Thoughts on how to create a well-designed garden retreat.

Posts tagged “wildlife

It’s a jungle out there!


Many times, especially in urban areas, a homeowner is faced with a jungle of invasive, non-native plants over-running everything.  Some of the common plants in the Southeast are English Ivy, Asian wisteria, Ligustrum or privet, (or both), the non-native mulberry, and Japanese honeysuckle, just to name a few.  Bamboo is often common and extremely hard to get rid of.  How does one go about getting rid of these invasive plants in order to grow more desirable plants?

There is no easy way.  It requires a lot of work and persistence. It does not happen all at once and requires a focused long term program.  The first thing to do is to dig out all that you can physically dig out.  This is hard, back breaking work.  You can be sure that there will be some that you miss.  As soon as you see some sprouting back up, you have to remove it quickly.  Many of these plant will regenerate from the roots.  Any foliage that remains long will recharge the batteries of the roots so to speak.  You must keep at it until the roots are exhausted.  It is not a once or twice hit and you’re done type of project.

Some achieve more rapid results by spraying the foliage with a chemical brush killer.  I prefer to not use chemicals as a general rule but in the case of invasive plants, it can shorten the time-line.  These chemicals work best on newer leaves.  One way would be to cut everything to the ground and then follow up with a chemical spray once you see new leaves.  This process requires you to keep it up with several repeat sprays until the roots have given up and are dead.  You can also put the concentrated brush killer on freshly cut stumps to prevent regrowth.

Whatever method you take, you have to be vigilant to be sure your garden stays free of these invasive plants.  Vines such as wisteria will creep back in from your neighbor’s yard.  Seedlings will pop up and will need to be removed as soon as you can spot them.  It is not a battle, it is a war.  You have to be in it for the long haul.  However it is worth it.  You can do your part to keep our native plants and non-invasive exotic plants by being run over by these exotic invasive plants.  Future generations will thank you.  Most of these plants flourish because there is no natural control to keep them in check.  In this case, it has to be human control.


Spring flowers


Spring flowers are highly anticipated and treasured for their brief display.  Today I walked through Jaliya’s Memorial Garden and took some pictures of currently flowering shrubs.  Tomorrow I will try to show you pictures of the flowering perennials from the garden.

Rhododendron 'Roseum Elegans'

Rhododendrons are large evergreen shrubs native to the mountains and piedmont in the southeast.  They require shade and good drainage.  They can have some morning sun but no more.  There are many cultivars out there.  Roseum Elegans is my favorite.

Eastern Ninebark 'Diablo'

This is an Eastern Ninebark variety called ‘Diablo’.  It is noted for it’s dark leaves.  There are other cultivars available with yellow and copper leaves.  I like Diablo for the contrast in color especially while in flower.  Ninebarks would often get lost in the shrub border if you used the standard green leaf variety.

Blue Muffin Viburnum

This is a Viburnum dentatum called blue muffin.  It is claimed to have nicer shinier leaves than the species.  Later these flowers will be dark blue berries for the birds to eat.

Fringe Tree

This is a native shrub/small tree called Fringetree.  It’s easy to see how it gets the name.  There are male and females of this tree and supposedly the male flowers are showier.  I don’t notice the difference.  Probably because usually you see them as a stand alone specimen rather than in groups so you could compare.  There is a Chinese Fringetree that may have a nicer habit but our native one has fragrant flowers that the Chinese species does not.

Many of the native azaleas have already bloomed but there are still more to bloom later in the season.  Hopefully one day I can devote a post to all of them.  The Virginia Sweetspire is in bud and will be blooming any day now.


Native or not?


There is a new residential development in our area that advertises that they are green and use native plants.  This excited me because having a whole neighborhood that was planting natives could show how attractive a native community could be and such a large area of natives would be a seed source for natives to be reintroduced into the natural landscape.

Imagine my surprise when I drove through this neighborhood and had a hard time finding these native plants.  I had a couple customers referred to me in this neighborhood and their front yards were already planted by the landscaper hired by the builder.  NOT ONE native plant was in these front yards.  The clients were surprised to hear this.

So I found out the name of the GUY IN CHARGE of selling lots in the development and gave him a call.  He told me that they did plant native.  When I told him what I saw he said well they plant SOME native.  When I pressed further, he said well they plant drought-tolerant and maybe in order to do that, they had to plant some non-natives.  You do not have to plant non-natives to have drought tolerant plantings.  Many natives are drought tolerant because every where has the occasional drought and the natives in that location survive.  Then he said that azaleas are native.  I told him that some azaleas are native but the ones that are here are deciduous.  The evergreen azaleas common in the south come from Japan.  He still insisted that they are native because they are everywhere.  That is the same as saying European- and African-Americans are Native Americans.  He then got short with me and said he had heard enough.  He did not want to hear the truth any more.  He wanted to go on believing that he was being responsible to the environment and planting native plants.  I feel he is lying to prospective buyers.

The term NATIVE when it comes to plants means that it is indigenous to the area.  When I plant “native”, I include plants that are indigenous to the Southeast US with the exception of South Florida.  This gives me an expanded palette of plants to choose from above what is indigenous to Durham, NC.

The term NATURALIZED means that the plant came from another part of the world but has moved into the natural environment on it’s own.  So the Japanese Azaleas are not even naturalized as they do not seed into the woods.   Privet is naturalized as it comes up on it’s own all over the woods.  It is in fact an invasive exotic.  Some 20% of the plants found in the woods are invasive exotics that should not be there.  Up to 30% are NATURALIZED, invasive or not.  NATURALIZED plants are NON-NATIVE!

Most plants sold by plant nurseries are in fact NON-NATIVE.  Care must be taken when planting non-natives to not introduce them into the wild.  Most of the native plants in the wild are nearly non-existent except for the native trees.  Many wildflowers and native shrubs are hard to find in their native habitats any more due to farming practices and clear-cutting.  Native plants are usually limited in the wild to steep slopes and swamps where man could not farm.

Planting natives today means you are helping to reintroduce the native plants into your area and hopefully they will once again be seeding in and sprouting up in their native habitats they used to enjoy.  Calling a plant native when it is not does not make it so.


More about the alien invaders.


One thing that I have found is that so few people know what is native and what is not.  I recently had a job in a new development that claimed to be “green”.  The information brochure said that the landscaping was done with native plants.  This customer called me to do the side/back yard as the front yard was already done by the builder.  I was excited because I wanted to do all natives and wanted to start getting jobs in this development.  Imagine my surprise when I pulled up to the house and not one plant in the front yard was native. Not one!

Many people think that just because a plant is commonly planted in their area that it is a native plant.  Not true.  I like a lot of plants from around the world.  European explorers collected plants and took them back to Europe and the U.S.  People were intrigues by the new plants.  Money was to be made by growing these plants and selling them.  If people wanted native plants in their garden, they could just go out and dig them up from their natural habitat.  Not much money to be made there. To make it worse, as the native plants were being destroyed by farming and development and nurseries weren’t growing them, when people did want natives they would go out and dig them up to bring home.  This further helped to wipe out native plant populations.  It is only a good idea to go dig up plants from the wild if they are about to be destroyed by development.  Any gardener knows that when you transplant plants, you have the risk of killing the plant if it doesn’t survive the shock of the move.  Protect the native plants in their natural environment.

For a plant lover, it is hard to refrain from planting exotics.  I don’t plant 100% native myself.  Generally, the further away from urban settings and closer to the woods, the less I plant exotics.  I do not want the exotics escaping into the natural landscape.  Not all non-natives are invasive.  I have given up on planting some plants once I found they were invasive.  To determine what plants are invasive in your area, go online and type in “Invasive exotic plant” and your State and you should be able to find a list.  In NC there is a list of the invasive and the potentially invasive.  Never plant the invasive.  Only with extreme care plant the potentially invasive.  Better to not plant either.

Because I have divided my yard into a native plant section and an exotic plant section, I can compare the two easily.  One thing that I have noticed is how much more life is in the native section.  The native garden is humming with life.  Sit still for a bit in the native garden and you will notice loads of honeybees, bumble bees, butterflies and birds.  The contrast between the numbers in the native garden and the exotic garden is astounding.  Nothing is still in the native garden.  By contrast the exotic plant area is a funeral home.  Ok, maybe an exaggeration but if you saw it, you would notice the difference. It’s like night and day.

Notice the bees and the hummingbird moth.


Going barefoot.


“Skeletons” are the trees and evergreen plants  that make up the back bone of the garden.  The “Focals” are the spotlight plants that help the eyes settle and lead the eyes through the garden.  The “Decoratives” are the deciduous blooming shrubs and the “Pretties” are the flowering perennials adding color to the garden.  However, we are not done.  The final category is the “Infills”.  The infills are the low growing plants that fill in the space between plants.  I liken a garden without the infills as a woman who is all dressed up but has no shoes to wear.

Infills are the ground-covers.  They could also be annual plants that you plant to fill in the spaces between plants until the larger plants grow and fill in the space.  People say that nature abhors a vacuum and that is definitely true in the southeast.  The southeast US was originally forest.  In this area, if you don’t plant something, Mother Nature will.  My definition of a “weed” is a plant out of place.  Think about that if you don’t understand.  Corn is a crop in a corn field but if it’s growing up in your lawn, it is a weed.  If you want to keep down weeds in a garden, you must plant enough plants to crowd out the weeds.  It might not eliminate every weed but it goes a long way.  Because this area was the southeast forest, tree saplings will always be a problem but can be lessened with thick plantings

The other advantage of the infills is that layers of plants are more attractive if done right and birds and wildlife naturally prefer it.  In a small garden, infills also allow you another way to add flower color in less space.  Layer, layer, layer.  The five types of plants that John Brookes mentions all help to create layers and interest in a garden.  No garden is complete without a good proportion of all five, 4 just wont do it.


Water, Water, Water!!!


No one thing in my mind adds as much to a garden as a water feature.  Water adds motion.  Water adds sparkle.  Water adds sounds.  Water brings the sky down into the garden by reflection.  Water helps you to reflect.  Water brings your focus into the garden by it’s sound masking what is going on outside the garden.  Water brings in life.  Birds, butterflies, bees, bats and other wildlife visit the garden because of the water.

Most people who put in a garden pond usually decide to add another larger one.  That speaks to how much a garden pond adds to the garden.  I once had a customer who asked me to put in a garden pond in their back yard at the edge of the woods.  The plan (drawn up by someone else she had hired) called for a small sitting patio on the back side of the pond looking back towards the house.  I urged her to let me build that patio a little larger than the plan called for.  She said no because the plans were to have a patio built up near the house.  So we built it according to her wishes.  A couple of years later she called me up and sheepishly asked me to enlarge the patio by the pond and plant some shrubs up near the house where the patio had been drawn on the plan.  I refrained from telling her “I told you so” as she said they never had enough room out at the garden pond for every one when people came to visit and the pond is where they always seemed to end up.  She also said they would never use a patio up by the house with the garden pond being such a magnet.  This speaks to the power of a pond in the garden.

Another way to use water in the garden is in the form of a stream.  Usually the stream connects two separate ponds but the upper pond is not always necessary.  In nature, natural springs come forth from the ground to begin streams.  This concept can be duplicated in the garden.  The advantage of a stream can be how it connects two separate areas of the garden.  I used this with great affect with a client whose yard was broken up into two sections with a retaining wall and fence between an upper section and a lower patio area.  We built a small upper pond and used a stream to bring the water down, over a waterfall into the lower area with the patio.  The end result was a disjointed garden being reconnected.  Just as a path can lead your eyes through the garden, so can a stream.  The stream can also act as a natural biological water filter to keep the water clear.

I also like to design water features in a way that you interact with them.  One of my favorite things to add is what I call a Seat Rock.  A Seat Rock is a larger boulder placed along the edge of the water, usually big enough for two people to sit on, that is just high enough for you to sit on and dangle your feet in the water up to your ankles.  Many days, I have come home from a long hot day at work, taken off my work boots and socks and sat on my seat rock with my feet in the water.  It feels as if all the heat and stress of the day just flows down your body, through your feet and into the water.

Garden ponds in my opinion, should be constructed so that they look natural.  I like to fool the eye as to whether they are man made or not.  I despise the garden ponds that look to me like “a puddle in the middle of a pile of rocks”.  If I wanted to see that, I could go to a quarry.