Wednesday, September 5, 2012

From Exotic to Native in Just a Few Easy Steps....

After removal of the Astilbes and Hostas, from the North.
The part of my property I see least is the strip along the foundation which abuts my neighbor's driveway to the northwest. Just as with my neighbor on the other side, whose property abuts my driveway, the only folks who really see it are the folks who don't own it. That doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile to make it pretty - cultivating a beautiful garden for someone else's enjoyment is a great way to grow a good, neighborly relationship. I managed to secure permission from my former neighbors to plant on their property, using extra plants from my existing collection, creating a beautiful composition of Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta 'Goldsturm'), Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus' and Echinacea pallida), Spiderwort (Tradescantia cultivars) and Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium), now complemented by wandering Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana). It is still my favorite garden, having cost not a penny and despite the fact it is neither on my property nor was I paid for the work; the yearly pleasure I derive from it and the creatures who visit - especially Eastern Goldfinches (Spinus tristis), Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) and, in the winter, Dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) - not to mention the varied pollinators - is more than adequate compensation.

After removal of the Astilbes and Hostas, from the West.
Back in the "olden days", when I knew nothing about native plants, I had installed a collection of white-flowering Astilbe chinensis, including 'Bridal Veil' and 'Deutschland', and various Hostas, both solid green and variegated, that I had "adopted" from my Mother's garden, along with four Clematis varieties, along the strip on the other side of my house. (Contrary to popular belief, Astilbe doesn't really like shade; what it wants is moist sun conditions - which is why folks think it likes shade, because it burns up if it isn't watered enough.) With the northwest exposure, the plants did fairly well - enough light to keep the Astilbe relatively happy but little enough that the Hostas didn't burn up. Was it an "inspired" garden? Certainly not. And anyone who knows me at all knows that, along with Daylilies and Rose of Sharon (among other heavily-used exotics), Hostas are not one of my favorites. (Frankly, the very idea of a Hosta Garden leaves me... positively catatonic.) Furthermore, I had to face the fact that none of those plants was doing anything to make the environment friendlier to the native faunal population - they were not particularly attractive to pollinators, they were of no use to any other herbivorous native insects and there was nothing to attract the native birds (and they looked absolutely miserable all winter long). I knew someday I would do something different with the space; until I decided "what", this would do.

Finally, this year, I decided to renovate that area. With several years of native plant experience under my belt, I had determined to install a planting of native perennials to provide four-season interest. With that decision, I dug out all of the now-undesirable plants and hied myself off to American Roots Native Plants in Ortonville, MI, to consult with my friend Trish Hacker-Henig about species selection and to purchase plants.
The new planting, from the North.

I knew I wanted a warmish palette of yellows, oranges, pinks and purples - something that would pop against the red of my home's common brick. I also wanted there to be things to look at as much of the year as possible, especially through the lean winter months. I had posted about the upcoming project on my Facebook page and received good some good feedback from various folks which helped me narrow the field.

I finally ended up with a collection including Golden Ragwort (Senecio aureus, now Packera aurea thanks to renaming conventions, from my garden - golden yellow flowers) and Eastern Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis from my garden - red and pale yellow) which will bloom in Spring; Sand Tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata - warm yellow), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa - orange, winter interest with seed heads), Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis - pale lavender) and Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum - lavender, non-native - but the pollinators love it) for early to mid-Summer; and Showy Tick Trefoil (Desmodium canadense from my garden - pink, winter interest with seed heads), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea - pink, winter interest and forage for birds), Rough Blazingstar (Liatris aspera - pinkish purple) and Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia - yellow) for late Summer/Early Fall color. I also chose some late blooming Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corollata - small, brilliant white flowers) to tuck in front of the larger plants.

Interestingly, as I finished selecting the plants I intended to buy and discussing the other plants I was going to dig from my own garden, Trish observed that I was using almost exactly the same grouping of plants as she had used for a demonstration garden on her property near the nursery!

The new planting, from the West.
In installing the plants, I paid attention to the rhythm I was creating in terms of color, bloom time and structure. The two Spring-blooming species are spaced fairly far apart, with later-season performers similarly spaced out to embace the entire composition; taller plants bracket the composition and are dotted throughout to complement shorter species. The bed isn't very deep, so issues of "taller in back" or "warmer in back" (warmer colors advance visually, while cooler colors recede) weren't really a consideration. The pre-existing Clematis selections (Clematis spooneri - Spring, white; Clematis alpina 'Willy' - Spring, pink; Clematis texensis 'Pagoda' - Summer, pink; Clematis tangutica 'Gravetye Variety' - late Summer, yellow) were worked into the composition (although I may switch two of them, as the two Spring-blooming varieties are adjacent to one another). Texture and form were also important in selection and composition, with textures ranging from relatively coarse (Echinacea) to quite fine (Euphorbia); none of the plants are very coarse in texture (think 'Blue Angel' Hosta coarse) because I felt the space too small to handle that gracefully.

Although the "peak" season has passed for many of the plants, the Liatris and Solidago are coming along and next year my neighbors and I - as well as all the pollinators and birds - will be able to enjoy the entire seasonal show.

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