A Natural Garden

Button bush and ironweed in a natural garden in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Button bush and ironweed in a natural setting (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Do you have a spot on your property that’s sort of “Blah”? Perhaps it’s a little wet or in a difficult place to mow, so it always tends to look messy and unkempt. Or, you may simply have an area that you would like to turn back over to nature, creating a place that you don’t have to spend much time tending but will look attractive and invite lots of birds, bees and butterflies. Over the years, I have slowly returned portions of my landscape to the wild, which has resulted in some of the most beautiful (and frequently visited) areas of my property.

Bumble bees dine on a button bush blossom in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Bumble bees dine on a button bush blossom (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Initially it was hard for someone with my neat-freak tendencies to allow portions of my manicured lawns to revert back to their original footloose and fancy free state. By starting small and adding a few native shrubs and plants, the process became more palatable for me. As I watched the transformation from compact and trimmed to loose and flowing, I found out something important about myself as well: that I could “Let go” and allow the natural process of things to take over. And, much to my surprise, things evolved quite wonderfully without much intervention (from me) at all.

Native cornus and button bush create a streamside hedge in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Native cornus and button bush create a stream side hedge (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

That’s not to say you won’t need to get into your newly liberated area and weed out a few undesirables (such as garlic mustard and bittersweet vine) that will certainly want to mingle with your new plantings, because a little effort on your part will reward you in spades later on. Usually, I tackle the unwanted trespassers early in the spring before they get a chance to really take hold. I know it may be hard to recognize the good guys from the bad guys this early on, but try your best. Many non-native weeds will already be quite prolific, which helps to distinguish them from the native plants that will be more cautious before sending up their delicate tendrils to be zapped by Jack Frost. By removing the many villains as soon as possible, you allow the desired plantings to thrive without competing for sun, water and nutrients.

The indigo fruit of native dogwood in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

The indigo fruit of native dogwood (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Some native shrubs and perennials can spread quickly, so depending on the size of the allocated space, you’ll need to decide what you ultimately would like the outcome to be. For example, if you have a spot that backs up to a dense forest, you may want to utilize native shrubs such as mountain laurel or spreading cornus specimens, and some perennials like fern, woodland phlox and aster. These shrubs will create a lovely transition to the woodland, while the plants will offer color and texture variations through the seasons.

Native cranberry with Joe pye weed in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Native cranberry with Joe pye weed (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

For a more open area or wet spot, again space permitting, a wide variety of shrubs and plants would love to park themselves in your back yard. My favorite native shrubs for sunny (to part shade) and wet to dry soil conditions are button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’), silky dogwood (Cornus amomum), spice bush (Lindera benzoin), American cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) and native pussy willow (Salix discolor). You can pair these shrubs with some bold native perennials such as milkweed (Asclepias), aster (aster sp.), goldenrod (Solidago), Joe pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) and ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis). Many of these shrubs (especially silky dogwood) will spread extensively if allowed (easily kept within bounds by mowing) and some will grow over eight feet tall (many can be pruned to keep smaller), which makes them perfect companions for the tall milkweed, aster, ironweed and goldenrod.

A bee and butterfly snack on milkweed in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

A bee and butterfly snack on milkweed (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Most of the shrubs and plants I have mentioned offer multiple benefits; from flowers and berries to delectable fall foliage. All are low maintenance, requiring minimal care once established. And most importantly, once you create this inviting habitat, all sorts of likeable critters will flock to your space and make it their own. Imagine bees humming nearby, butterflies gliding on the breeze and birds raising their young right outside your door. You’ll be doing more than creating a small native garden, you’ll be creating a mini-paradise in your backyard.

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