This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on January 13, 2013 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.
Depends on who planted it. I’d have to say the best description of my native plant garden would be “a hot mess”. If Better Homes and Gardens ever saw my place, they’d be issuing an executive order declaring it a disaster area. On the other hand, I’d likely get the Medal of Honor from the Insect and Wood Stork unions.
You see, mine is a natural garden most of which is left to its own devices. Oh, I made an attempt at planting designed areas, but I guess I’m just not that sort of gardener. Too much work and I’d likely be cutting my rewards in half were I to continue on a path of organization. I came to the conclusion that the wildlife was happier when the garden did its own thing…when I stopped tinkering with Mother Nature’s plan. The fact that I have been able to publish an article a week on the different fauna observed for more than six years speaks volumes for my garden.
I live on the wild side. I live where each property is about an acre or more; you can have chickens, horses or even a cow if you are so intent. The land is a natural paradise of native plants, no additions necessary. I have added things over the course of time, but recently I started thinking that perhaps I am a hypocrite adding plants, albeit native ones, to what is already a pretty fabulous ecosystem. Still, there are some butterflies that I just couldn’t live without, and since they meander through these parts, I plant larval hosts for them to keep them close where I can watch them. Rather like a way station.
Now, keep in mind that I don’t have the issues that a lot of people have…a subdivision scraped bare by developers who have a neatness fetish and a penchant for providing plants that grow quick, don’t make a mess of fruits dropping, attracting messy birds or mammals and don’t have any GASP!!!!! insects.
At the start, many subdivisions are just cookie cutter plots with little interest. Often, when an enlightened someone comes along and tries to improve it with a little color, they are called before a board of neatness freaks who squash the creativity out of them with threats of fines. That type of living situation demands design and organization to keep the peace. When I first moved to Florida, I lived in such a community. When I got my first “tag” for failure to trim, mow and weed, that’s when I knew I couldn’t live like that. Mind you, I had no garden bed, thus nothing to weed so, I inquired if they could come and point out my plot’s shortcomings. I was told “oh, we just check all the boxes; the grass was just a little high that’s all”. I lasted there a year and a half.
Seems I have a “weed” gene. My late Uncle Herb was a connoisseur of weeds. He spent time enjoying the beauty of wildflowers along the roadsides. When I lived in Staten Island, my greatest joy was learning the names of my plants by using “Weeds of the Northeast” as a reference guide. I had nearly every one featured in that book, contained on a tiny plot that was situated adjacent to a natural wetland about 40 feet wide. People were amazed with photos of herons and ibis and otters that lived along “the dirty little creek” in this New York City bedroom community. The raccoons made a racket and the opossums sometimes were sleeping in the recycling bin. It was paradise to me.
Now, happy at my new location, I’ve decided to inventory the plants native to Florida in my yard, based on the “What Florida Native Plant is Blooming Today” series that I started in 2009/10. I’m at 200 species and still counting. I need to break down what just grew vs. what I added, but that must wait until I’m finished entering into a database who all lives here. The majority just grow here.
I’ll admit there are times when a penchant for neatness will come over me but I quickly push it out of my mind. I think it is a result of brainwashing from years of subscriptions to gardening magazines that featured perfect lawns and straight lines of garden beds.
I am in awe of how others deal with organization and design in their native plant gardens. I just don’t live in that same situation. I live in an ecosystem that screams “burn me” so I use mowing, which in some ways can emulate a fire-type clean up.
I do this maintenance in a zone fashion; my garden will never be the same two years in a row…possibly not even two months in a row as I clear some areas before they become excessively overgrown while letting the others start on a path to a denser habitat. I keep my “plantain zone” for the rabbits, my “cranesbill zone” for the doves, my “cudweed zone” for the American Lady Butterflies…you get the idea. All I know is that I feel blessed to be able to see activity any time I look out a window. There is always some sort of movement, so I must be doing something right in my beautiful wildlife garden.