12 Chapters
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10. Rain Gardens Cleansing Storm Water With Native Plants

Carolyn A. Harstad Indiana University Press ePub

When you plant a rain garden in your yard, you mimic some of the benefits of the natural landscape.

—Rusty Schmidt

Rain garden drawing

In a Minnesota Public Radio segment on rain gardens, Stephanie Hemphill noted that a good midwestern summer storm can dump a lot of water in one place, occasionally flooding into sewer lines or even spewing untreated sewage into lakes and rivers. She added, “Cities across the country are spending millions of dollars to solve the problem.”

Especially in urban settings, sunny rain gardens featuring civilized native plants solve problems and make strong statements. Properly engineered and planted, these gardens can be striking, channel roof and driveway runoff to good use, reduce chemical applications and mowing, and break up the monotony of turf landscapes. Progressive municipal governments bent on reducing surges of water and chemicals in storm sewers may offer expertise and even dollars for carrying out your plan. In times of tension between citizens and government, a community of interest is refreshing.

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8. Vigorous Vines Provide Height With Ease

Carolyn A. Harstad Indiana University Press ePub

Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.

—Jonah 4:6

Trumpet Creeper with Hummingbird

It was February and I was delighted to be in Florida visiting our oldest son, Mark and his family near Fort Lauderdale. When Mark was a teenager in Indianapolis, he informed me emphatically, “When I grow up I am NOT going to have plants around my house. Only grass.” Now that he is grown up, I am amazed at his landscaping prowess.

Minimal landscaping at his newly purchased home screamed for help, so Mark sketched a tentative plan that included a few tall trees, some flowering shrubs, space for perennials and annuals, but still left enough turf grass for our two little grandsons to tear around. Mark searched until he found just the right native palm trees for his front yard. Next, he researched Florida native plants to find a shrub that would do exactly what he needed for the privacy hedge at the back of the property. He also designed a small, attractive biohedge of natives at the corner of his patio to give color, texture, fragrance, and privacy. He even disguised the air conditioning unit and utility boxes with flowering native shrubs.

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5. Prolific Perennials Flowers, Flowers, Flowers!

Carolyn A. Harstad Indiana University Press ePub

More than anything I must have flowers, always, always.

—Claude Monet, French painter

Purple Prairie Clover

Native-plant enthusiasts call them forbs. Plant nurseries and garden centers identify them as perennials. Gardeners refer to them simply as flowers. Whatever you call them, these are the plants that light up the garden, bringing color, fragrance, and beauty to the landscape and earning compliments from passersby.

Gardeners are often surprised to learn how many familiar, gardenworthy plants are native. Coreopsis and Black-eyed Susan have been perennial garden anchors for decades. Recently, gardeners have become excited about the huge flowers of perennial hibiscus that bloom in late summer. Do you grow asters? Or sedum? Or spiderwort? All these familiar plants are native. Let us take time to describe some of them and to add a few more to our repertoire.

Prairie plants are usually what people envision when they hear “native plant.” Unfortunately, their reputation for being weedy is well earned. Many gardeners who yearn to fill their sunny front yards with waving grasses and beautiful flowers believe that if you remove the grass, sprinkle a few seeds on the existing soil, and dampen the ground, nature will do the rest. That is not the case. Rather, the result is an unkempt, terrible looking yard and the natives get a bad rap.

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9. Graceful Grasses Listen To Them Sing

Carolyn A. Harstad Indiana University Press ePub

Of all the world’s flowering plants, the grasses are undoubtedly the most important to man.

—R. W. Pohl

Prairie Cordgrass

Grasses are the mainstay of our native tallgrass prairies, which once covered 170 million acres beginning at the Indiana/Illinois border where natural woodlands gradually melded into vast native grasslands. They stretched from eastern Illinois to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and covered land from the northern border of our country just below Saskatchewan all the way south to Texas. Iowa had the largest unbroken stretch of prairie, covering over 30 million acres. Only small remnants of this incredible ecosystem have survived. Yet rich deep soil still exists in testament to the deep roots and humus of those incredible grasses.

Early travelers referred to the prairies as “a sea of grass” where myriads of flowers in all colors of the rainbow bloomed. Pioneer diarists crossing the plains in their covered wagons extolled the glories of the seasons. Now only about 4 percent of our industrialized nation consists of native prairies, most of those restored remnants here and there. Yet recent sources still list over 800 species of non-woody flowering plants existing in these areas. Imagine how many more have been lost through development.

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6. Great Ground Covers Take Care Of Problem Areas

Carolyn A. Harstad Indiana University Press ePub

Ground covers are Nature’s carpets that clothe soil in a variety of green array and make this flowering world all the brighter and more beautiful.

—Daniel Foley

Dwarf Crested Iris

Ground covers are special friends. Most of us have a variety of friends. Each has a distinct personality with character traits and idiosyncrasies that we may like or dislike depending on the timing or our frame of mind. Some are always there, others may move in and out of our circle. But whatever the characteristics, each friend is important to us.

In many ways, the plants in our gardens resemble our human friends. Consider the perennials. These are the bold, colorful friends that brighten your day and can always bring a smile. Shrubs may not be quite as outgoing but are steady and will not disappear when the going gets tough. They lack the innate flashiness of those happy-go-lucky perennials but are probably your “classy friends.” Trees are those incredible friends you realize are above you in so many ways, yet stand tall and firm, ready to protect you in any crisis. Ferns calm and soothe your troubled spirit, bringing softness and serenity. Vines scramble to the heights to please, happily shielding you from unpleasantness as they climb. Grasses change through the seasons, sometimes small and inconspicuous, at other times waving wildly, demanding attention. Sometimes they are just plain, usually unobtrusive green; some of them, given time, become bright and colorful. They may be changeable, but are pleasant to have around. It is good to have variety in our circle of friends. But one friend is missing in this analogy: the one who is never demanding, never asks for extra attention, yet is “always there for you.” In the gardening world, that friend is a ground cover.

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