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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Benefits of Native Plant Gardening

Saturday, April 23, 2016

With the rise of the American suburb following World War II, owning a home became an attainable American Dream for most middle class Americans. Along with the American suburb came the manicured lawn that over time even became regulated in city codes. Fertilizer, pesticide, and weed-killer became requirements to maintain the "perfect" lawns. Weekly mowing, edging, watering, and treating grasses, flowers, trees, and shrubs are now part of most Americans weekend activities. 

Gone were the naturalized plants and unkempt looking yards that were our grandparents' yards. However, with many major cities imposing water restrictions, homeowners are once again looking to native plants to use in their gardens as a way to need less water. 

The benefits of native plant gardening do include using less water.  Native plants are naturally adapted to the climate of their location which includes being adapted to needing the amount of rainfall provided by nature to survive. They do not need or want supplemental watering as a general rule. When trying to establish plants in a new setting, there probably will be a need to water them for the first year to get their roots established. 

The benefits of native plant gardening go beyond frugal use of water. Native plants return annually without requiring replanting by humans. Some years the wildflowers in this native pocket prairie on the north side of my house are more lush than other years based on the amount of the year's rainfall and based on when the rain came. These plants have returned every year for the past 37 years that I've owned this little plot of land out in the countryside.  

Another benefit to this native pocket prairie is it only needs to be mown about once or twice a year. The native plants should be allowed to follow their normal life cycle of growing all year, then in the fall when they go dormant, they can be mown. 

Native plants benefit local wildlife by providing shelter and food they need. Take away the native plants, and wildlife no longer has a food source it needs. Plants that replace native plants may not be the preferred source of food for wildlife and the new different plants may not provide their needed shelter. 

These Little Bluestem prairie grasses grow taller during the year, provide nesting sites for birds, and provide food for migrating songbirds. 

Milkweed plants provide food for swallowtail butterflies as well as for monarch butterflies. Each year milkweed plants reappear in this small native prairie. 

By growing native plants, we are insuring species will have habitats and will survive. Pink evening primroses can be grown in suburban flower gardens as well as in naturalized country settings. 

These low-growing wildflowers help hold the soil on slopes in open wooded areas that have several hours of shade each day. 

They not only return every year, they spread making an excellent low-growing ground cover. Yet, they are easily pulled up so they do not over run an area. Like all native plants, they do not need chemicals like fertilizers or pesticides. Using no chemicals benefits both wildlife and humans. Chemicals kill birds, bees, and butterflies. Spraying pesticides obviously can kill bees and butterflies, but pesticides can kill other wildlife, too. When a bug dies from a pesticide, and a bird ingests the dead bug, the pesticide can then kill the bird. 

Chemicals added to our yards wash into our ground water supplies and can contaminate our drinking water. Each year I get a government-mandated report about the chemicals in the water supplied to my house by the local community water board. For the government to require this report tells me that chemical-contaminated water is a real concern for our country. Will there be clean, safe drinking water for our children and grandchildren in the future? 

This is just one of several stands of native, naturalized daisies that grow along the edges of the woods around my house. They reseed themselves each year. No fertilizer, no pesticides, little to no supplemental watering. This stand is growing around a planted redbud tree that does have to be watered periodically for it to establish its root system. 

True, these daisies are not as showy individually as cultivated ones, but the masses together make a very pretty display. All the other stands of these daisies throughout my property do not receive extra water, only natural rainfall. 

Vitex trees are relatively small ornamental blooming trees that attract bees, butterflies, and birds. There are days that the whole tree seems to be moving because there are so many bees gathering nectar from its blossoms. Butterflies absolutely L O V E this tree. 

This particular tree was planted, but there have been several "volunteer" trees sprout from seed dropped or blown from this parent tree. By providing food sources for bees in our yards, we can help offset the losses of their food sources elsewhere and provide safe locations for their hives. 

A benefit of native plant gardening is providing a home for all kinds of wildlife. Understandably, suburban home owners do not have enough space to provide shelters for animals like foxes, raccoons, armadillos, or possums, but for those of us in the countryside with a little acreage, we can set aside naturalized woods for these small mammals. 

Foxes are protected by the Texas Wildlife Department. I know because one spring two fox mothers raised two dens of baby foxes under my east deck. When I contacted the Wildlife Department about what to do, I was told not to disturb them. When their babies were old enough, the two mothers moved on with their young. I kept my cats inside all during this time. 

A pea gravel driveway is another landscaping option that is good for the environment and adds a little touch of French design to a country house. The pea gravel allows rain to soak into the ground instead of running into the ditches. Water that filters through rock and soil is somewhat cleaned as it makes its way through the ground and goes back into my ground water supply instead of draining off to go elsewhere. 

Pea gravel does not reflect as much sunlight/heat and stays cooler to the touch than concrete or asphalt. This helps keep my house cooler in the sizzling triple digit days of Texas summers. 

Plus, I love the French look of a pea gravel drive. 

While most of my yard has native plants that are naturalized, I do add cultivated plants, like these blue sage flowers, to pots on my decks. Over the years I've learned to buy drought-tolerant plants suitable for hot summers in north Texas. 

Attracting bees and butterflies is another big plus for any plant to get to come live at my house. 

AND if the color goes well with French blue, how can I resist it, and say, "Non"?

Botanic Bleu offers {affiliate} links to some of my favorite things found on Amazon. Consider the links as friendly tips shared from one girlfriend to another going shopping together. 

If you are interested in introducing more native plants into your Texas or Southwest landscape, whether in the suburbs or countryside, these are three books {affiliate links} that I have used to help me over the years, including the eight years I lived in a suburb in Arlington. 


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