With so many signs of spring around us and a few summer-like days already here, most of us have probably started to think about our gardens and landscaping. Many early flowering plants have passed their peak and the sound of the lawnmowers have begun to penetrate our peaceful neighborhoods. Since this is the season of ‘things new,’ maybe we want to consider creating something different.
This is the time to break a bit from ordinary patterns and add adventure to our lives — or, at the very least, our landscaping.
Why not consider going beyond the plain expanse of that somewhat uniform turf, and create a new world right in your own yard? Properly done, these areas would not only be more interesting, but attractive, creative and environmentally beneficial in a variety of ways.
To a limited degree this could be attempted by installing some pricey exotic specimens, but more would be accomplished by selecting plants from a large variety of native species. These are optimally adapted to our region and generally need less care, provide beauty and are more resilient. In addition, they set the stage for the gradual development of balanced and integrated habitats, ideal micro-ecosystems for even more of our local birds, insects and small animals.
One specific way to approach this could be to create a “pollinator garden,” which would benefit our threatened butterflies, honeybees and others. The plant choices are exciting and include such choices as “blazing star” Liatris and the brilliant orange “butterfly weed.” This latter species is a member of the milkweed group, all of which not only provide nectar, but a place for Monarchs to deposit their eggs.
Also, those leaves then serve as the one specific food essential for that butterfly’s development while still a caterpillar. Not to be overlooked here is “Joe-Pye Weed,” certainly not weed like, and a natural magnet for many types of bees and butterflies. Such a garden has been created at Havens House. Stop by for a visit and see even more interesting choices.
Numerous trees and shrubs are known for providing food in some form; blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are native to this area. Others, such as those in the viburnum group, are colorful and also quite fragrant. Along with the eastern white cedar, these, and many other shrubs, can provide “fruit” all winter long, often a main source of nutrients and energy for those optimistic robins and others, which arrive way too early to find any worms.
Another theme to consider could focus primarily on grasses, not the typical turf type, but those that add a variety of color, texture and movement to an area. Purple love grass, little blue stem and switch grass are just a few. These are fairly drought resistant, virtually deer proof and certainly low maintenance. Also, the flowering seed tops can become the essence of a unique, long-lasting bouquet, not usually found in a florist’s shop.
Meadows are another feature that one might create. These are a mixture of plantings that in part, may arise from preexisting material in the soil and can be somewhat self-directing, or certain plants may be specifically selected for inclusion. Keep in mind that ‘meadows-in-a-can’ products often include varieties that may not be native and not do well at all. Once established, the native species in such areas require minimal care and generally provide habitat for a wide variety of other flora and fauna.
To learn more about creating these types of gardens, there are many colorful and informative books that will be helpful, and the internet has an abundance of material. Two sites that stand out are: the Long Island Native Plant Initiative (linpi.org) and Peconic Estuary Program/Cornell rewards. This latter non-profit has a “homeowners rewards” feature which offers up to $500 towards implementation of the kinds of projects briefly outlined here.
The LINPI is having a plant sale the first week in June at Suffolk County Community College in Riverhead. Call (631) 260-1513 for more details. And certainly, check with your local landscaper or garden center, they can obtain most of the native species that would be appropriate to your interests.
So, take that first step, research and design your own special display. Help some threatened species and add to the beauty of your neighborhood. This is the season — now is the time — to start your personal spring adventure, even if it begins with only a few plants and a creative vision.
Islander Herb Stelljes has a master’s degree in biology and additional studies in theoretical ecology.