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Native gardening 101 ~ Turn Your Yard Into a Haven for Wildlife!

What is a Naturalized Garden?


Throughout many regions of the United States there is a growing movement toward creating naturalized gardens.  So, what exactly is a naturalized garden?

There are many names for a naturalized garden, from nature-scape, heritage, ecological  to native landscaping, but the principal remains the same. A naturalized garden is a landscaping technique that incorporates local native plants into the design and architecture. This creates a feeling of being in the open and wild areas that surround the region of the garden.

Naturalized gardens come in all shapes and sizes, depending on where the garden is located and what approach the landscaper has taken.  Most commonly, it will incorporate shrubbery, flowering plants and natives that are of interest to the eye and can be created either with sparse and meticulous lines or with bountiful, flowing plants that seem to lean right up next to each other in a lush landscape.

In either approach, naturalized gardens will always incorporate native plants that thrive in the specific region they are planted in. This garden will be lower maintenance, less invasive to the surrounding areas, and typically bring along the benefits of planting indigenously such as water conservation or wild life ecology. When a naturalized garden is created, the local wild life will be attracted to the area of interest, whether that be hummingbirds or butterflies.

Naturalized gardens tend to have harmonious plants, less maintenance and water consumption, a greater life cycle and a more active ecology than their counterpart gardens.  Of course, part of the real beauty of a naturalized garden is that no two will ever be alike. Depending on the region in which your garden will exist, you can have lush, thick bushes and flowering native plants that will attract the eye whimsically, or you can have linear, architectural lines that create interest in a modern and uncomplicated way.  Because of the nature of the plants involved in indigenous gardens, your wallet may also thank you. The plants that are incorporated into this garden have evolved to thrive and will live a longer, healthier and more vibrant life than counterparts that are not natives. This in turn, will give your naturalized garden a life cycle that can go on for years and years without the need to replant.  If that isn’t enough, the savings on your water bill may also come in to play, depending on the plants that thrive in your environment.

Naturalized gardens create a feeling of relaxed plantings and flowers that seem to work harmoniously, and effortlessly in their native environment. They work with the local ecology and water supply to conserve and thrive in all types of environments while creating a balanced and inclusive feel to any landscape.

Native gardening 101


Protect native biodiversity by greening your garden

By introducing native plants and some strategic design features to your garden, you can provide patches of natural habitat for many species. A well-designed backyard can offer birds and pollinators like butterflies, more living space, feeding opportunities and the safety of cover from predators.

By enhancing and restoring natural elements in your garden, you’ll make the urban landscape more wildlife-friendly.

Where to begin?

Before you start, find out what kind of soils and natural plant communities used to exist in your area. This will give you a better idea of the groupings of native plant species that should thrive in your garden. A number of good websites exist that will help you identify plants that are native to your area.

Think too about the desired long-term look and feel of your backyard. Are you more drawn towards an open, sunny space that could be filled with a meadow or prairie garden, or is a shaded woodland garden more to your liking?

If you’re planting trees, consider their mature size and whether they will still be suitable for the space in 20, 40 or even 60 years. Consider especially their position relative to overhead wires and nearby buildings. In addition to the plants, plan for other features such as a small pond with trickling water to attract birds and perhaps even a few frogs, or a small brush pile to provide cover for small birds such as winter wrens as they migrate through neigbourhoods in spring and fall.

Consider what season you most enjoy spending time in your garden. For example, if you spend time away in July and August at a summer cottage, you may want to avoid planting species that flower while you are away, leaving you with little colour to enjoy on your return. On the other hand, if you entertain in your backyard all summer long, summer flowering plants may be a good choice. Although a naturalized garden may need less work than a more traditional garden, until it is well established you’ll need to give it some maintenance, including careful watering in times of drought.

Once you’ve considered these questions, you’re ready to begin sourcing your plants.

Sourcing plants

Start by asking garden centre staff about where their plants are grown. Many nurseries import plants from hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away. While they may carry the species you are looking for, the selection (if imported) may not be hardy to your backyard conditions. It’s best to find a nursery that can guarantee that its plants have been grown locally so that they are more likely to be hardy to the conditions in your yard.

Once you have found a garden centre that sells native plants, you should also ask the garden centre whether the plants you have selected were propagated under cultivation, and not dug out of the wild.

Maintaining your garden

Although a naturalized garden may be less formal than a manicured garden, they’re not necessarily maintenance-free. If done well, a naturalized garden may require less watering and be able to survive periods of drought more easily. Native plants are also often better adapted to the local climate and exhibit a higher tolerance to pests than many garden ornamentals. As a result, naturalized gardens can often thrive without the use of pesticides. In fact, a naturalized garden might even attract “beneficial” bugs that are predators of other pest species.

But if invasive weeds are not removed on a regular basis, they will compete with the native plants in your garden and can spread to nearby natural areas. You may even need to manage some of the more aggressive native species or else they can take over the garden. Although nature may thrive without human intervention, your yard exists on a much smaller scale and isn’t operating entirely as it would in nature. Not unlike the work of NCC’s stewardship staff on properties across Canada, you may need to carefully manage your garden to ensure that its diversity is restored and maintained over time.

You therefore need to assist some of the conditions for naturalized plants to thrive in, especially through weeding and watering. Urban neighbourhoods often have significantly lower water tables than in natural landscapes, so it’s important to water plants in extended dry spells.

Reaping the rewards

A naturalized garden will almost certainly increase the number of wildlife sightings in your backyard. Plants with a high nectar content attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and some native plants that produce berries in late summer or early fall will attract forest songbirds on their southward migration. A well-placed small pond feature with trickling water may attract both birds (who will key in to woodland stream sounds) and amphibians such as green frogs (which disperse across the landscape in summer).

A naturalized backyard can also be fun for kids, who naturally seem to love exploring wetlands and creeks, getting muddy and dirty and discovering new bugs and plants right in their own backyard.

These gardens and the wildlife that visits them can relly help get kids excited about nature.

Get your lawn off grass

Watch this video, entitled “Get Your Lawn off Grass.” Bill Freedman, NCC volunteer and a former member of NCC’s Board of Directors, describes how he naturalized his urban garden.



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