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Dreaming is Learning

It's 2019! My yard is just a blanket of white right now, but already I'm mulling over the endless possibilities that come with Spring. Right now I'm carefully tending some delicate baby Dryopteris ferns while imagining them a year or two from now, sprawling gracefully in some shaded corner or overhanging a trickling water feature. How about you, what kind of garden are you dreaming about?

Dryopteris fern prothalli
Each of these little gametophytes is an infant fern. That's a lot of possibilities spread over several square centimeters!

If you're here, I'm assuming you're at least considering planting a native yard or adding a native component to an existing garden. Perhaps you want to attract more pollinators. Maybe you feel disillusioned by the incredible amount of resources (water, fuel, chemicals, time) it takes to maintain a traditional lawn. Or maybe you just think native plants are delightful.

Regardless, where do you begin? How do you pick the right plants for your site? I've found one of the greatest obstacles to landscaping with native plants is a lack of knowledge about what our native species are and what roles they can fill in a garden setting. Most of you can probably picture a lilac bush, and have a decent idea of what it will do (visually and otherwise) if you plant it in your yard. But if I tell you that curlycup gumweed is a native plant you might want to plant, that's hardly helpful. How tall is it? What color is it? When does it bloom, and how long do the flowers last. Is the plant long lived? Does it have a tendency to take over or spread? Where should I plant it? Is it large and showy, or should I plant several together to make an impact?

Grindelia squarrosa curlycup gumweed
It's me. I'm curlycup gumweed. The answer to your harshest and most compacted sites.

My goal with this blog is to demystify the use of native plants in landscaping. I will delve into why you might want to consider native plants over traditional landscaping. I'll profile the plants we grow, and discuss how to examine your site and choose the best species for your conditions. I'll also discuss how to properly establish plants, and the art/science to knowing when to water. We'll even talk about weeds, deer, and other garden threats. Because we're based in western Montana, some of the information will be specific to this region, but most of it will be applicable to anyone hoping to introduce some native diversity into their yard ecosystems.

In addition to introducing the blog, I'd like to introduce some natives generalists that adapt very well to garden life and are appropriate for a wide range of conditions. Have a look!

These species all have two requirements in common: they like lots of sun and will not tolerate soggy conditions (like sprinklers that come on every day, for instance.) I'll go into detail on each of these fellows at a later date (they definitely each deserve their own post), but for now, take a moment to appreciate the diversity of color, shape, and height just in this humble assemblage. The light and water requirements are guides, and will vary slightly depending on microclimate and whether or not the plants are established. More on those two things in a future post. Click the following links for more information and photographs (and to answer some of your burning questions about curlycup gumweed).

These species are also survivors. For all the self-professed "brown thumbs" out there, these are the plants I recommend starting with. I've worked in habitat restoration, and am familiar with just how much neglect they can endure. As generalists, these species are also found throughout the Rockies (and a few are circumboreal, meaning they occur in Eurasia too). If you want to go native though, and you don't live here in western Montana with me, don't take my word for it! The USDA plants database has range maps for most species that go to county level if you zoom in, so it's an excellent idea to verify that the species you want to plant belongs in your area. This matters because planting the wrong species in the wrong place is how we end up with incredibly costly plant invasions that affect millions of acres of forest, grassland, and rangeland here in the western US. Planting a native species is the easiest way to avoid accidentally introducing a damaging invader.

Below I've listed the botanical names of the plants pictured above. Botanical (or Latin) names can be a little intimidating at first, but they are the most reliable way to identify a plant (and to ensure you are purchasing the plant you were intending to). Each species has a unique botanical name, while common names are often colloquial and used for multiple species ("daisy" for example). That can get confusing fast. If I ask a garden center for yarrow, it's darn near impossible to say exactly what I'll end up with, possibly the commonly sold Asian Achillea filipendula that has escaped and naturalized itself throughout North America. Asking for Achillea millefolium, on the other hand, is a much safer bet since it's the species we find around here. Within a species we can argue about subspecies and ecotypes, but that is a can of worms I'll leave sealed for now. As an aside, if you google a plant to see more pictures or learn more, always search by botanical (Latin) name.

1. Pseudoroegnia spicata 2. Leymus cinereus 3. Symphiotrichum laeve 4. Artemisia frigida 5. Achillea millefolium 6. Gaillardia aristata 7. Monarda fistulosa 8. Grindelia squarrosa 9. Geranium viscosissimum 10. Erigeron speciosa 11. Erigeron divergens 12. Heterotheca villosa 13. Geum triflorum

I hope this has got you a little curious about native plants. If you have topics you would like to see covered, drop me an email!

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