Author Charlotte Adelman started gardening as most of us do, planting the flowers she saw in other gardens and longed to have in her own. She even gave thought to the birds and planted fruiting shrubs to attract them. As she learned more about plants, Adelman came to realize she had planted many non-native varieties and some that were even exotic invasives. Sound familiar? While non-native plants are not bad choices as a group, they don't do much to attract our native birds and insects. And some, like goutweed, (Aegopodium podagraria), can virtually take over.
Adelman began her journey to learn about the native plants of the Midwest U.S. With the help of a prairie plant expert, she slowly transformed her garden and eventually most of her yard into a native habitat. We can't all hire a local prairie expert to help us design our gardens, but we can read "The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants" an Illustrated Guide" by Adelman and her husband, Bernard L. Schwartz. Together they have compiled a reference that is both comprehensive and extremely accessible.
Plants are grouped by season. They start with a common introduced plant, like Peach-leaved Bellflower (Campanula persicifolia), and offer native alternatives that are similar in appearance, but better behaved, like American Bellflower (Campanula americanum) or Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica). There are hundreds of native examples, complete with pictures. Unfortunately, the hard part is not simply choosing one you like, but finding it. Nurseries still stock the newest cultivars. However native plants are gaining a following and as more people learn about them, the market grows. Keep asking your local nursery to stock them and sooner or later they will.
In the meantime, there are a couple of sources specializing in natives in the resource listings at the back of the book. Also in the extensive resource section is a reading list, web sites for education and identification and information on native plant societies, should you find yourself becoming an enthusiast.
Whether you want to attract more wildlife to your garden, become a steward of the land or you just want to create some lower maintenance beauty in your yard, learning which plants are native to your area is a crucial first step. Native plants require less fussing and fewer pesticides, while restoring the land to a healthy balance. So Midwestern gardeners, if you still think native plants are either weedy or that they have such insignificant flowers they aren't worthy of your garden, take a peak at "The Midwestern Native Garden".
- Ohio University Press, 2011
- Paperback, 268 pages
- Publisher's Site
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