Saturday, January 20, 2007

Native species can and do flourish in urban situations.

The group at Garden Rant as usual are trying to keep us thinking. I would like to add my two cents worth for your consideration.

Many of the conclusions stated at the links provided in the subject of the day are from respected professionals with plenty of experience. They have sifted data and spent their lives working with plants and so deserve a listen.
But as with all information a person draws conclusions based on ones own particular slant. So many times we are fed information assumed to be accurate but later adjusted. New conclusions. Many may look at the same set of 'facts' and come to slightly different conclusions. I don't believe this always means that someone is wrong, it only means that a different priority has prompted a different perspective.

Rather than trying to return to some utopian past,we are moving into a future that requires our best efforts to deal with the changes taking place.
I live and garden in an urban area,quite successfully, with many native plants chosen for the specific site and purpose.
And so I am surprised only by the persistence of some to try and discourage the use of natives.As if we should make all our choices from the natives of another place or those plants cultivated by an industry geared to make the most profit, however good their intentions.
It is my opinion that native plants are often the best choice for a given purpose.
Not every native is for every space.They must be chosen with soil and climate in mind as with any plant. While the native nodding onions of swampy Chicago may not do well on the slope along the sidewalk out front in full sun, I can guess that it will thrive in the low spot where the water pools after a rain. Will it be there in a hundred years? I don't know but at least I will not need worry about it in my time.Could any choice do better?

Native plants are proving to increase the numbers of native insects in an area which results in a biological control of pests (balance rather than an elimination).

About Project

plant list


Local governments are concerned about storm water run off.Keeping rainfall at or near where it falls keeps the rainwater away from the pollution of sewers,restores ground water levels,and slows the movement of run off into water ways thus preventing flash floods. Native plants with deep roots and a tolerance for intermittently wet soil are working well (in man made systems) to achieve these results.

Conscious Choice



Rain Garden Network

Even though some non- natives have proven to work on roof top gardens with existing rainfall amounts,some chose to use a watering system on occassion and grow a more diverse group of plants so as to accomplish the dual purpose of encouraging wildlife and reducing heat islands.

Green Roof

Roof Gardens

Of course using native plants in gardens changes the evolutional direction of the gene pool. Gardeners amend soil and water, which slows the developement of deep root systems and we plant in areas protected somewhat from the harsh environment of the wild.
This is why native diversity is important.Areas should be left undeveloped and the plants allowed to evolve.
Natives can be successful. Many natives have been found surviving along abandoned railways in the heart of the city. In heavily polluted areas such as Calumet, here in the Chicagoland area, surprises abound yearly as reclaimed areas not yet subject to recovery efforts none the less offer up natives thought long gone.
Whatever we do the earth will out. Acid rain, heat,cold, drought, violent weather patterns,whatever changes occur, it is up to us to adapt or perish,we have no control.
But the more choices we have the more likely some will come through.
I choose to follow a path that encourages diversity in thought and action as well as life.

A light that shines from only one direction merely lengthens the shadow.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Rain Garden Convert

Water concerns in our urban area more often tend to be about flooding (basements) or pollution from storm runoff rather than drought. The municipalities are pumping more water longer distances from the lakes every year, so that is of some concern. It takes energy to move water. So water bills are escalating. Being a gardener one must think of these issues.

So last year I thought I would try a hand at a rain garden. Sounds easy enough. There is a very low spot on the property that has a slope on the east and north edges. The house is a bit higher so in very heavy downpours of long duration this corner of the yard can become a pool. It never sits long so this tells me the drainage in the area is good. Perfect spot to try a rain garden.

The Mr and I marked out the area for digging, a long 20 Ft section curving into an L shape of another 7 feet. The bed is about 6 Ft wide at the base of a 4 Ft slope so about 10 Ft wide planted.
The soil is very nice loam easy to dig out the grass then down about a foot. We emptied the compost bin into the bed and bought more to make sure it was a heavy organic mix. Then I planted with many grasses and natives that might need watering on higher ground. All the plants were small having been grown from seed or divided from large clumps. I will be adding a few more this spring. On the North east corner we planted a young Hawthorn tree.
There are four gutter drains from the house of which one directly leads to the rain garden and during heaving rain, runoff from one of the neighbors gutters runs down the slope into the area of the rain garden. The entire property slopes slightly towards an alley where too much water would still end up in the sewer.
In the fall of 2006 even without mature plant growth the rain garden handled all the water from a 45 minute downpour of over 2 1/2 inches of rainfall. Water sat on the surface for only about 2 hours after the rain stopped and the next morning it was not even soggy. If it had not been dark it would have made great movie footage.
I am so looking forward to documenting the next years progress. As the plants grow and flower and seed the wildlife factor should be interesting.

more info...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Annual Sunflowers Helianthus annuus
in the Habitat Garden

Original to the western United States,then cultivated as a source of food by native Americans and likely introduced to Illinois (and other areas) prior to European settlement.

Planting annual sunflower seeds directly into the ground after the temperatures warm in spring is the easiest way to grow Helianthus annuus .
The stems will be thicker, stronger and straight.

Bees are the first garden visitors to find the
sunflowers as the indivdual disk flowers in the center open with plenty of nectar and pollen. But
Helianthus annuus is host to many other insects.

In our garden once the seeds begin to develope but before fully mature the goldfinches will begin feeding.When seeds have finished forming cardinals begin showing up to hang on the edge and ravage the head . Of coarse it is only a matter of time until the squirrels find the sunflower seeds and they can really destroy an entire plant. Thankfully squirrels in our area have seemed to prefer the yellow flowered singles and have left our multi-headed flower seeds to the birds.

Depending on where you live there are many other birds and animals like rabbits, ground hogs, deer,gamebirds, songbirds, ground squirrels, mice, muskrats and even beavers that eat the stems and other parts of sunflower.

You do not need a lot of space to grow annual sunflowers, even the giants. I grow both the multi- head flowers with reds and burgandy as well as the single flower yellows. With the building as a back drop and plenty of sun through the warm months when the sun is overhead this small space between buildings is fine with tall plants. At the fence where the gutter drains is Joe-Pye weed then fall asters, yellow coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), a couple of grass species, a few daylilies,and heliopsis. Annual sunflower seeds are direct sown in between plants in the spring when the sun has risen high and before the perennials gain height. This helps protect the sunflower seedlings somwhat until they are large enough to not be eaten by birds or small critters like rabbits.

Sunflower seeds are cheap and easy to find so every year we try a different one and plant more spaces. This coming season I may try a few in the front garden. I can always cut the stems down if they start to get very ratty looking.