And we are planting natives!

So what is available and how is this all done? I interviewed three experts on the subject.

Sue Tipton, former Interim Director of the Reedville Fisherman’s Museum, established the Reedville Living Shoreline Teaching Garden in 2005. Funding was available through a grant from Virginia Soil and Water Conservation. This area was established as a demonstration garden to control the erosion being produced from the runoff coming from a large church parking lot next to the museum and into Cockrell’s Creek. It was developed using native plants to exhibit the effectiveness of them for shoreline preservation and stabilization. “You can have an attractive shore side garden that can be informal and environmentally helpful without the use of a clipped lawn” said Susan. This garden was featured on Virginia Home Grown, PBS Richmond with Richard Nunally in 2009.

Anne Olsen formerly from Connecticut had no garden experience until she moved to DC and took classes by Cole Burrell, curator at the National Arboretum following her 40th birthday.

In 1988 she and her husband purchased 21 acres on the Northern Neck, “mostly for the house.” She describes her style as “low maintenance and open.” She has developed a haven of native plants as she feels they are often as beautiful as any exotic imports.

Her land has a northwest exposure with a mile-long fetch where the wind blows incessantly down the creek, especially in the winter.

She states that she is not a purest. Her favorites are abelias, grasses, and perennials because they “pop right back up again.” She uses aged horse manure yearly as a top dressing. Her favorite plants are Redbuds (Cercis), Black Eyed Susan, (Rudbeckia), Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) and Sweet Bay Magnolia, (Magnolia virginianna). Her goal is to fit her gardening style into the surrounding area.

Paula Boundy gardens as a native plant enthusiast. She came to the Northern Neck in 2006 and settled on a small lot about 1/3 of an acre. She spent previous years developing a church and school garden and learning about natives. Her mother-in-law observed from her porch that the butterflies were so numerous. That is when Paula identified the native plant connection. Always an avid birder, she planned for an increase in their presence as well.

Her lot was a new construction with clay and black sand. She focused on augmenting the soil with mushroom compost, leaf mold (ground up fall leaves) and horse manure.

Paula believes it takes a plant 3 years to settle in and to be able to say “this is good.” Her ideal day is half of a day in the yard and half of a day inside. She practices selective weeding as some wonderful natives are self seeding (reproduce by dropping their own seeds) and planted by wildlife.

As treasurer for the Northern Neck Audubon and Native Plant Societies she is active in their many walks and educational programs. Her backyard has been a Certified Backyard Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation since 2006. The Habitat at Home Program, part of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, has information on qualifying Virginia properties (www.dgif.virginia.gov).

Host plants for butterfly larvae are: Amelanchier (shadblow, service berry), Betula (birches), Lindera (spice bush) as well as Querqus (oak), Salix (willows) and Sassafras.

Nectar is supplied by Lonicera (native honeysuckle), Rhus (sumacs) and Vaccinium (blueberry).

Plants that support wildlife are: milkweed, sedges, docks, violets, parsley, fennel, dill and love grass (Eragrostis).

Several books are helpful on the subject of native gardens:

  • Armitage’s Native Plant for North American Gardens by Allan Armitage
  • Noah’s Garden by Sara Stein
  • The Audubon Society Nature Gardens
  • Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines for Urban and Rural America, Van Nostrand Reinhold
  • Gardening by Mail by Barbara Barton
  • Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy

This article written in Memory of Henry Bashore, “A Man of the Land” 7/29/18–12/16/10.