December 1, 2018 10:03:35 PM
Beauty and satisfaction aside, have you ever thought about your garden's "green footprint" -- its cost to you and your surroundings?
Some years ago, I shared a sustainable gardening charette with over 150 nationally-respected garden experts wrestling over wasteful garden designs and high-input plant choices. It was a natural topic for me because up to then most Southerners of modest means didn't have extravagant landscapes. We were used to "making do."
Even back then, horticulturists, public and home-garden landscapers and educators agreed that well-shaped but smaller lawns and more diverse plantings of locally-adapted plants were edging into a desirable norm. But a deep concern persisted over the budding romance with alluring mass-produced "eye candy" plants that often don't survive, much less thrive, without irrigation and other costly artificial life support.
Locally-owned garden centers are coming back to the realization that their most loyal customers pine for long-lasting enjoyment, not summer flings. Problem is, some trendy but borderline favorites -- lavender comes to mind -- are the pits in Southern gardens, but are worth the gamble to some folks. However, deliberately pushing frustration-guaranteed plants into the marketplace just to make a sale should be seen as unethical. As one nurseryman regretfully admitted, "If some of my best-selling plants were child restraint seats, I'd be in court all the time because of their failure."
In my attempts at transforming my little cottage grounds into a smarter garden (Google "Ezekiel -- standing in the gap"), I'm celebrating good gardening over horticultural flair. Keeping expediency and economics in mind, I substitute rosemary for lavender. Trying to get it done right in the first place so I won't need to do it again.
I favor hardy woody plants and perennials, with just a few colorful seasonal annuals to save on cost, planting effort and maintenance. Most grow well in plain dirt -- wide holes with maybe a little compost or bark mixed in to help get 'em started.
To make it in my yard, plants must tolerate torrid summers, fickle winters, rain and drought. Without irrigation, just a little mulch to cut down on weeds while feeding the soil. And they gotta be pest resistant because I avoid sprays, lest I destroy important pollinators.
One thing I started doing last week, with much regret, is to begin slowly replacing some of my cherished crape myrtles which will inevitably become infested with the serious new and, practically speaking, uncontrollable scale insect. Rather than drench my garden with harsh, bee-damaging insecticides every spring for the rest of my life, I'm sticking in between the crapes some other small flowering trees and large shrubs that can be "limbed up" tree-form. It'll take a while, but I'm getting started now.
By the way, if you think you may end up doing the same, I have an illustrated article on it all at felderrushing.blog.
While you're online, shoot me an email for a free copy of a list of the best survivor-type plants for our state. There's plenty to choose from to suit any garden design's needs, including close substitute plants for stuff that we'd dearly love to grow here but just can't.
But I'm not done with expanding the palette with new plants. While in Japan I photographed several different kinds of our old-fashioned, utterly hardy pollinator-friendly "country girls," or Clara Curtis garden mum. I recently found a nearby source for them and am getting them into garden centers to spread the cheer.
Nobody is suggesting that we shouldn't be able to grow whatever we want. We just need to look ahead, improve our gardens while slowing the squander. Stand in the gap.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the "Gestalt Gardener" on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to [email protected]