COUNTY, Minn. — In July, the cottage-style garden that
Lynn Steiner tends in Washington County is gloriously
abloom with a rainbow of colorful flowers — purples,
yellows, pinks and reds set off by the cool greens of
trees, shrubs and foliage.
to Steiner, her landscape is much more than just a
pretty plot that complements her restored 1898
should be more to gardening than just, ‘Does this make
our eyes happy?’?" said the horticulturist and
author of several books on native plants, including her
latest, "Grow Native: Bringing Natural Beauty to
Your Garden." In it, she advocates
"responsible gardening," which she defines as
"giving some thought to everything you do in your
garden" — from plant choice to use of chemicals.
cruel to lure insects to the garden, then use
insecticides to kill them," she said.
for "responsible" plant choices, native plants
are high on the list because they have evolved to thrive
in local growing conditions — and to support
pollinators and other wildlife.
you plant a native, you can sleep well at night knowing
it’s not going to cause detrimental effects," she
plants tend to require less water and less fussing than
non-natives, making them easier on the gardener, as
well. And they also can help replace the natural habitat
that has been lost to development, agriculture and
losing natives in so many native areas, it’s important
for our gardens to provide nectar and pollen
sources," she said. "Roadsides used to be a
huge habitat; now they’re destroyed. So many invasives
have replaced the native plants. When we first moved
here, I could find prairie remnants. Not anymore."
has been tending gardens on this old farmstead for more
than three decades. In addition to the cottage-style
garden that surrounds her house, the 18-acre site also
includes a restored prairie, savanna and oak woodland.
of the appeal of this place was there was a lot of
opportunity for gardening," she said. "At the
start, I was very into vegetable gardening."
about 15 years ago, Voyageur Press contacted her about
writing a book on native plants. Steiner, the longtime
editor of Minnesota Horticulture magazine (now Northern
Gardener) was eager to tackle long-form garden writing.
loved the idea of a book. Magazine articles are too
short," she said. So she immersed herself in the
study of natives.
the time, there were few books available, and native
plants themselves were held in dim regard as too weedy
and unsightly. "Native plants were not considered
good garden choices," she said.
as Steiner learned more about native plants, she came to
appreciate them. "I think they’re pretty, and
they offer gardeners a whole new palette of
became especially interested in which plants could make
the transition into residential landscapes.
all are well-suited for home gardens," she said.
"Some are aggressive and heavy reseeders. I want
people to enjoy them like I do and not get
first book, "Landscaping With Native Plants of
Minnesota" published in 2002, led to others,
including "Native Plants of Wisconsin,"
"Native Plants of Michigan" and "Rain
Gardens: Sustainable Landscaping for a Beautiful Yard
and a Healthy World."
new book is "heavy on design principles," she
said, and "heavy on attracting pollinators and
other native fauna. Plants were selected for those
"Go Native," Steiner also tackles some
misconceptions about native plants.
lot of people think natives are boring, that there are
not enough colors," she said. "They do tend to
have shorter flowering periods than highly bred
she has no objection to using cultivars to add color and
punch up a garden of mostly native plants. Her garden
beds, for example, include heuchera, a popular cultivar
that comes in many foliage colors, and Tiger Eyes sumac
as an accent shrub.
also "not a purist" when it comes to chemical
intervention in the garden. "I do use Roundup as a
way to control big problems," she said, calling it
"a tool when used correctly" on invasives,
including the garlic mustard in her woods.
misconception about native plants: Because they tend to
be lower maintenance than many traditional garden
plants, some people think they require no maintenance at
all. "You have to be on top of things,"
Steiner said. "They can get weedy and
native plants look a little wilder than garden-variety
plants, that’s a good thing, she said. "They are
more informal looking." And more variable. "A
native plant tends to look different at different
times," she said, as opposed to, say, hosta, which
always look the same. "The native garden evolves
and changes. If you can appreciate that and go with it,
that’s a benefit."
STORY CAN END HERE)
days, Steiner grows mostly natives and very few
vegetables. "You can get so much more at the
farmers markets," she said. "And we love to
travel and are sometimes gone for long periods. The
vegetable garden can’t tolerate that. But my natives
do just fine."
when she talks to garden groups, she finds them much
more knowledgeable and receptive to native plants than
they were at the time she wrote her first book on the
can thank the insects," she said, citing the recent
explosion of interest in reversing declining populations
of bees, Monarch butterflies and other pollinators.
I started gardening, it was ‘How can we get rid of
every insect?’ We’re starting to understand the
importance of creatures beyond just us."