Yes, an appreciation for and love of naural landscapes can easily be acquired. Beware of your growing affection however, as it will soon become your addiction. Your one harmless cardinal flower did just like it was supposed to and attracted hummingbirds. And sure enough, there were butterflies on your butterfly weed! And while you quietly bask in your glory, watching these wonders that wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for your selfless efforts, a funny thing starts to happen. You notice that there are lots of other buzzing, zipping, creeping, slithering things that also seem to appreciate your efforts. Not wanting to seem prejudiced, you resolve to give them all a chance. You just stepped onto a ride that may never end and will offer a lifetime of exciting challenges and peace of mind for yourself and those around you.
Without a knowledgeable guiding light to focus on, many eager, enthusiastic attempts at creating wildness easily lead to frustration. Most gardens, natural or otherwise, take 2-3 years to begin to look like what they are supposed to. That is the toughest time to stick to your guns and not reach for the Round-up and the weed-eater. You may find yourself needing a pep talk from time to time, and you will certainly need ammunition for convincing (converting?) skeptics, so here are some of the best reasons I know to include even a tiny patch of native plants where ever you can.
Year Round Beauty
Native landscapes do include design. A well planned, mature planting offers beauty on many levels throughout the seasons. The main difference is that you may need to slow down to see it. Large areas may use swaths of grasses and flowers and natural groupings of woody plants for pleasing textures at 65 mph, but the best parts you have to get off your horse to truly appreciate. Smaller areas are meant for close inspection and, like fine crafts, the quality is most apparent the closer you look. When leaf and flower stalks are left dried through the winter they are infinitely more interesting than a bare mulched bed, especially if grasses are included. Not to mention the wildlife that will naturally become a moving part to the scene.
Creating a “greener” landscape by reducing energy use and the need for toxic pesticides, plus saving lots of bucks on long term maintenance should be everyone’s goal with any landscape project. Yes, it will take 3 years or so before roots are established and spaces are filled in so that you don’t have to be concerned with watering and weeding, but the benefits down the road are many fold. Even if you love gardening, maintenance is the least creative use of your time and my guess is most of you would rather trade in maintenance jobs for planting or just plain enjoying, so reducing maintenance is a major plus. A stable and self-perpetuating landscape also conserves natural resources and improves overall environmental quality. (Think of enjoying a quiet Saturday in the summer without a dozen engines of mowers, blowers or weed-eaters screaming up and down the block!!) If you happen to be a professional landscaper who is supported by the type of maintenance mentioned, consider what you would really rather be responsible for. Consider occasional maintenance to many natural areas vs. countless time spraying and mowing and fertilizing intensive landscapes. It’s just different.
As long as your eyes and ears are open, years of illumination await you. However, the general public has rarely been taught to appreciate the intricate beauty and utility of this type of landscape. Blasts of orange California poppies are often all they know about wild flowers. Bringing nature within reach, without having to drive to the country, is convenient and less threatening to those less certain of “The Wild”. Given the opportunity to show them the butterflies on the butterfly weed and the goldfinch on the sunflower, you have also succeeded on getting their big toe onto the same ride you are on. Because native landscaping is such an imperfect science at this point, we are all learning every day. Our own yards, landscape projects, parks and roadsides are high powered educational tools that will play a major part in creating more “live” spaces for the future.
You know it’s the right thing. It is part of our heritage. Whereas creating an otherwise aesthetically correct landscape, that may indeed be a work of art, leaves you unsatisfied, knowing that it lacks many of the long term positive benefits to the environment and in many cases may even have significant negative impacts. Accepting the responsibilities of stewardship on our “own” land and that which we have some control over serves to salve our conscience considerably and does make a difference for all flora and fauna to come.
It takes a certain degree of maturity and patience to look beyond what is blooming today and consider the whole picture of how everything we do affects every other thing. Most of us, by now, understand that human behaviors are largely responsible for the accelerated pace of reductions of whole species and the overall reduction in numbers of most others. Because plants and animals evolved together, many non-native plants are of little or no use as food or shelter to the native inhabitants. Natural landscapes provide reasonable facsimiles of native habitats and increase the number of species (biodiversity) of both plants and animals. Therefore, this is probably the most important side effect to the use of native plants. Birds and butterflies are beautiful and lovable and easily enticed within reach by simple improvements to habits. The less photogenic critters need equal time and habitat. No matter if you have one scarlet sage in a clay pot on your 5×5 porch in the middle of town, or acres of native grasses, flowers and woodlands in the country, you have made a contribution to species other than your own.