Using Native Plants in Home Landscaping

Learn about using native plants in home landscaping, including using naturally wild plants in your garden, heirloom vegetable varieties, the debate about lawns, native meadow varieties, attracting birds and the wild orchard.

| December 1997/January 1998

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    We'll present some habitat restoration ideas you might consider adopting on your own place. During the coming winter, when next year's garden seems too far off for you to start leafing through the seed catalogs, you can sit snug beside the wood fire and draw up a plan to convert your home place into a miniature Eden.

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John Vivian shares about using native plants in home landscaping. Take your home place (almost) all the way back to nature. 

A growing number of thoughtful country people are taking their share of the fate of our threatened globe into their own hands. Not through the rowdy demonstrations, national boycotts, and sit-ins of my youth (and perhaps yours as well—or maybe it's your parents who remember the '60s; and '70s?). These folks are taking action quietly and—dare I say it?—maturely by using native plants in home landscaping. And they're doing this back home in their communities and neighborhoods, in their own backyards, woodlands, vacant lots, fields, and gardens.

Why the Change for Natural Native Planting?

Society and the environment aren't half way out of the woods. There's a great deal of work to be done. But most remaining major issues are global in scope and not amenable to individual or even unilateral national action. Certainly, we should support tougher U.S. clean air and water standards and contribute to the common-land purchases of The Nature Conservancy. Woodworkers among us should refuse to buy rosewood pillaged from a rain forest or California Redwood plundered from an old growth stand. But—besides voting thoughtfully and supporting foreign aid and UNICEF—what can you and I, The Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, or the entire U.S. Marine Corps in full battle gear hope to do about factory smokestack emissions in China? Or pollution of the Volga?

Not that much. Because of this, many serious environmental activists are looking homeward and inward. As MOTHER EARTH News founder John Shuttleworth put it so wisely two decades ago: "Think Globally, Act Locally."

Near my hometown in coastal Maine, a high school class is working to restore the long extinct local Atlantic Salmon run, not by boycotting Tony the Tuna and strike-sitting at Bruce Babbitt's office, but by hatching salmon eggs and raising the smolts at school, and then releasing them into a local stream that they first cleaned of trash and deadfalls, in the hope the tiny fish will go to sea in their mysterious way and return some day to spawn.

The soil of the Great Plains was once topped by 10 foot deep loam and a lush high grass prairie that supported the great bison herds. But "mined" for decades by mechanized, chemical monoculture, it has lost its tilth and eroded to a fraction of its volume. In the process, it has become laced with chemical residues. But in Kansas and bordering states, and in Ontario and Provinces to the west, local groups are taking over marginal farm land and letting snowmelt and rain cleanse the soil. They are restoring it to native prairie with plants having common "weed" names like Witch Grass or Johnson Grass that have been savagely eradicated by lawn keepers and farmers.

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