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How to Slowly Make a ‘Natives Only’ Garden


This image provided by John Damiano shows a monarch butterfly on Aug. 18, 2021, in Glen Head, N.Y. The use of chemicals against garden pests threatens bees, butterflies and other pollinators. (John Damiano via AP)
How to Slowly Make a ‘Natives Only’ Garden
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From VOA Learning English this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Home gardeners are becoming more educated about the importance of native plants in the ecosystem.

With a deeper knowledge of native plants, many gardeners are turning to something called “rewilding.” This is an approach to gardening and landscaping that uses native plants to feed, house, and protect insects, bees, birds, and butterflies.

Gardening expert Jessica Damiano writes for the Associated Press. She explains the ways gardeners are rewilding their property.

Those ways include:

  • getting rid of their lawns (areas with just grass),
  • replacing non-native plants with native ones,
  • NOT clearing up plants in the fall to keep food and shelter for overwintering birds and insects, and
  • making their property a habitat for wildlife.

However, other gardeners may worry about having a “messy” garden. They also may be worried about the work and cost of completely redoing their garden. Other people may be limited by their property agreements or neighborhood restrictions.

Part of rewilding a garden is reducing the amount of lawn (or grass) and replacing it with beds and borders for native plants. (AP Photo/Julia Rubin)
Part of rewilding a garden is reducing the amount of lawn (or grass) and replacing it with beds and borders for native plants. (AP Photo/Julia Rubin)

Well, here is some good news: Rewilding does not have to be all-or-nothing. It is possible to slowly introduce native plants to a traditional, already-established garden.

Just one native potted plant that feeds one pollinator will make a difference. Including a few natives alongside traditional garden plants — whether in containers or in the ground — will create a more sustainable garden that appeals to helpful insects.

Here is more good news: Native plants are generally drought-tolerant. That means they can survive long periods of time without water.

If replacing your entire lawn with native groundcover sounds like too big of a job, consider making the lawn smaller. You can also put in new plant beds and borders or enlarge existing ones. Then you can fill them with plants native to your area.

This will lead to more bees and butterflies. Your flowering plants, fruits, and vegetables will bloom better with the help of more pollinators. You will also have less garden work like cutting, weeding, watering, and fertilizing. And in the end, you will most likely save money.

Native Joe Pye weed grows alongside native coneflowers and nonnative spirea and catmint. (Jessica Damiano via AP)
Native Joe Pye weed grows alongside native coneflowers and nonnative spirea and catmint. (Jessica Damiano via AP)

Damiano says that planting native wildflowers is the best idea. However, for some people wildflower gardens can look a bit too wild and messy. If that is not what you (or your neighbors) want, you can create a border of grass to contain the wildflowers. This will keep the garden looking neat.

Damiano lives near New York City. Over the last several years she has slowly rewilded her garden. She has less lawn, and the lawn that is left is seeded with clover.

Clover flower attracts pollinators. Clover also fixes nitrogen into the soil. It is a fertilizer you do not have to pay for.

Damiano writes that she kept her hydrangeas, roses, and lilacs. But now, the only new plants she brings home are natives. After just a few years, native plants already outnumber non-native plants in her garden. That will continue as her old garden favorites die and are replaced with plants that belong in the area.

Native purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and turban lilies share a garden with nonnative daylilies and roses in Glen Head, N.Y. (Jessica Damiano via AP)
Native purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and turban lilies share a garden with nonnative daylilies and roses in Glen Head, N.Y. (Jessica Damiano via AP)

Through this process, Damiano says she has discovered many beautiful flowering native plants like Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium caeruleum), turtlehead (Chelone obliqua), and buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). These all provide food for pollinators.

With her roses, she planted gayfeather (Liatris spicata), bee balm (Monarda didyma), and milkweed (Asclepias). Milkweed serves as the only food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars, she writes.

In the autumn, she still collects her leaves. But she no longer bags them up for the trash collector. Now, the dead leaves are used as winter mulch for the garden, and they serve as a winter home for helpful insects.

In this photo provided by Jessica Damiano, a yard sign says that the resident's garden is meant to attract pollinators.
In this photo provided by Jessica Damiano, a yard sign says that the resident's garden is meant to attract pollinators.

Damiano says a complete rewilding of her garden will take several more years to complete. And that is fine with her. It is another step in the right direction. In gardening, as in life, she says her goal is to work toward progress — not perfection.

And that’s the Health & Lifestyle report.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Jessica Damiano reported this story for the Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English.

Quiz - How to Slowly Make a ‘Natives Only’ Garden

Quiz - How to Slowly Make a ‘Natives Only’ Garden

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Words in This Story

garden – n. a piece of ground in which fruits, flowers, or vegetables are grown : gardener – n. a person who works in a garden

landscape – v. to improve the natural beauty of a piece of land : landscaping – n.

lawn – n. ground (as around a house or in a garden or park) that is covered with grass and is kept mowed

habitat – n. the place or environment where a plant or animal naturally or normally lives and grows

messy – adj. lacking neatness or precision

sustainable – adj. of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged

drought-tolerant – adj. able to survive long periods of time without rain

bloom – v. o produce or yield flowers : to support abundant plant life

mulch – n. a material (as straw or bark) spread over the ground especially to protect the roots of plants from heat or cold, to keep soil moist, and to control weeds

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