there such a thing as a low-maintenance garden?
landscapers and horticulturists will tell you no —
every garden needs maintenance of some kind.
the most part, they are right.
are high-maintenance and lower-maintenance gardens. It’s
all about plant choice — right plant for right space
— and giving plants room to grow without crowding.
also about the plant types you select. Plants that need
constant pruning to keep them sized and shaped and
plants that dislike temperature and soil changes have no
place in a low-maintenance garden.
more and more savvy gardeners, native plants are the way
to grow and enjoy a garden with minimum care and maximum
reward. Native plants are also your best bets for
pollinator gardens that attract bees, butterflies, birds
and beneficial insects.
plant landscape designer Denise Greene agrees.
maintenance means a minimum amount of input is required
to keep the plants in the garden healthy and
growing," says Greene. She grows 130-140 plants
native to the Mid-Atlantic region at Sassafras Farm, a
nursery she started in 1997 at her home in Gloucester,
Va.; she sells plants at a farmers market many weekends.
reason natives can be low maintenance is because they
are adapted to the specific growing conditions of the
site. Of course, you have to know what the site
conditions are and which plants are adapted to those
conditions. Just because a plant is native doesn’t
mean it will do well in any conditions, but it will
thrive if you plant it in the right place."
understand the basics of using native plants in your
landscape, Greene recommends three books:
Nature Home" by Doug Tallamy to understand why you
should use natives.
the American Lawn" by Herbert Bormann to understand
the history behind the love of lawns and the
environmental and financial consequences of the chemical
industries’ indoctrination advertising tactics —
convincing us all to grow a "perfect" lawn.
Alternatives to Invasive Plants" by Colston Burrell
to understand how to rework an existing landscape to
make it environmentally healthy.
you plant, plan: Decide what the function of the site
will be, suggests Greene. For example, do you want to
screen an area from a neighbor’s view to create
privacy? Do you want to create a welcoming entry to your
home? Or, do you want to invite pollinators to your
learn the conditions of the site, Greene recommends,
the soil mostly sandy, clay or loam? How well does
it drain? What do the existing plants tell you about its
fertility and moisture-holding capacity?
many hours of sun does it get? What is the quality of
the light or the shade — morning vs. afternoon sun or
full vs. dappled shade?
yourself and list plants that adapt to those site
each of those plants, create a list of its attributes
and seasonality. Go to nurseries or public gardens at
different times of the year to check out what looks good
when. Then, work from that list to create the aesthetics
of the design using concepts such as scale, texture,
repetition, line, color and fragrance.
philosophy is to use plants that will grow well in the
existing conditions rather than trying to change them to
get a certain plant to grow there," says Greene.
soil is poorly drained, use plants adapted to wetland
conditions. If soil is poor and dry, use plants that
have the root systems that can cope with that."
are always a personal preference, and Greene has her
favorites — native sunflowers, milkweeds, asters and
goldenrods, which will thrive in most parts of the
sunflowers provide nectar and seeds for several species
of insects and birds, she notes. In a shady garden
Helianthus divaricatus (Woodland Sunflower) is a good
choice. In a poorly drained or swampy area Helianthus
angustifolia (Narrow-leaved Sunflower) thrives. In poor,
dry soil Helianthus mollis (Ashy Sunflower) is ideal.
three of these species will spread to form a nice patch
of color to attract birds and butterflies into the
garden and should be given plenty of room," she
popular because they help provide food for the
struggling monarch population, have species within the
family that work best for different growing sites.
Asclepias verticillata (Whorled Milkweed) likes dry
woodland edges; Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed)
tolerates sunny, dry sites; and Asclepias incarnate
(Swamp Milkweed) grows in poorly drained to average
soils. To cover a large area, use Asclepias syriaca
(Common Milkweed) because its rhizomatous root structure
spreads to create more plants.
and goldenrods are important late-season nectar sources
for butterflies and other insects, and again there are
species for different sites, according to Greene.
Symphyotrichum cordifolium (Heart Leaf Aster) and
Solidago caesia (Blue Stem Goldenrod) grow in moist to
dry shaded gardens; Symphyotrichum novi-belgii (New York
Aster) and Solidago sempervirens (Seaside Goldenrod)
grow in flood-prone areas and tolerate salt water
inundation. For sunny, drought prone gardens
Symphyotrichum laeve (Smooth Aster) and Solidago
nemoralis (Gray Goldenrod) give a wonderful fall show,
to find these and more native plants? Beyond some area
nurseries, Greene likes the spring and fall plant sales
run by native plant societies and master gardeners.
retail sector, however, is just beginning to get the
nurseries are starting to carry more native species and
will continue to try to meet that demand," she
they have to know the demand is there. Go to your retail
nurseries and tell them what you’re looking for. The
next time they place an order with the wholesaler, they’ll
inquire about the plants you’ve asked about. The more
we ask for natives the more the wholesalers will grow