January 23, 2011

Wild places and cultivated spaces

Most gardens include a mix of natives, non-natives, and annuals. When we first moved to this lot, more of it was cultivated and tended. By choice and chance, it has evolved into three distinct areas with unique blends of plants.

Area 1, surrounding the house, includes a mix of garden annuals, perennials, vegetables, and shrubs and trees. This is the neatest and most cultivated area of the garden.

Area 2, the middle of the lot behind the house, includes a mix of native and introduced perennials, shrubs, and trees. We don’t plant annuals here, and we clear away native weeds and non-native invasive plants.

Area 3, at the back of the lot, is now a native Oak forest. We don’t tend it or cultivate it, except to clear a path and destroy non-native invasives, including Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa).

The Chicago Botanic Garden's invasive plant policy lists these definitions:

  • Native (indigenous)—a species that was present in North America prior to European settlement or has arrived since, through natural means of dispersal.
  • Non-native (exotic, alien, introduced)—a species that was brought to North America by humans, either deliberately or accidentally.
  • Naturalized—a non-native species, or native species from another region of the country, that has become established in disturbed areas and/or native communities.
  • Weedy—a species that readily spreads, especially in disturbed areas, but generally does not pose a threat to the integrity of native plant communities.
  • Invasive—a species, usually non-native, that is able to establish itself within existing native plant communities and is posing a threat to the integrity of the community.

I’m finding my comfort zone with a mix of natives, annuals, and introduced plants. The Chicago Botanic Garden notes that nearly one-third of its 385 acres is devoted to native habitat areas. I figure a similar percentage on this little quarter-acre lot seems like a reasonable goal.


  1. such a great balance...I do the dance to try to maintain enough natives and make sure the invasives do not thrive or choke out the natives...planted the meadow for that reason in the back of the lot...

  2. Sounds like a good plan to me and who can argue with a successful botanical garden in how they choose to landscape.

  3. Dear Beth, I think that your plan to have a mix of indigenous and introduced species is a good one since I feel that one of the joys of gardening is having a relaxed approach to planting schemes. I think that the way in which you have varied the plantings in different areas around the house is sound since one needs a mix of more closely planted and wilder areas to make for a really interesting garden.

  4. @Donna: Thanks. Of course it's a work in progress, but I'm trying to add more native plants when possible. I loved your post on journaling. It's amazing how we carry those early messages our entire lives.
    @Donna2: I just checked out your post on the mason jar photography. What fun!
    @Edith: Thank you. It seems more interesting to me, too, to vary the philosophy of the sections of the garden. In my case, I like having the tidier parts closer to the house, and the wild woods just a bit beyond.

  5. Sounds like a lovely balance, practical too. I am envious of your woodland area, a dream of mine.

  6. I've started planting more and more natives. Our summers tend to be dry and city water is expensive. The cultivars and hybrids are rarely as drought tolerant as the natives. But ultimately, I, too, strive for balance. Some of the newer plants are just too pretty to pass up!

  7. @Joey: Thanks! I've been meaning to check out your blog, which I will do in a few minutes.
    @Janet: The woods really give the place personality. One of these days, I think I'll put a bench back there.
    @TS: I noticed your increasing focus on native plants on your recent blog post. Is spring making an appearance in your area?

  8. Congratulations on your goal of 1/3rd native habitat on your property. I'm trying to plan my growing space similarly this year -- though most of my nonnatives tend to be food plants. (Plus roses... can't do without them).

  9. Eliza: Well, it's close to 1/3 anyway. I wish I had more sun to plant veggies and fruit ... maybe someday in a different location. Can't wait to see more pics of your roses!