Natural Gardens

Natural gardens utilize native species of plants which are often quite easy to grow.  These plants have adapted to certain environments and are generally self sustaining.  They’ll need little, if any, fertilizer and no more water than is provided by rain.  Natural gardens consist of a rich and varied mix of plants.  They introduce a diversity of trees, shrubs and perennials not found in some gardens.  Natural gardens also provide the landscape with a sense of place.  It’s often difficult to distinguish a garden in New York from one in Washington even though their landscapes and climates are completely different.

The Trouble With Lawns

Lawns are one the most common garden features in the landscape but turf grasses are rarely a natural occurrence.  While some lawn is preferable, consider introducing wildflowers into a portion of your existing lawn.  Wildflower meadows are noted for their stability, low maintenance and wide diversity of plants resulting in vibrant colors, textures and an increased awareness of seasonal change.  The meadow requires a clear understanding of a site’s natural conditions, more so than say a formal perennial garden bed.  Wildflower meadows are a constantly changing landscape with some species surviving year after year while others may disappear and be replaced with something new.  Along with these aesthetic benefits there are ecological benefits as well, including the reduced need for mowing, the creation of a habitat for native species of animals and the fact that wildflower meadows are very effective at trapping airborne pollutants.

Using Natural Conditions

Natural GardenIn woodland settings, gardens which emphasize the natural conditions of the forest are easy to maintain and provide the landscape with a variety of plants.  In the spring, perennials and bulbs bloom profusely in the dappled shade beneath deciduous trees which have yet to develop leaves.  In the shadier conditions of summer, the spring floral display gives way to perennials and shrubs with rich varied foliage.  In the fall, after the colorful leaves drop to the ground, a second bloom will often brighten up the garden.  Many native species of trees have winter characteristics which are often overlooked.  The form of some trees, such as the birch or ironwood, is quite striking.  Woodland gardens also provide a shady respite from the hot afternoon sun of summer and support a variety of insect and plant life..

Natural gardens are not limited to country settings, they can be established in urban environments as well.  A small urban lot can be transformed in to a garden which resembles the natural environment of the surrounding countryside.  Planting a tree which creates dappled shade will allow a gardener to plant many native species of woodland perennials or, in sunnier spots, summer blooming wildflowers.  Small native shrubs can also be used.  The soft lines and lushness of a natural garden can be a welcome contrast to the consistent geometry of the city.  In suburban areas, potions of vast lawns can be transformed into meadows.

If you’re not ready to give up your more traditional garden complete just yet but would like to add variety to your landscape, consider incorporating native perennials or native shrub species into your existing flower and shrub borders. 

Gardens which mimic the existing landscape or incorporate native plants are successful because they’re easy to maintain and will thrive even in the most extreme conditions.  They’ve adapted to do so.  Planting a natural garden can help restore the landscape, attract a variety of bird species and provide the garden with a wonderful mix of under utilized, interesting plants.

Related Articles: Garden Preparation, Native Plants, Getting Started, Lawn Alternatives