In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
Although not native to the Midwest, this field of Siberian iris and Japanese primroses makes a beautiful low-maintenance natural landscape.
"Natural landscaping" is rapidly gaining acceptance across the country, and homeowners are clamoring for more of it. This type of landscaping uses hardy native and non-native plants adapted to the local climate and soil to give a cost-effective alternative to conventional lawns. This type of landscaping also helps minimize the use of pesticides and fertilizers, reduces the noise and air pollution from lawn maintenance equipment, and greatly reduces the need for irrigation.
Although not maintenance-free, natural landscapes require less time and money for maintenance than conventional landscapes. The costs of labor, water, fertilizer, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, replanting annual flowers, and mowing are significantly reduced or eliminated. Natural landscaping reduces the stress that a weed-free lawn places on clean air, clean water, soil stability, and other environmental qualities of life. As an added benefit, native insects, butterflies, and moths attract a wide array of songbirds who eat insects and seeds.
Natural landscaping is similar to "native" landscaping since both use native plants. However, natural landscaping has broader implications because it also incorporates non-native plants that will help give the "look" of a native landscape. It can be used in all sorts of landscaping situations to help retain features such as wetlands, woodlands, and natural drainage features. This type of landscaping can also include shading and windbreaks to reduce heating and cooling needs for buildings.
Almost everyone can use natural landscaping, and there is no rigid set of rules about it. Even a small area dedicated to a low-maintenance natural landscape will benefit not only the homeowner but also the community.
Letting Go of High-Maintenance
Here are some suggestions for switching to this type of landscape:
1. Totally or partially replace lawn areas with an "ecolawn" mix or native grasses and ground covers that take little maintenance.
2. Whenever you add to your landscape, use as many native trees, shrubs, and grasses as possible.
3. As you plan your landscape, try to use more vegetation and less hardscape.
4. Observe the natural drainage patterns in your yard, and work with them as you plant.
Keep in mind that your neighbors will be curious about what you are doing and why your landscape looks different. Conflicts with neighbors can be avoided by creating a border of lawn, hedge, fence, or path to frame the natural landscape; by educating neighbors about what to expect before you start your project; by starting small to minimize the impact of the change for your neighbors; and by adding places to sit in order to maximize enjoyment and link people with the landscape. Most of all, recognize that not everyone will appreciate the new look, and you must embrace the rights of your neighbors to balk a bit.
There are plenty of resource materials available for planning, and you'll find guidance from professional landscape designers. There are also restoration organizations where you can volunteer and learn.
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