New Post on the Downside to Biodiversity

I have a new post up at Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens on the value of a less diverse array of plant species.  You can read an excerpt below, or go straight to the blog: “Too Much Biodiversity is Bad News for Wildlife“.

Finding the optimal diversity of plant species will encourage more wildlife, including beneficial insects. Finding the optimal diversity of plant species will encourage more wildlife, including beneficial insects.

Native plants offer the gardener an overwhelming array of benefits, but they are not without controversy. Despite all the evidence that landscaping with more native plants is healthier for people and for wildlife, some gardeners seem intent on attacking the whole notion.

Mention the concept of “biodiversity“, on the other hand, and you will find nearly uniform support. Biodiversity is so obviously a good thing – like Mom and apple pie – that no one could possibly be opposed to it. Right?

While biodiversity can be a (very) good thing, like any good thing too much of it can be bad.

Click here to finish reading “Too Much Biodiversity is Bad News for Wildlife“.

Creating An Urban Meadow with Native Plants

I am joining Claudia West of North Creek Nurseries to present a three-part course called “Creating A Native Urban Meadow” beginning September 24th at Roland Park Country School here in Baltimore.

Few ecosystems support more wildlife in a small space than a native plant meadow, but few people think they can create a meadow in an urban yard. However, creating an urban meadow with native plants is not a daunting task.

Over the course of three sessions, we will not only teach you how to create a vibrant urban meadow with native plants in a small space but we will help you design and install one yourself right here at Roland Park Country School. By applying cutting edge design and ecological principles, we’ll demonstrate that no yard is too small to have a beautiful and functional urban meadow with native plants.

The dates are September 24th, October 1st, and October 8th.  Registration is just $60 and can be done by calling (410) 323-5500 x 3045 or by emailing the External Programs office.

A Family Tree of Ninebark Cultivars

Karyl Seppala has a great post on Ninebark at the Beautiful Wildlife Garden blog today. She is absolutely correct that the native Physocarpus opulifolius is a wonderful shrub:  beautiful and useful to wildlife.  And while cultivars of native plants have some challenges, in a designed landscape they can be indispensable.

There are many cultivars of Ninebark, but many share the same parentage.  To keep them straight, I made a “family tree” of the most common ones.  I find it helpful, and maybe you will too.

A family tree of Ninebark cultivars

NWF and Scotts: We’ve seen this story before

Today I posted some of my thoughts about the new partnership between the National Wildlife Federation and Scotts Miracle-Gro over at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens. This has become quite a controversial topic in the past day or two, in part because it calls into question the ability of the NWF to act as an impartial advocate for wildlife in this country.

There is one aspect of the news that I didn’t emphasize in that post, though I did mention it, in part because I’d already written more than most people want to read at once.

But one thing that it is interesting about this new partnership is the “we’ve been down this road before” aspect. In 2000, the National Wildlife Federation formed a partnership with oil conglomerate BP/Amoco in which BP gas stations would sell stuffed “Endangered Wildlife Friends” with NWF branding.

This is interesting on several fronts.  One is that BP/Amoco went on to cause one of the great environmental disasters of our time. A disaster that prompted the National Wildlife Federation to produce and air several public service announcement on the damage to wildlife.

We can only hope that this current NWF “partnership” with Scotts does not end in the same kind of tragedy that the former “partnership” with BP did.

Also interesting is how similar the language used by the NWF to defend the BP partnership is to the language they’ve used this week to defend the Scotts one. From the PRwatch piece linked above:

NWF’s Vice President of Communications, Philip B. Kavits, he declined to say how much money his group had received from BP/Amoco, and he defended the partnering because it helped NWF “reach a new audience.” . . . He also said that NWF’s partnership with BP/Amoco did not imply an endorsement.

I’ve said before that I think the National Wildlife Federation  staff have the best intentions, but their judgement doesn’t seem all that strong when it comes to these arrangements.

Plant This, Not That: The Book

Many of the writers at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens have been contributing to a series of posts called “Plant This, Not That“.  In each case, we highlight a couple of plants that are invasive and/or overused and then suggest some great native alternatives.  In my most recent contribution, I focused on native groundcovers for Baltimore.

Today, I called attention to one of my absolute favorite books on native plants and one that happens to be organized along precisely the same lines.  Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants, by C. Colston Burrell, is published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and is consistently one of the most popular native plant books at local native plant sales.  This is true among both novices and experienced native plant gardeners.

You can read my post there, Plant This, Not That: The Book, for the full review.

A Native Plant Flower Show!

Kay McConnell sold me my very first native plant, a black chokeberry, shortly after I moved to Baltimore a few years ago so I suppose I should not be surprised to learn that she is co-chairing a native plant flower show! Seriously.

“Going Native: Food, Water, Shelter, Life” is a Garden Club of America Flower Show complete with everything that goes into a typical flower show: flower arrangements, horticultural prizes, photographs, judges, rules, and so forth. But, you know, with native plants!

From the rules for Division 1 (Flower Arrangement classes):

“Designers in all classes are required to include at least one native plant in their arrangement(s) and to note the plant(s) on their entry card.”

Cool, huh?

The flower show will be open the public on October 18th and 19th and is sponsored by the Guilford Garden Club, with support from Friends School of Baltimore which is also hosting the event.. Native plant aficionados from the area will know that the garden club has been working with Friends School for several years to design and install absolutely beautiful native plant gardens around the campus.  From the introduction to the Flower Show schedule:

“In partnership since 2005, Friends School of Baltimore and the Guilford Garden Club (GGC) have created a series of Native Plant Teaching Gardens throughout the campus. Conservation and education are at the heart of the project. The gardens employ Chesapeake Bay Watershed native plants that thrive with minimal care to attract pollinators and other wildlife and to absorb surface water on the school’s sloping campus.”

Friends School students enjoying a landscape filled with native grasses, trees, shrubs, and flowers.

Kay will be conducting tours of the gardens, which I STRONGLY recommend, at 2pm on the 18th and at 10am on the 19th. And, weather permitting, the Guilford Garden Club will be conducting a small native plant sale as well.

Click here for a one page PDF with dates, times, and the address.  Click here for the full schedule, with descriptions of the exhibit rules and whatnot.

Native Plants for Baltimore

Curious about using native plants in your Baltimore landscape?

On Monday, September 26th, I’m presenting at Roland Park Country School on that very topic as part of their “Kaleidoscope” adult education series.

The title of the presentation is “NATIVE PLANTS FOR ROLAND PARK LANDSCAPES” but the information will be just as useful to residential gardeners around the area as to those in Roland Park specifically.

Anise-scented goldenrod blooming in Roland Park.

I will discuss the use of native plants by the Olmsted Brothers and other turn-of-the-century designers, with a focus on identifying plants that can be used by modern Baltimore residents to beautify their landscape and benefit the ecological health of the neighborhood.  The presentation will cover a variety of topics, from wildlife value to aesthetics, so that everyone should be able to take away something from the evening.

There will also be handouts that will guide homeowners on ideas for plants as well as local sources for them.  Many residents want to have a healthier yard, but are overwhelmed with the choices available to them.  One of my main goals is to make the process easier, so that people realize that they can have gardens that look beautiful and also support plenty of wildlife.  Having a home surrounded not only by lovely plants but also butterflies, birds, fireflies, and the like is something that most people can agree is a rewarding goal.

There is a $15 fee for this presentation, and you can register by mail or by phoning (410) 323-5500 x 3045.  It’s not too late to register and there were still some spaces available the last time I checked.

For the full run-down of Kaleidoscope courses you can download a PDF version of the Fall 2011 Catalog by clicking here.


Park(ing) Day 2011

Park(ing) Day is coming to Roland Park, in Baltimore,  on Friday, September 16th! Roland Park Native, Blue Water Baltimore, Belair Road Supply, and Green Fields Nursery are collaborating to temporarily transform three metered parking spaces at 5201 Roland Avenue into a prototype for a landscaped and pedestrian-friendly space.

What is Park(ing) Day, you ask? I’ll let the folks at Park(ing) Day 2011 tell you:

PARK(ing) Day is an annual open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places. The project began in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco. Since 2005, PARK(ing) Day has evolved into a global movement, with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world.

The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat … at least until the meter runs out!

For us, it is a chance to explore the ways in which this particular piece of streetscape could be, well, more!  What if families walking to and from school had more room to walk?  What if  the parking spaces were replaced with a bioretention area filled with native plants that could filter polluted runoff on Roland Avenue before it is dumped into Stony Run?

Unlike many other Park(ing) Day events in Baltimore,  our organizers are not landscape architects or design students. Our goal is for everyone who stops by to think “Cool idea, but I could do better than that”.  And then, on the 3rd Friday in September of 2012, actually do it better.  Because THAT would be cool.

And, if you’d like to help set up or take down the park, send an email to We’d love a few more hands!

Native Plants in Your Garden? Meet Gary Smith!

A few months ago I attended the 2012 Native Plants in the Landscape conference, and one of the highlights was meeting Gary Smith. Gary is the award-winning designer of Peirce’s Woods at Longwood Gardens, which is a stunning example of just how beautiful a landscape filled with native plants can look.

From Gary's design at Longwood Gardens: A blend of Allegheny foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) and blue woodland phlox (Phlox stolonifera ‘Sherwood Purple’) flows among the trunks of mature sweet birch (Betula lenta).

Well, on September 13th Gary will be in Baltimore as part of the Horticultural Society of Maryland lecture series! Gary’s presentation is entitled “From Art to Landscape:  Unleashing Creativity in Garden Design, and will cover some highlights from his book of the same name (which I also strongly recommend).  The focus is really on techniques for increasing your creativity, but with plenty of examples using phenomenal native plant combinations (many arising from Gary’s collaborations with Rick Darke, who recently spoke at the Irvine Nature Center).

Free to Society members, $10 otherwise, and held at Cylburn Arboretum Association‘s Vollmer Center! The lecture starts at 7:30pm, and there is a plant sale and seed swap before the presentation!

I can’t recommend Gary enough.  The lecture will be great, and even if you can’t attend I urge you to look for his book.

Want to Avoid Nativars? Look Here.

Sue Sweeney has posted an article called The Nativar Dilemma today over at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens that I definitely recommend reading if you are curious about avoiding cultivars of native plants.

The topic of native plant cultivars (which Sue calls “nativars”) is definitely a tough one, and my recent post on the topic barely scratched the surface. I agree with much of what Sue wrote, although I am less worried about cultivars “mucking up” the gene pool than I am about them sometimes just being poor performers ecologically – and ornamentally.

This Monarda punctata, or spotted beebalm, is a local ecotype grown from seed collected by Chesapeake Natives.

Still, her advice to use native plants grown from locally collected seed is advice I can heartily endorse.

Thankfully in Baltimore we have many ways to follow that advice. For one thing, we are blessed with many nearby native plant nurseries who grow all or most of their plants from locally collected seeds.

Chesapeake Natives, a non-profit wholesale and research nursery based in College Park, relies on volunteers to hand-gather seed from local sources.  They propagate a wide variety of perennial flowers and grasses from this seed, for use in restoration projects and for sale to the public at native plant sales.  They do NOT have a retail localation, but they DO attend native plant sales throughout the year.

Heartwood Nursery and Garden Shop near Stewartstown, PA is not much further from Baltimore than College Park (and is in the same ecological region as Baltimore), and Heartwood maintains regular retail hours.  Owner Sue Houck also uses local sources for seeds for many of her plants, and she is not alone:  Kollar Nursery and Edge of the Wood Nursery are also great sources of plants within a reasonable drive.

There are many other local growers of native plants who – like Chesapeake Natives – do not maintain retail businesses.  The Maryland Native Plant Society maintains a calendar of native plant sales, and you will often find these growers at those sales.

One of the best is actually this Saturday (August 27th) at the Irvine Nature Center.  The 20th annual Native Plant Seminar and Sale will feature ten native plant vendors, and some great speakers.  If you are on the hunt for local genotypes of native plants, Irvine offers probably the best opportunity to find a wide selection in one place!

Phlox paniculata 'David' is a "nativar" (native plant cultivar) which was originally collected from a wild population near Philadelphia: less than 100 miles from Baltimore.

Finally, although I don’t endorse an “ignorance is bliss” approach to gardening it may be somewhat comforting to know that many of the native plant cultivars we see in this area actually ARE of somewhat local origin. The horticultural industry is pretty well entrenched in this region, and the upside of this is that many of the cultivars and selections we see in the trade were first selected from populations growing in the Chesapeake Bay region.  For example, one of the best-performing garden phloxes in my yard is Phlox paniculata ‘David’, which is a cultivar but whose original seed source was just outside Philadelphia.

There are no guarantees, of course, when it comes to any particular plant but a small chance of blind luck is better than no chance I suppose.

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