Bring Your Yard Back to Life

When we first moved into our home on Ann Arbor's Old West Side the only landscaping consisted of a few mature trees, some shrubs around the foundation of the house, and a typically lifeless grass lawn dotted with non-native, invasive weeds.  We rarely saw a bird.  We almost never saw butterflies.  Not much happened in our yard in the early years.

Over time we developed an interest in native wildflowers.  We discovered that every time we introduced a native plant into the landscape it was inevitably accompanied by new beneficial insects and birds.  The more we planted, the more excited we got as the yard came to life, and the more we felt compelled to continue to plant.

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, resting on a Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, surrounded by Black-eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta, with Bee Balm, Monarda didyma, visible in the background off of our deck.

On a typical summer day now, we see dozens of different species of birds, bees, butterflies, and moths.  After adding a water feature a dozen years ago we see dragonflies, toads, frogs, and even ducks and herons.

Northern Green Frog

Northern Green Frog, Rana clamitans, at the pond's edge.

You might think gardening with native plants would be very easy, but it's not.  While natives don't require the excesses of water needed by many of the showy ornamentals you can buy at your local nursery, they grow fast and furiously, competing with each other and attempting to dominate the little available space we have in our city-sized lot.  In the upper midwest the most showy wildflowers are prairie flowers, most of which can get very tall and spindly.  So, it's important to contain them and show them to their best advantage.

Joe-Pye Weed, Eutrochium maculatum; Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba; Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta; Shining coneflower, Rudbeckia nitida, and others around a pond heavily covered with water lilies.

Maintenance, once you've gotten the natives to start growing, consists mostly of weeding out undesirables and containing and transplanting the ones you want to encourage.  For those activities I mostly use the Radius PRO Transplanter and the Radius PRO Weeder.  The Radius Ergonomic Hand Weeder also comes in handy for the smaller plants.  

The more we've worked with native wildflowers the more we've learned how important it is to try to clump them together and create some nice visual lines of sight.  One thing that really helps with this is to create flowing, natural borders to separate the wildflowers from the lawn.  Yes, we still cultivate a very small amount of grass.  It feels nice underfoot and adds a nice visual to a wildflower garden.  We create a crisp line by using the Radius PRO Stainless Edger.  The best cleanup tool for the clumps of sod we cut away is the Radius PRO Stainless Digging Fork.

The bright orange flowers in the right foreground are Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa.  It's easier to keep the edges sharp if you use your Radius Edger to dig down at least 8 inches, then backfill with shredded bark.

A few miscellaneous images:

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, one of our favorite spring flowers.

 Tickseed, Coreopsis lanceolata, a beautiful flower with an unfortunate common name.

False Sunflower, Heliopsis helanthoides, a lovely and wrongfully accused summer wildflower that never intended to masquerade as another genus.