Local color: Carving out room for native plants

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I have a vision for my land. As gardeners, don't we all have our pie in the sky of botanical dreams? Mine is loose in some areas and open to wild ideas, but for the sloped back corner off the right of my deck, I have a well-defined plan: a gloriously curated "Vermont garden." I envision a classy yet lively plot of native plant species anchored with a semi-dwarf apple tree, perfect for my smallish, partially shaded space.

The landscape layout is still sparse, but I've been diligently adding a seedling here, a planting there. Milkweed was already growing, so I took it as a good omen and added more. I moved what mint I had to this section of the yard, and plan to buy a Hoary Mountain Mint plant when I'm next at a native plant nursery.

Hoary Mountain Mint is a native Vermont plant currently on our endangered species list. That gives me even more reason to add it to my yard, where it will hopefully flourish. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department website lists nurseries specializing in native plants. If you don't find what you are looking for at your usual garden center, these vendors will be able to help.

Jack-in-the-pulpits have expanded past the mint and fern border and into my Vermont garden — a welcomed migration. Red Trillium has joined the party as well; I find it in multiplying positions in and around the garden.

My Vermont-themed must-haves are elderberry and nannyberry shrubs. Elderberry is a necessity because I use its berries regularly for cooking and medicinal needs, so why keep buying them when I can grow them? Nannyberry is a well-growing, hardy shrub. I plan to use it as a hedge and to harvest its fruits for jam.

I already had wild black raspberry plants running freely in my yard. Two years ago, I moved and trimmed the raspberries into a formation that made pragmatic sense. Rather than have them co-mingling with the weeds at the edge of my property where they were growing leggy and not producing much fruit in summer, they were transplanted a few feet further into my Green Mountain garden. It proved to be a good move, for now I'm rewarded with handfuls of berries each morning.

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Wildflowers were next to join, with forget-me-nots and columbine blooming in early spring and bee balm and black-eyed susans launching their colors now. These flowers add fireworks of color to my native garden, all while helping to promote local pollinators.

I want bees in my yard: bring on the honeybees, the bumblebees; the butterflies, the hummingbirds and songbirds, too! Native plant landscapes are welcome mats for these creatures. The colors draw them into a complimentary feast of flowers, and hopefully, once they've arrived, they'll then pollinate my finicky pumpkin patch. Pollinators thrive in the local landscape they belong, but sadly, those habitats are becoming fewer with each passing year. By adding native plants to my yard, I am changing the environment for the better.

There are more positives to having a Vermont garden. Just like their pollinators, native plants will prosper in their correct environment; a well thought-out placement bears gifts to a gardener for years to come. Being naturally selected, native plants are resistant to many diseases and pests, which translates to requiring less care and maintenance. What an incentive from Mother Nature! Help her out: Care for her Vermont flora and fauna, and she won't demand much from us in the chore department. (Don't tell her, but I think we drew the longer stick on this deal.)

I spent many a Vermont car ride scrutinizing the landscape when I first decided to plant a native garden, paying attention to what grew carefree along the highways, backroads and creeks. I discovered wild blueberry bushes tightly nestled near ponds and Common Selfheal with its purple-blue hue. I watched the palette of nature's colors wheel through each season until I understood what plants I especially enjoyed, and which would grow in my yard. None of those hours of investigation were poorly spent, even if I did not plant all I observed.

There are other methods for obtaining a native plants list. A world of resources is in books and online. An intriguingly helpful one is at the Protecting Bees website, which runs through a Rutgers University program. It is an electronic database designed to help visitors to the site find pollinator-attractive plants specific to where they live. There are several options for criteria, including types of pollinator, sun exposure and my favorite: plugging in your zip code to see what will thrive near you.

Tina Weikert is a frequent contributor to Southern Vermont Landscapes.


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