I’ve been gardening for bugs and butterflies and birds for a long time, or so I thought. A couple of weeks ago I read Doug Tallamy’s new book Nature’s Best Hope, which is about using our gardens and yards as little pieces of restored ecosystems. I hadn’t realized that insects can’t eat the foliage of most non-native plants. Butterflies and bees can eat the nectar and pollen, yes, but nectar and pollen are just one small part of the way plants feed insects. I learned that a native tree like an oak will support over a hundred species of insects whereas a non-native like my honeysuckle shrub will support fewer than a handful.
Insects are so critical because they are nature’s way of turning plants – which eat sunlight – into food that non-sun-eaters can eat. They are a critical link in the food web between plants and other animals like birds and bats and skinks and snakes and on and on.
So I decided to garden differently. My first step has been to check to see where my plants come from, and I was delighted to find some of my favorite garden plants are natives, and are doing their ecosystem thing without me even knowing it. These native beauties are blooming now in my garden.
I’ve found that there are plants I have been pulling for years, like violets, that actually are good friends to insects, and I will start leaving them where I need to fill in space.
My garden is home to lots of non-natives, and I’ll be leaving them, at least for now. Lavender, roses, peonies, wisteria, Siberian iris – there is room for these guests. But as I replace things, I think I’ll divide and propagate natives rather than non-natives, and I’ll be shopping in the growing natives section of my local nursery.
There are a few things in my garden that probably no garden in Maryland should have, including Rose of Sharon and Amur Honeysuckle. Both are invasive, spreading seed well beyond my garden and into wild areas. So I’ll make a plan to remove them this fall. It won’t be a loss, just gain, in the form of more baby birds next spring.