Thursday, June 4, 2009

Plants Have thier Own Purpose

There are people gathered in Millersville right now who would be very comfortable with two concepts that recently sunk into my hard head.
Articulated by Doug Tallamy:

We need to abandon the idea that we are planting purely for the aesthetics of plants.

Landscapes need to be functional for nature.

Today, the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference begins. The conference, held at Millersville University, is a respected gathering for native plant exploration and education for home gardeners and plant professionals. I could not attend this year. But I will next year. One of the featured speakers at the conference is Douglas Tallamy, author of "Bringing Nature Home" and Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware.

At the Manada Conservancy Native Plant Sale at Meadowood Nursery, I had the pleasure of hearing Tallamy speak. I also was able to walk the nursery with him.

Tallamy's book sheds light on the intricate web of nature and explains that native plants support insect life significantly better than alien plant species. Insects native to an area have, over time, become genetically predisposed to eat and utilize native plants for shelter and reproduction. Native Pennsylvania oaks, for example, host caterpillars which feed migrating birds. A strong argument is made for utilizing native plants in our suburban landscapes.

Gardeners, while often convinced of the importance of native plants, worry about tearing out their established gardens in order to replace their plants with natives. I asked him about the best plan for adding natives to your landscape.

"First, make sure there are no invasives , then replace your plants through attrition, " said Tallamy. Reduce the amount of lawn you have and plant your areas densely with native plants. " Almost everyone has more lawn than they need. " Gardens tightly planted provide food and shelter for insects and wildlife and can gradually allow nature to rebuild the food web. The hope is to create a corridor through suburban landscapes that allow wildlife to move freely and find shelter and food.

Gardeners nurture plants. So the idea of pulling out your hybrid tea to replace it with clethra feels a little counter intuitive to us.

"People need to know it's O.K. to kill a plant." said Lorrie Preston, President of the Appalachian Audobon Society. Preston and Tallamy have similar thoughts about integrating natives. She suggested looking closely and really thinking about some of our problem plants. Rather than babying a plant along with additives or keeping it in bounds with excessive pruning, take the plant out and replace it with a native.

"Plants have their own purpose. We have to understand and think about how a certain plant can serve nature." said Preston.

Plants Have thier Own Purpose

Doug Tallamy, author of "Bringing Nature Home" and Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware, signs autographs after his presentation at the Manada Conservancy's Native Plant sale held at Meadowood Nursery, near Hummelstown, PA.

Luna Moth

I had the experience of seeing this beautiful moth at Meadowood Nursery recently.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Garden Yoga

Bending back and to the side to reach behind the japanese willow, I found myself as twisted as a Henry Lauder's Walking stick. I was trying to reach into the back corners of the garden while touching up the mulch. It occurred to me, while not as graceful, some of the silly positions I found myself in resembled yoga poses.

There is the "balance on toe to avoid squashing the sedum" pose. This move allows the gardener to step inside an established garden and mulch behind spirea.

The "crouch careful twist" is used to avoid rose thorns while smoothing shredded bark. Balancing on one arm, repeatedly wave the other arm back and forth across the top of the mulch while avoiding the rose bushes until you inevitably need to stop and get a band-aid.

The most often used pose is the "downward facing gardener". For this pose, shovel several good sized piles of bark in between plants. Place feet, slightly spread, in front of the echinacea, bend at waist and lunge toward the lungwort. Stretch to reach the piles and smooth. Hold pose until your back gives out.

Anyone heard of something called a rake?