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Medium 9780253009319

11. Final Thoughts Can We Make A Difference?

Carolyn A. Harstad Indiana University Press ePub

The earth is a house that belongs to us all.

—Cheryl Piperberg

Royal Catchfly

Gardening with native plants is becoming popular for good reason. Planting natives makes constant watering and fertilizing unnecessary. These plants know how to deal with weather patterns, how to survive the feast and famine of moisture, and how to put down deep roots to gather the last vestiges of food hidden in those tiny particles of soil. Leave for a vacation during a drought and return home to find your natives blooming their heads off, while the nonnatives sulk on the ground—or worse.

There are plants to avoid and plants to encourage for good and sound reasons. We can avoid planting those exotic plants that are known escape artists. Wouldn’t you like to get your hands on the individuals who brought Dandelions and Garlic Mustard to the Western Hemisphere? Some may ask, “Does it really matter what I plant on my private property?” You bet it does! Exotic Norway Maples are displacing native Sugar Maples. Amur Maples and supposedly infertile Bradford Pear seedlings are popping up in wild spaces. What I call the Terrible Three ground covers—Myrtle (Vinca minor), Purple Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei ‘Coloratus’), and Ivy (Hedera spp.)—have each been found carpeting woodlands. Commonly used Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus), Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), and Japanese Spiraea (Spiraea japonica) have escaped to the wild, displacing native species and destroying habitat. Essential food and nesting sites for wildlife are disappearing. Some native plants are even threatened with extinction.

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Medium 9780874217094

Chapter One. Native Landscapes of the Intermountain West

Susan E. Meyer Utah State University Press ePub

Leo penstemon

To design beautiful and functional native landscapes, the first step is to learn to look at landscapes in nature and to begin to understand why they look the way they do. Even intuitively obvious truths about intermountain landscapes need to be given some thought. For example, all westerners know that, to escape the heat of summer, a picnic in the mountains is generally a good approach. In the winter, we know that we can head for the desert to escape from the snow. Plants respond to these climate differences at least as much as people do. The native plant communities in high mountain valleys are completely different from the plant communities in the desert country, where people often go to seek winter sunshine.

As you drive up into the mountains from towns nestled in the valleys at their feet, first the low sagebrush steppe vegetation gives way to foothill communities characterized by small trees like gambel oak and bigtooth maple, or to a pygmy evergreen forest made up of juniper and pinyon pine. Further up, patches of quaking aspen and white fir or lodgepole pine start to appear, interspersed with meadow communities of grasses, low shrubs, and an abundance of wildflowers. If you are driving up a canyon with a year-round stream, you will see the difference right away between the streamside vegetation, which is very green and lush, and the hillsides above, which support shrubs and grasses found in much drier environments. Often, arriving in the aspen/white-fir or lodgepole pine zone is enough to relieve the heat of summer, but if the road continues to wind upward, it will pass through evergreen forests of sub-alpine species of spruce and fir, until at last it reaches timberline and breaks out into alpine tundra, the dwarf community that lives on the high, windswept ridges that are too harsh to support trees.

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Medium 9780253009067

Two: Shrubs Attract Wildfile

Moya L. Andrews Quarry Books ePub

Bees and blueberries must make their pollen
deal in May if robins and blueberries
are to make their seed deals in July.

—Sara Stein

Use plants to bring life.

—Douglas Wilson

Like trees, most shrubs are long-lived. However, they mature faster, and in four years or so after planting, they will flower and/or fruit well. When we increase the number and variety of shrubs we grow, our garden becomes more diverse and is better equipped to attract different types of birds, who depend on a diversity of habitats for food, nesting spots, and shelter. Shelter involves having a safe place in which to minimize the effects of excessive wind, sun, rain, snow, and hail. A garden also needs to provide hiding places that screen birds from their predators. For example, predators that pounce on their prey from above cannot see through dense evergreens.

Evergreens, especially dense ones such as yews and spruces and large-leaved rhododendrons, provide excellent cover for mammals and birds during heavy snows and downpours of rain. They also serve as protective roost sites for juncos and other birds in winter. In the summer, deciduous shrubs provide shade from the hot sun. Protection from strong winds is also provided by hedges and hedgerows, and mourning doves and other birds that roost at night in a flock often can be found sheltering in shrubs and trees that form windbreaks. Cardinals and mockingbirds like to nest in shrubs with branching that provides a secure site for their nests. In winter we can see and take note of the deciduous shrubs that birds nested in the previous spring and summer. Diversified planting encourages both migrants and breeding birds to frequent our gardens.

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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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Medium 9780253219763

Four Displaying Flowers

Moya L Andrews Quarry Books ePub

A house with daffodils in it
is a house lit up,
Whether or not the sun
be shining outside.
Daffodils in a green bowl—
and let it snow if it will.

—A. A. Milne

One of the benefits of growing perennials is the continual supply of cut flowers for the home and for sharing with neighbors and friends. Flowers, ideally already arranged in a container, are a hostess gift that is usually welcome. The busy hostess does not have to worry about finding a vase, cutting the stems, and putting them in water. Hopefully, the water will never spill in your car en route. If you transport a lot of flowers, keep a few bricks in your car to pack around flower containers. Small containers sometimes can be anchored in cup-holders, if your car has them, or in small cardboard boxes with crushed-up newspaper packed around them. Some passengers in cars will even willingly hold a vase full of flowers en route to an event. Should you be lucky enough to persuade a passenger in your car to cooperate in this way, be sure to put only a small amount of water in the flower container before you hand it over. Seat the person first, of course, and then place the vase either between the passenger’s feet on the floor, or into the person’s hands. I may be belaboring this point a bit here, but caution is important, for if a passenger arrives with wet clothes it is embarrassing to say the least.

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