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Naturalist Notebook

Using natives in a home landscape

Purple coneflowers and other native plants in front of house

As a naturalist and lover of natural landscapes, I am always seeking ways of making my home landscape look its best while using native plantings.

It all started 15 years ago when building my house. I was determined to stick with a non-traditional landscape around the foundation of the structure. After all, the house was in a particularly beautiful natural setting so why not use that to showcase native plantings.

I wanted a front entry that would be an extension of the prairie that I seeded just to the west of the house. No manicured shrubs or rows of evergreens would fit in with the look I was going for. So I set about mixing up the front borders with natives from the prairie areas and meadows on the property as well as purchased plants and a few domestics as I call them – typical garden plants.

This consisted of varieties of Purple Coneflower (Rudbeckias), Wild Blue Indigo which is a great substitute for shrubbery, salvias, Purple Prairie Clover, New England Asters, a repeat-blooming daylily, a rambling blue clematis, and a native shrub – the Clove Currant (Ribes odoratum).

A few years later, the Wild Petunia or Ruellia humilis began to appear in the border. A lovely little plant, Wild Petunia isn't actually a petunia but has lovely blue flowers resembling petunias. I had not planted it myself so assumed it came in from seed from the prairie plantings. However, it came it loved the location and stayed. I was worried at first because it seemed aggressive but now I understand this is because it had no grasses keeping it from expanding in these borders. Out in the prairie, the thick tall grasses keep it's growth in check.

I decided to let it stay and utilized this plant as a ground cover in these borders. It has now filled in completely under the regular plantings without seeming to interfere much with their growth. The best part is that it has successfully suppressed weed growth and I now do very little weed pulling. I trim around edges to neaten the border and that's about it.  In late summer it produces seed which I collect and distribute back in the prairie areas as well as give away. This entire border is left up in winter for all creatures to enjoy then come spring it is cut back with a weed trimmer save for a few heavier stalks that are hand-cut but overall this is simple maintenance.

So a beautiful landscape can be achieved without having to use the typical landscape plants seen in home landscapes. Thinking outside the box a bit does bring rewards. Going with the flow of nature instead of against it has its benefits too. For me, the little blue petunia-like plant does most of my maintenance here and I am grateful to it for that!

Photo and article by Rose Moore, Master Naturalist