Firsthand Experiences from a Natural Neighbor
Gardens prior to new septic installation
Sharon Pearson, a Natural Neighbor participant and longtime supporter of BiodiversityWorks, had a blank canvas for planting after some recent construction. Prior to construction, she had flourishing gardens, and she was looking to return this space to a simiar condtion. She began working with Vineyard Gardens to develop a design that met her aesthetic vision and incorporated suggestions from our Natural Neighbors report. Working with a landscaping company can help alleviate some of the challenges homeowners may face, such as sourcing native plants and providing planting expertise.
Post construction work
To supplement the plants installed by Vineyard Gardens, Sharon purchased our native plant kit consisting of small plugs of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), and purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis) last fall. So far, these plugs are spending most of their energy developing an expansive root system, which means above the soil it can seem like not much is happening. It can be hard to practice patience in our gardens; people often shy away from smaller plants because they want the immediate “wow” effect of plants in full bloom. However, accommodating these small plants will pay off in the long run and result in greater resiliency to stressors, like drought. Methodically working with Vineyard Gardens allowed Sharon to mix larger statement plants with the smaller plugs from Polly Hill, creating a nice foundation for her gardens.
A Year of Progress
July follow up visit
Recently, we had the pleasure of a follow-up visit with Sharon to see her progress after one growing season. She has transformed the space from a bare patch of sand to a garden in progress. Sharon gave her gardens time to acclimate, reducing water and heat stress by planting in the fall and letting the small plant plugs establish their roots. She also let native seeds persisting in the soil germinate naturally, resulting in freebies like goldenrods and asters that will be eye-catching come fall. The patience she has practiced in the gardens has paid off! She is fostering a landscape that is self-sufficient, requires lower maintenance, and abounds with flowers and beneficial insects.
While meandering through the gardens, we noticed some activity on the pearly everlasting plants from Polly Hill. Upon investigation, we realized that she had a caterpillar of the American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) feeding on the leaves. The American Lady is a beautiful lepidopteran common on the Vineyard, and pearly everlasting is one of its most favored larval host species. This plant was still on the cusp of flowering, even with the hungry caterpillars chewing at its leaves.
American Lady Butterfly caterpillar and adult stage
On another plant, we noticed a small aphid infestation. My first reaction to aphids is still one of disproportionate concern followed by an urge to act swiftly. Those feelings were quickly fleeting as we saw a voracious lacewing larva consuming the aphids. Sharon’s gardens are a great example of how you can utilize native plants to create productive spaces and work with a landscaper to help execute a vision. Her gardens are not strictly native, but she melds native plants with introduced species in a manner that aligns with her aesthetic interests, fosters resilient and lower maintenance gardens, and provides essential food and cover for organisms that are integral to a healthy functioning ecosystem.