The inspiration for this post about looking back and giving advice to my beginning native plant and wildlife gardener self comes from an article entitled ‘To my 15-year-old self’: Things I Wish I’d Known, written in recognition of the International Day of the Girl.
In the article, well-known women look back and give advice to their 15-year-old selves. An intriguing concept that yields interesting insights into each woman’s personal journey but that also have much broader appeal.
I started thinking about all the various paths I’ve traveled myself – daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother and gardener. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to look back and give my beginning native plant and wildlife gardener self some advice I wish I’d known then. You know what they say, hindsight is 20/20.
You Don’t Need to Know EVERYTHING
When I first began to understand the vital role native plants play in our gardens, I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed. I’d just read Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy for the first time. No longer was my garden simply a collection of beautiful plants. Suddenly, I understood the choices I made in my garden could allow it to support an array of local wildlife.
Excited to select new plants for my garden, I researched and researched and researched which native plants where right for my garden. But I didn’t buy anything. It was a classic case of paralysis by analysis. I needed to give myself permission to just start this journey, even if I found out later I could have made a better choice.
You’re Going To Make Mistakes
Like some new native plant enthusiasts, I thought just because a plant is native to my region, it would survive anywhere in my garden. I learned the hard way that simply isn’t true. I’ve planted, transplanted, nursed back to health and even killed some native plants. And that’s OK, I learned a lot along the way.
Native plants are still plants, and right plant right place still applies. There are native plants that are naturally adapted for every site condition in your garden but you still have to plant them in the right spot.
It Doesn’t Have To Be All Or Nothing
When I first started gardening with native plants, I thought that to ‘do it right’, I’d need to get rid of all the non-natives in my garden.
But now I view native plant enthusiasts on a continuum and realize there are lots of different kinds of native plant gardeners. Some only garden with plants indigenous to a very specific eco-region. Others, like me, have a broader definition of what a native plant is.
Both approaches are valid and have a place at the native plant table. You need to find the balance of native and non-native plants that works for you and your garden and then start gardening for wildlife.
Be Persistent…If You Plant It, They Will Come
Remember when I said I think it’s acceptable to kill few plants here and there, well, that sentiment comes from my experiences with butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). For years, butterfly weed was like an annual in my garden.
Yes, it’s hardy to my region, yes, I’d buy plants from reputable local garden centers and yes, I’d site them properly. But no, they did not survive the winter.
I was determined to have a patch of butterfly weed in my garden so I just kept trying. This spring, one of the plants finally survived the winter. And I was rewarded with monarch butterfly caterpillars crawling all over my milkweed and then lots of monarch butterflies in my garden.
Persistence, along with optimism, a sense of humor and a healthy dash of humility, are vitally important for every gardener.
It really is cliché but every journey begins with one step. Commit to doing one thing right now that will make your garden more wildlife-friendly.
Plant a shrub or tree with berries for the birds, or a native evergreen for winter cover.
Embrace the bugs in your garden, stop using chemicals and instead practice IPM, start a compost pile, plant a larval host plant for butterflies in your region, or simply be more thoughtful about your fall garden clean up routines.
There are so many simple steps you can take to begin the journey so just start.
What advice would you give to your beginning-native -plant-wildlife-gardener self?
© 2012, Debbie Roberts. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us