Sunday, June 13, 2021

Mosaic Monday #135: Going Native

I was raised by a lawn and garden perfectionist.  Nary a dandelion to be found in my Dad's rolling Zoysia landscape.   Trees were pruned to showcase the natural architecture of the branches - my Dad's sculptures were as beautiful in the winter as they were when wearing a full coat of leaves.   His vegetable garden was just as meticulous, with ruler-straight rows and cages to keep those tomatoes in line.

Until we moved to our current home in Montana, I strived to be that gardener.

With the new construction associated with our log home, the landscape immediately around the house was a blank canvas.  In the process of making other design choices, I must have thumbed through a hundred Log Home Living magazines.  In most cases, the curb appeal of the featured homes was classic - manicured lawns, rock gardens with showy trees, and lakeside settings with trellises and gazebos.  As tempting as it was, Spousal Unit and I knew that this was not the answer for us.  

Retirement is to be enjoyed, right?  So, for a start, Spousal Unit declared that his last lawnmower would not be coming with us.  OK.  Check.  No formal lawn.  

As for me, I would also want freedom in the summers for hiking, camping, kayaking -- well, you get the point.  So, something low maintenance was in order.

Ever since we lived in Arizona, I have had an aversion to sprinkler systems.  If one is needed regularly, it means the plants in the landscape are not native, not adapted to the rainfall that is normal for the area.  That was it -- I wanted to go native.

"Water, water, water ... There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount, a perfect ration of water to rock, water to sand, insuring that wide free open, generous space among plants and animals, homes and towns and cities, which makes the arid West so different from any other part of the nation.  There is no lack of water here unless you try to establish a city where no city should be."  -- Edward Abbey

We are three years into this gardening adventure, and I am still learning.  Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a webinar entitled "Conservation Gardening: Landscaping with Montana Native Plants for Montana's Native Wildlife."  Led by David Schmetterling, the webinar covered how to landscape with resource conservation, drought and wildlife in mind.  His "laboratory" was a small city lot around his Missoula, Montana home.

I was enlightened.  Going native is not just about the plants, but the entire ecosystem.  Yes, even the insects, even those who want to eat my plants.  He shared a story about paper wasps who score the bark of aspens to make their large paper nests.   Aspen beetles use the scars to lay eggs.  In the spring, as larvae hatch, ants are there to eat some of them.  The tree responds to the scar by oozing sap, an early food source for butterflies before flowers are blooming.  In other words, if I eradicated the paper wasps, I would impact three or more other species!!!

I resolved to look at my garden differently this spring.  Insects on native plants would be left to their devices.  Infestations on non-natives would be addressed. 

Fairly quickly, I had an opportunity to test myself.  On May 31, I observed some irregularity on the goldenrod, and closer inspection revealed this black and white caterpillar. (I put it on the rock only to get a photo.)  You would be so proud of me - I left it there on the rock!  Of course, anything living has to have a name, so I embarked into the world of caterpillar identification.  Thirty minutes later, I was none the wiser.  It could be an asteroid, the brown-hooded owlet, the camouflaged looper, the common pug, the striped garden caterpillar or the goldenrod gall moth.  Didn't look like any of them!  Spousal Unit suggested I give it a name, so Montanas Angelas it is!

By June 8, I had already lost my resolve, partly because Spousal Unit expressed a concern that the goldenrod would not flower properly.  A few caterpillars were sacrificed, but I didn't touch the few aphids that I found on the goldenrod, or the spittlebugs with their cocoons of spit.

I can take some consolation in my approach to the golden currants -- I did not spray the aphids that massed on the fresh growth on May 31.  And now I can report that the aphids are gone, with no apparent damage.  Lesson learned!

I have written extensively in the past about my attempts to deter the deer and other critters.  I believe I have finally found an effective solution.  This sprinkler features a built-in motion detector, which prompts it to go off suddenly with two full arcs.  I know it frightens me when I forget it's there and I wander into range!  Four have been placed in strategic locations, and the deer no longer come into the main section of the landscaping.  Of course, nothing is foolproof - a female turkey did a number on several of my chive plants by walking in between the sprinklers,  C'est la vie - I'll take it!

Ever since the first time I saw lupines in bloom, I have been longing to have them on my property.  Last May, Dear Neighbor Friend and I transplanted 27 lupines.  As the summer wore on, they all seemed to die.  It was a long shot -- everything I read indicated that lupine don't like their roots to be disturbed.  So, I bought some lupine seeds, and planted them in over 35 spots around the garden.  I have been so pleased with the results - all but four spots sprouted one or more lupine.  AND, as I have been making my rounds, I have discovered that some of the transplants have grown as well!!!

From this seed-planting experience, I have also learned that it doesn't take much magic to get results.  I tossed (literally) some seeds behind our jack-leg fence, and in an open area to the left of the fire pit.  Both areas have yielded a bumper crop of baby lupines!!! They are tiny now, but in years to come, they will put on a majestic spring show!

With the benefit of hindsight, I might wish that I had not agreed to include non-natives in the landscaping.  For example, the sand cherries have suffered die-back every spring.  Last year, I carefully clipped a "diseased" portion and engaged Montana State University.  The experts there advised pruning and sanitizing the shears after each clip.  Well, here we are again with die-back.  This year, I am going to leave it and see what happens.

Similarly, the Norway Maple has been on a slow downward spiral ever since it was chowed by elk the first year.  This spring, it has not leafed out, and I am declaring it dead.  We have not decided what will replace it, but you can be sure it will be a native plant!

Gardens can also benefit from structures for visual interest and texture.  This summer, we have added "lawn art" in several locations.  We are still looking for a large piece, to be placed in the middle of the leach field.  In our mind's eye, we envision part of an old tractor, or perhaps a windmill from a dis-used ranch.

Jokingly, I often ask Montana natives how long you have to live here to qualify.  They chuckle, and politely change the subject.  So, when I read this sentence in the book "Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants" by Robin Wall Kimmerer, I was over the moon.  "For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children's future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, material and spiritual, depended on it."  Now that, my friends, I can do. 

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  1. ...landscaping in deer country is TOUGH!!! Thanks Angie for hosting the party.

  2. A garden is wonderful, bring pleasure with each plant. Of course dandelions too, Angie. But I know what you mean.

    The caterpillars on the other side are not good for an Apple tree for example.

    Happy MosaicMonday and I wish you a very good week

  3. Native is best, but easier than it sounds, right? We have a relative to your Paintbrush (Indian Paintbrush) out here in the desert that has the most beautiful red flowers. The motion detector sprinklers are genius!! Beautiful photos.
    PS: Love the quote!!

  4. Love your fun yard art additions. We just sold our large Windmill that was also the aerator for the pond we filled in. We still have a medium sized windmill and a little windmill. Love having them in the yard! What a great idea those motion sensor water blasters are!!

  5. Your garden area is wonderful but it really is a challenge with wildlife and insects around.

  6. Gardening can be a challenge in the west, that is for sure! Sadly, even native plants struggle with the increased heat of climate change and severe drought that many western areas have been experiencing. Plus, we have learned quite a bit about invasive insects such as the Japanese bettle, the ash borer and the devastating pine tree borer which have killed many trees in Colorado, and invasive weeds and grasses that crowd out native plants. My neighbors have thistle and mullein growing in their garden, which are both very invasive weeds, but they believe they are "food for the birds" so I tolerate it in their yard and weed them from my yard.
    I love your senor hoses idea and growing Lupine from seed!

  7. Hello,
    Yay for the Lupines, they look like they will have a great start. I read somewhere that the early hummingbirds love the sweet sap from trees. I love your garden art. I was watching a few deer in our yard, it seems at last one comes back the same time every day now. I have been buying mostly perennials that are native and deer and rabbit resistant. Take care, have a happy day and a great week!

  8. what a great idea with the sprinkler, it scares the deer off but don´t harm them. Love it!
    I am glad you went to the "Conservation Gardening". It is soo true, you can´t change the envirnment too much. You might change something you did not want.
    Your garden looks fine and suits the environment. :)

  9. I've been doing this, as well. We've mostly flowering weeds. I dug up my lawn in the city. Now, I love the natural flora!

  10. A happy Monday and stay safe


  11. Sounds as though you found a perfect solution for your garden, Angie. Nothing better than going native and natural with your planting, knowing that native plants are best suited for the environment you plant them in.

  12. As much as I sometimes love the look of manicured gardens, sometimes, there is something to be said for casualness of informal gardens. Ours is neither one nor the other. However we do need to do some work to stop it becoming unruly. These days my hubbie does most of it. I have other preferable pursuits! Happy gardening and hiking, stay safe, and thank you again for the link up.

  13. I like the ending thoughts you've written about becoming native to a place. I grew up in the South and that paints a broad stroke! lol I'm accepted wherever anyone can understand my Southern drawl. Love seeing and hearing about the native plants and flowers. Happy MM!

  14. Dear Angie,
    you're right: Too much perfectionism is just too much work. There is an author of gardening books in Austria, he writes books with titles such as "The garden for intelligent lazy people" - that is exactly the right thing for me and it also goes in the direction of: local plants, placing plants in the right place etc. I think you found your own style and that's great!
    Lupins are wonderful and pretty, I love them, but they don't love me (or our garden soil). I've tried them many times, but either they don't thrive or snails come and eat them. In my current post I show a landscape garden that is quite unusual but beautiful in its own special way.
    All the best from Austria and Happy Monday,

    1. PS: I like the quote from Edward Abbey. The phrase "unless you try to establish a city where no city should be" makes me think of Las Vegas

  15. Hello! I think you and I can call ourselves Montanans. We chose to move here and make a home. We take care of the earth And make our little spot better. Sometimes better than the folks who were born here. Gardening here even in town Is a challenge.If I counted all the plants I've put in the ground And that have died I would be amazed. But that's gardening, trial and error.I try and garden without any pesticides and let my plants do what they want.I have discovered I may want holly hocks But my yard does What my yard loves is burning bushes!And snow on the mountain.And they look great.Good luck with your plants. And have a wonderful summer. Kit

  16. Your lupin planting made me think of seed bombs, where you mix the seeds into dirt and throw them around. I hope the lupins do really well. It is a huge venture starting a garden from scratch.

  17. What a lovely post. Gardening is a learning process, isn't it. Your garden is looking quite wonderful!


  18. All the houses we have ever owned I was attracted by their English cottage garden style of my youth. Which didn't work in Australia, we too went native in Melbourne and it was more successful, going Native is a good lesson but well done those lupins to give you some encouragement!

  19. Great post! Native plants are better for the pollinators too.

  20. I do love gardening - and I dearly miss it when I'm here in Saudi Arabia. I would have loved to have seen your father's garden - sounds like a work of art.

  21. Gardens...all are different, all beautiful in their own way. It's a rather wild, grab me as I walk past kind a garden for me. I love it when seeds are thrown everywhere and they gift you with tiny plants, then flowers. Well done with your lupins; they are a gorgeous flower. They look so pretty in colourful drifts, en masse. Your garden, Angie is looking wonderful with each new growing season.

  22. Lupins are such a nice old fashioned cottage garden flower.
    I always like to see some garden art, it makes a welcome addition to the garden.

    Have a great week.

    All the best Jan

  23. I have never thought about gardening in this way but I love it!! Garden art is a must and I enjoy lots of color!!

  24. You garden is an inspiration to natural gardeners everywhere Angie. Everyone should have at the least a small part for nature. As for binning the lawnmower, I'm not quite there yet and I wouldn't want to upset the neighbors.

  25. Gret post, Angie. I love your lawn art, it looks fantastic.

  26. I'm impressed with your gardening. I love Abbey's quote which basically says everywhere gets the right amount of rain. I loved the lesson about how killing one insect species affects other insects and plants. Keep on with your low maintenance gardening.

  27. Just visiting :) Lovely meme you have with the Mosaic Mondays :) I enjoyed reading the tribute to your mom; lovely lady she seemed to be; sorry for your loss!

    We used to live in Billings for 8 years between 1998 and 2006; lovely state! Now we are in Phoenix, Arizona since 2016. I often joke I went from being cold for 9 months in Montana to being extremely hot for about 3 months down here. Still prefer the heat over the cold :)

    Take care,


  28. I don't believe in perfection. I love casual gardens with a will of their own.


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