Purposeful Landscaping

story, cover and article photos
by Cindy Gilberg

Gardening has traditionally been all about aesthetics—planting with beauty as a primary consideration. While this should always be a factor to keep in mind when designing a landscape, the question is who decides what is beautiful and what is not? Growing up I heard, plenty of times, the cliche “pretty is as pretty does”. While I am sure it was referring to my behavior, it reminds me of a more sensible approach to the direction our landscapes should be going. In other words, we should keep in mind what function and purpose plants fulfill in the landscape.

One very important reason to landscape with native plants is to restore biodiversity and habitat in our communities. This is frequently referred to as habitat gardening. In the book “Landscaping for Wildlife and People”, author Dave Tylka has put together specific plant lists for our region that gardeners can consult when putting in new gardens or when deciding what to add to existing gardens. Tylka lives in the St. Louis area, teaches ecology and biology at St. Louis Community College and worked for the Missouri Department of Conservation. He gives insight into animal/insect and plant interactions that help to reconnect humans to nature by giving birds, butterflies and other wildlife places where they can thrive. While every native plant serves a function in the landscape, there are many that offer multiple benefits for habitat in the landscape. Tylka will be teaching a class in mid-May for the Native Plant School at Shaw Nature Reserve on habitat gardens and the details of this book.

Another design concept is a rain garden – a functional landscaping feature that plays an important role in stormwater management. Rainfall is guided to the rain garden which is a basin planted with native plants. Mimicking nature, rain gardens slow down the flow of stormwater, holding it temporarily so that it has a chance to soak into the soil, be taken up by the plants and filter out pollutants. Rain gardens help prevent soil erosion by reducing the velocity and quantity of stormwater runoff which also reduces flash flooding. Many of our wetland native plants are suitable for rain gardens, such as copper iris, marsh milkweed, hibiscus and cardinal flower. Rain gardens are the subject of the June Native Plant School.

One of my favorite ‘functional’ group of plants are the ones I can eat! Designing an edible landscape that goes beyond the vegetable garden is not only satisfying, but brings eating local right into your own yard. The native Americans of this region relied on many native plants for food. Trees such as pawpaw, persimmon and serviceberry bear delicious fruit. Some of the native shrubs such as viburnums (nannyberry in particular) as well as elderberry, gooseberry and chokecherry have great berries that are made into pies and jams. Some of these are very high in vitamin C and anti-oxidants and are becoming quite popular as alternative crops for small local farmers.

Begin to look at your landscape and gardens in a way that goes beyond the beauty. Find ways to solve problems and to create more sustainable and functional plantings by looking to a plant palette that includes our regional native plants.

For more information, refer to the Shaw Nature Reserve website at www.shawnature.org.

Don’t forget to make a trip out to Shaw Nature Reserve for their Spring Plant Sale, Saturday May 12. A wonderful collection of growers and plants will be on hand to answer questions.

Cindy Gilberg, Gilberg Design and Consulting
2906 Ossenfort Road, Wildwood, MO 63038
314-630-1004 cindy.gilberg@gmail.com