Over the past five years, we have seen some interesting things happen regarding native plants. People are learning about native plants and matching plants up with their local conditions. More and more people are seeking them out to include in their landscapes. Here are a few of the emerging garden trends regarding native plants:
I keep coming back to this idea of beautiful AND good. Aesthetics are important and we all want attractive landscapes, but of equal importance is this feeling that what we are doing is good for everyone and everything. It can be intimidating to change the way you garden or landscape. Choosing plants just because they are visually appealing simply isn’t a good enough reason anymore. Creating a habitat using plants that are adapted to your site is a far better approach to landscaping. Designs that have attractive combinations of wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees may initially capture our imaginations, but more and more people are wanting these plants and landscapes to provide additional benefits. Our gardens must now not only look good, but also do double duty to provide for pollinators, attract birds and other wildlife, develop habitat and positively impact the environment.
It has taken a while, but native plants are finally getting the attention they deserve. They are viable alternatives to many of the overused plants you see in so many landscapes. There are literally hundreds of plants that will fit into your landscape design. Whether it is a true native species or “nativar” (a hybrid or new selection of a native plant), these plants offer qualities that will beautify the landscape and attract pollinators, too. For people who live in prairie country, it may be easy to take our native plants for granted. Yet these plants, with their simple form and subtle beauty, can make attractive additions to the home landscape.
We don’t think often enough about the water we use. It is a precious commodity. Remember the 2011 and 2012 drought in Kansas? We were using tremendous quantities of water to keep our landscapes alive. It made us evaluate each plant according to its response to these extreme conditions. Obviously, some plants did better than others and we lost some plants those years. It made us think critically about our plant choices and irrigation practices. A beautiful and resilient landscape that uses little, if any, supplemental water is an achievable result. A few changes like adding some native plants can make a big difference.
It seems to me that these trends for 2019 have something obviously in common – native plants. Native plants are not the “be all” and “end all” solution, but they provide a good starting point to solving some problems you encounter in the landscape. With so much to consider when designing or redesigning your landscapes, don’t overlook native plants. You will be rewarded time and again by their unique beauty and deep roots.
We live in a connected, fast paced digital world. We need places to disconnect and unwind. Green spaces surrounded by nature have been shown to calm the anxiety of a stressful life. Outdoor activities such as playing in the garden or sitting around a fire pit sipping on your favorite drink are growing in popularity. With less connection to the natural world and longer work hours, relaxing places to land at the end of the day are really inviting.
This trend isn’t a new one, but a continuation from the past few years as we try to address the plight of pollinators. Whether planting milkweeds for Monarchs or stunning wildflowers for bees and butterflies, your garden can be a part of the solution. Pollinator gardens don’t have to be limited to native plants. Other herbs or vegetables can be grown as well. Every garden, no matter the size, can make a difference. Not only will you be rewarded with the beauty of the wildflowers, but pollinators and other wildlife will thank you with their presence in the garden. If you plant for them, they will come.
Strategic Lawn Areas
It has long been the American dream to have a large, beautiful, green lawn, a show piece of how we can manipulate the landscape. However, perceptions are changing. There is a realization about the potential environmental impacts of a traditional lawn and a renewed sense of stewardship and conservation. Native grasses such as Buffalograss and Blue Grama are great alternatives to fescue and bluegrass for sunny areas. The deep roots of these grasses make them less dependent on water. Don’t get me wrong. I believe lawns will always have a place in our landscapes, maybe just a smaller place than in the past. It is not a bad thing to shrink the lawn with encroaching trees, shrubs and other perennials.
Increasingly, consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it is raised. They are concerned about chemical use, the environment and food waste among other things. This awareness has caused more and more people to plant gardens in backyards where they can control all aspects of how their food is grown. These gardens are easy to start and can be as simple as a small raised bed or a few containers on your deck.
Valuing Native Plants
This trend fits the mission of the Arboretum quite well. The prairie landscape can be brought home to your garden by matching the right plant with your site. This landscape trend mimics the natural world around us. It gives your garden a sense of place. Let native plants be the anchor for your native design. Incorporate native grasses (another garden trend) such as ‘Northwind’ Switch as backdrops for other wildflowers which bloom at different times throughout the year. The true value of native plants is worth the experience whether they are viewed up close in your own garden or atop a windswept hill in the Flint Hills.