On Garden Design and Conservation

“Our lifestyles have changed and our houses too, but the stuff beneath our feet has not. We need to tread carefully for we are only caretakers of it for a very short period.” – John Brookes, garden designer
As a rabid gardener but also an ecologist, it has concerned me to see the trend at nurseries and in garden books to promote non-native grasses. Actually, that is only the beginning. As many of you may know, the list of invasives turning up in our nature preserves grows every year, and they include many garden stalwarts which have jumped the fence. Why should we care? It turns out that many of these plants, such as buckthorn, emit a toxic chemical into the soil and water around them. This kills off native plants, and even harms creatures such as salamanders. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see the frogs and salamanders that I used to see when I was a child.

So what is a gardener to do? The next time you see a color spread in a garden magazine featuring, say, grasses, ask yourself what native grasses grow in your area. In northeastern Illinois we are blessed with several grasses that are, in my opinion, far more beautiful than all the miscanthes varieties I see in catalogues. If you look around and don’t see grasses, perhaps that is because they are not suited to your environment. Perhaps cactus would be more appropriate.
An important note- I am not advocating digging up plants in the wild. Unless a bulldozer is poised over them, there is a better way. As demand has increased, many nurseries are beginning to propigate native plants to sell. Before you buy, ask where the stock comes from. In this way, we can enjoy beautiful gardens that are an authentic reflection of our selves as well as where we live.

I have been using native plants in my garden for many years, and have been richly rewarded by native bees and other critters coming in, as well as songbirds.
Happy Gardening!


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