The Native, Not Native Plant Debate: Is It Valid?

By Debra Knapke

Late fall is my time for contemplation, for this question and so many more. The leaves are down, the garden beds are put-to-bed – as much as I do that anymore. The days are moody with short periods of transcendent blue skies bracketed by gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.

I look out into my garden and consider… what delighted me? what did not? what worked? what did not?

My ideas and gardening have changed considerably over the years. From collecting and figuring out where everything could fit to needing to understand how nature works. It isn’t about the quantity, but the quality of plants, plant communities and soil – the foundation of everything.

Purpose – the concept that must underlie all garden creation and maintenance. Why are you doing it? For these times when our climate is changing, our food systems are insecure, and we know that we must support each other and the Earth. My garden’s purpose is to support all life that comes to it, and to supplement our diet. These are my primary gardening intentions.

For the first intention, using native plants is essential. Native plants – those that belong to an ecological niche, have not been introduced by humans and have been here longer than us (I’ll let you determine who “us” is) – native animals, and soil systems have evolved together. At every step of the way, change has been a part of this relationship, so the native plant of 500 years ago may not be the native plant of today, but the relationships remain.

For the second intention, many of us would be hard-pressed to live off the land in Ohio. There are too many of us and we have become accustomed to having luscious tomatoes, spicy basil, and our pick of culinary delights. Fortunately, many of these food plants from other lands also have relationships with their animal counterparts, and often, these relationships work for our native insects and others.

Yes, there is the question of fitness: does a non-native plant offer as good a resource to our animals? I believe the jury is still out on this question. We have studies (Mt. Cuba, Cornell, and other institutions) that show that our native insects prefer our native plants as shown by their visitation rate. But I am waiting for the brilliant researcher who is able to figure out how to ask a bumblebee the question: “Which of these offers the best nutrition for you, false sunflower or Black Adder anise hyssop?”

Bumbles on our native false sunflower (Heliopsis sp.) and on Black Adder anise hyssop, a hybrid of our native Agastache foeniculum and European native A. rugosum

So, my title and question: the native, not native plant debate: Is it valid? My answer is yes and no…  It depends on Why You Garden – a topic for another time.

To  help you figure out where you stand in the native/non-native debate, I offer a rating scale by the brilliant J. C. Raulston who looked for plants that performed well in the landscape and who may have introduced plants that are in your garden.

Enjoy!

EXOTIC VS. NATIVE PLANTS PHILOSOPHY SCALE (1-10) 

By J. C. Raulston – 1996

To help understand where others (and you) stand in the very wide spectrum of the horrific and unending native vs. exotic plant “mud-wrestling debate” – the following scale is offered tongue-in-cheek for humor to laugh at ourselves on this admittedly serious issue. Where are YOU in this range??

1-2: Encourage maximum population growth; burn, bulldoze and kill all existing vegetation and build everywhere; plant only those ugly aggressive noxious exotic plants with no redeeming values (e.g. – hybrid tea roses, Leyland cypresses or ‘Bradford’ pears); eat only kiwis, mangos and rice; live in rosewood lumber homes with plastic furniture; demand “Chemplush” (TM) lush iridescent green lawns everywhere and in all seasons.

2-4: Burn, bulldoze and kill most existing vegetation – but save old historic trees slept under by great presidents; maintain cryogenic tissue samples of native flowers germplasm just in case someone ever wants to sample for a pimple cure; eat olives and figs, with one bowl of beans a month; live in a redwood home with a basket woven of local reeds; weed and feed lawn monthly and mow weekly.

4-6: Live life in moderation; plant and enjoy useful plants; protect native habitats; eat everything in sight regardless of origin (Raulston’s Rule); recycle paper, homes, and other products – and use local plantation grown lumber to build; weed & feed lawn annually and mow monthly if it needs it; worry endlessly about everything ’cause you don’t have a final perfect answer to Earth’s problems like everyone else seems to.

6-8: Eliminate aggressive invasive exotic plants; work politically and financially to protect native habitats; urge population control; use low maintenance native plants appropriate to environment and culture; eat beans, corn, blueberries and an occasional cantaloupe in season; live in hand-hewn pine cabin from lumber you grew yourself; use all native oak furniture built from lightening killed trees and enjoy a mahogany rocking chair inherited from your Indonesian great-grandfather; let goats graze whatever grass or other stuff comes up out front – then eat goat (if not vegetarian or animal rights).

8-10: Eliminate all plant species not growing when and where they existed as colonists arrived; remove all physical construction not in use in 1492 and reduce human population levels to that time with appropriate attention to native American ethnic purity; eliminate all travel and exchange of products and/or technology; eat only the foods botanically existing on your specific habitat (no cheating with imported Mexican corn or Maine blueberries) – mushrooms are recommended as they don’t reproduce easily or spread aggressively; live in caves to protect trees from destruction; wear no clothing or use any tools; if there is no tree removal, there is no sun, and therefore no summer grass = no lawn maintenance sweat.

Weekend Garden Tour

Huntington Gardens at Schiller Park in German Village

By Teresa Woodard

Looking for a (safe) escape this Labor Day weekend? Consider a trip to historic German Village just south of downtown Columbus, Ohio to tour Huntington Gardens of Schiller Park. The  tree-lined brick promenade is filled with three 100-foot perennial beds now in late-summer glory! And don’t forget to look up . . . the park is host to the “Suspension: Balancing Art, Nature and Culture, ” an exhibit of  19 high-wire sculptures by artist Jerry Jotka Kedziora.

According to Kedziora, “Art must get out of museums and reach the people.” Born in 1947, Kedziora is a sculptor, painter, designer and teacher from Poland.  He has installed his gravity-defying sculptures in public spaces around the world including Abu Dhabi, Miami, Krakow and Vienna. Check out this video of his work.

While the 23-acre Schiller Park was founded in the late 1800s, the Huntington Gardens were only added in 1993 as part of a park revitalization. The promenade leads from the park’s west entrance to the base of the statue of German poet Frederick Von Schiller. The statue was a gift to the park and the citizens of Columbus in 1891 from German-born residents of the neighborhood. Granite stones inscribed with quotes from Schiller’s literacy works line the walkway.

Today, the gardens are maintained by a dedicated team of volunteers and feature a wonderful selection of perennials.

Extend your visit with a picnic lunch from Brown Bag Deli just north of the park. There’s also Jeni’s Ice Cream beside the deli. Other favorites within walking distance of the park include Barcelona (try brunch or dinner on the patio) and Fox in the Snow coffee shop.

Back-to-School Challenge

Crowd-Sourcing Native Plant Ideas for School Landscape

By Michael Leach

Please put on your thinking caps. We’re looking for plants native to central Ohio that meet several requirements. The goal is a more environmentally friendly and educationally enhanced school landscape.  Yes, we have our native go-tos – I adore oaks, Deb loves royal catchfly, native ferns and spicebush, and Teresa is a fan of coneflowers and Joe Pye weed. But, for this project, we’d love to hear from you.

A new middle school is to be built near my home. Fortunately plans call for preserving a 200-year-old oak tree. Already there’s an orange, plastic mesh fence around this grand tree.

The schools superintendent is open to my making suggestions to the landscape planners for native Ohio plants that may be used on the site. We discussed the possibility of white pines to screen the football field and track. These trees have been used before on school sites. It’s a toehold.

For now there’s little chance of doing more than a few trees and perhaps some shrubs, the typical local school landscape. Low maintenance — primarily mowing — is preferred. So no pollinator strips, recreated prairies or woodland preserves need apply.

Plant parameters are:

Toughness — Have to tolerate full sun, wind, little care and Midwest extremes common in Central Ohio, Zone 6;

Coexistence — Must be able to handle competition from lawn and withstand mowers running over root zones;

Visual appeal — Seasonal interest, such as fall color, a plus, because people are using the school, but no  messy fruits;

Acquisition — Be readily available in 2-inch caliper plants;

Education — While school gardens offer diverse learning opportunities, these tend to flourish only with teachers who are also gardeners. No outdoor classroom is on the horizon at the moment. Ideally trees and shrubs should be those that: had/have a variety of uses for Native Americans and/or European settlers, support a range of wildlife, and have other qualities that make them resources for creative teachers.

Please send your suggestions and comments by August 20. 

Pandemic Garden Trends

Trade Show Reveals New Plants and Gardening’s Future

By Teresa Woodard

If there’s a silver lining to COVID for the green industry, it’s the 16 million new gardeners that discovered plants during the stay-at-home orders. At last month’s Cultivate virtual show for horticulture pros, Heartland Gardening got a sneak peek at trends from the Garden Trends Report 2020 and preview of new plants to entice both new and long-time gardeners.

  • New plants: Plant breeders continue to find ways to make plants tougher, more compact for smaller spaces and more varied in colors.  Standouts include coneflowers (Sombrero® and Artisan™ series) in new ombre sunset hues, larger Marvel II™ African marigolds, dwarf Fire Light Tidbit™ panicle hydrangeas (2-3’), a new ‘Primavera’ Spanish lavender, Zesty zinnias and Whispurr™ catmints. Wave petunias celebrates their 25thyear with new Shock Wave® Purple Tie Dye and Pink Passion cultivars.
  • Mini Houseplants: While houseplants remain hot, collectors are running out of space to grow them.  The solution . . . focus on mini houseplants to squeeze more plants in tighter spaces. Look for String of Pearls succulents or mini African violets.
  • Community gardening: In 2020, the power of collective action has never been stronger whether protesting #BlackLivesMatter or wearing face masks to flatten the COVID curve. Community gardens also appreciate collectivity of attracting diverse groups to sustain neighbors with fresh food, plus build community. Check out how in this New York Times piece covering ways community gardens are adapting with social distancing.
  • Growing food: Victory gardens are making a comeback amid fears of food shortages just like those inspired by WWII food rations. No doubt this spring, seed companies saw a spike in vegetable seed sales and sold out of many varieties.
  • Embracing nature: During lock-down, the outdoors has been one place people can still go. Instead of working out at the gym, neighbors met to walk or run at social distances. Visitors flocked to hike at local, state and national parks. Others took on backyard projects and embraced outdoor hobbies like bird watching and gardening. This renewed interest in nature is spilling over into more pollinator gardens and abundant landscapes to support wildlife.

Rain, Rain Come Play Today

By Michael Leach

Splish! splish! Rain drops in the night were surely a dream that would fade with the sunrise of another white-hot day.

The rain, however, wasn’t a dream. A haze of drops, blending into the pale gray clouds, still fell when the alarm rang. It was a special rain that conjured summer memories and inspired daydreaming. 

Such rain comes without wind or sizzling lightening. I savored this delightful precipitation from the comfort of a rocking chair near a screened window. A porch swing would have been ideal, but even this perch afforded leisurely coffee sipping and unexpected peace.

All the flowers in the garden are bejeweled with rain.

When my sister and I were small, and such a rainy day came along, Mother had us change into our bathing suits to go “swimming” in the backyard. Raindrops and the wet, silky grass weren’t at all like the community swimming pool we went to most summer afternoons. Didn’t matter. We romped and screamed delightedly.

Turning faces skyward and mouths open wide, we tried to catch rain drops on our tongues. We did the same thing in winter for snowflakes. Usually we tired of such exuberant play long before the saturated clouds drifted further east. Then came a dry bath towel, a change back to play clothes and renewed efforts at Monopoly or other indoor games. At least Mother got a reprieve from complaints about the missed day at the swimming pool.

As a gardener, this particular morning was even more rewarding. Several chores were scratched off the do-do list the night before, never mind the fatigue. There were check marks beside everything, from tucking in some transplants to spreading weed preventer in the cracks of the brick paving. One more thing would have made this morning perfect — having the houseplants outside. But the rain wasn’t predicted, hadn’t been for days, and wasn’t foreseen for several more to come. A last look before bed showed nothing on radar. It was only my hunch (hope?) about rain.

Rain polishes houseplant foliage.

Still, it would have been good to put the houseplants outside. There’s nothing like rain to bring freshness. Dust washes away, along with tap water salts in the soil (particularly in downpours). But this morning was too fine to spoil by a soggy chore, no matter how beneficial. Same with attempting more transplanting. No!  The rain washed away plans for the morning walk, gardening and errands. 

From the window, I watched the narrow leaves on phlox and other towering perennials bounce up and down, as if played by invisible fingers making music too faint to hear. On the west window, where a bit of breeze had spattered rain, some of the crystal drops slowly  zigzagged their way down the glass. 

Crystal droplets decorate the window pane.

By making me pause during the busy season, this rainy day refreshed the gardener as much as any houseplant fortunate enough to be outdoors. The next day’s weather was to be bright and hot again, with perhaps a few popup storms. What better reason to spend moments of cool peace and ease, while making a new memory of a rainy summer day?

Eva Monheim on Hedgerows

Heartland Gardening recently talked with Eva Monheim, author of “Shrubs and Hedges” (Cool Springs Press, March 2020) about the under-appreciated hedgerow – its rich history, diversity and ecological value. Eva teaches at world renown Longwood Gardens as well as the Barnes Arboretum at St. Joseph’s University. She is co-founder of Verdant Earth Educators, a horticulture education and consulting firm, and was assistant professor at Temple University’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture for over 12 years.

The valuable large trees in the ancient hedgerow provided valuable shade for early farmers as a place for rest out of the hot summer sun.

What is a hedgerow?

If we look back into history, hedgerows were first developed after humankind transitioned from hunter gathers to the agrarian lifestyle. Woodlands were cut down to create fields to grow crops and strips of the ancient forest were left to protect the crops from wind and other elements. Small narrow lanes were created between the hedgerows, so wagons could pull crops to local villages to store. So, when we think of hedgerows, they were first used for farming. They were also used to protect the crops from animals. As man began herding animals, they also used hedgerows for keeping animals in a field, while trying to keep other undomesticated animals out. More complex hedgerows developed – especially in England where pleaching was developed. Trees were cut halfway through and snapped. These half-felled trees began sprouting and then the sprouts were braided into an intricate lattice structure. This design further curtailed unwanted animals from moving in or farm animals from wandering out.

A farmer maintains a hedgerow in England.

What was their initial ecological appeal?

Early farmers knew hedgerow’s diversity provided pollinators for crops and habitat for birds. Hedgerows here in the U.S. are one of the most threatened habitats, especially by new constructions projects. The first thing to go is usually the hedgerow. Most people think they are junky, but they are anything but junky. They also are critical to prevent flooding downstream, protecting farmers from the elements, and providing additional food sources, like berries and other small fruits. Their structure contains large trees, layers of shrubs and ground covers, perennials, annual plants, and seed store.

Mixed hedgerows develop over time. They don’t have to be perfectly clipped in order to provide valuable services for wildlife. 

How is it different from a hedge?

Hedges came about to define boundary lines other than fields. Hedgerows were a form of protection from the elements, keeping snow on the fields for deep watering before the crops were planted. Hedges came about as gentry began pushing farmers off the land and securing land for themselves. Usually one or two species were used to make a hedge of thick green walls impenetrable to passersby. Hedges are still used like this today as a delineation between me and you – owner and non-owner. In Europe, there is a crossover between hedges and hedgerows. Here, 600- and 700-year-old hedges are called “hedgerows” as they gain a mix of species over time.

What is the value of hedgerows today?

With the few hedgerow remnants remaining in the U.S., they are even more important today. If you are concerned about pollinators – hedgerows are critical for their preservation. Swarms of bees can live in hollowed out trees and old tree stumps. If there are no large woodlands around, these areas are even more valuable. The exposed sides of the hedgerow have valuable habitat for in-ground native bees and other pollinators like bats that roost in the trees. Old snags and logs become a haven for beetles that provide invaluable services for our gardens and crops. Birds also use these habitats for nesting and some birds can live their entire lives in the hedgerow which provides food and protection from the elements. I can go on and on about the value hedgerows – it’s the unseen that is the most valuable – the enormous opportunity for seed store that contributes to diversity. They should not look clean and tidy. They should be strips of diversity.

Where is a good place to add a hedgerow?

While a typical hedgerow can’t be built (it’s an evolutionary process), you can make a pseudo-hedgerow along a property line by creating a layered plant community or buffer. Start with trees. You can start all your plants out small and let them grow into place then slowly fill in with varied understory small trees and shrubs. It would be like building a woodland – but in a narrow strip 10’-25’ wide.

What shrubs do you recommend for a pseudo-hedgerow?

Depending on where you are building your buffer – along a stream or along a boundary, the species will vary depending on the site:

  • Viburnum acerifolium – maple leaf viburnum
  • Viburnum prunifolium – blackhaw viburnum
  • Viburnum dentatum – arrowwood viburnum
  • Viburnum nudum – possumhaw viburnum
  • Prunus virginiana – chokecherry
  • Ilex verticillata – winterberry holly
  • Ilex glabra – inkberry holly
  • Ilex opaca – American holly
  • Lindera benzoin – spicebush
  • Taxus canadensis – American yew
  • Amelanchier sp. – serviceberry
  • Chionanthus virginicus – fringe tree
  • Vaccinium corymbosum – highbush blueberries (needs low pH)
  • Vaccinium angustifolium – lowbush blueberries
  • Hydrangea arborescens – smooth leafhydrangea and there are lots of cultivars too! (you can also use other hydrangea like Hydrangea macrophylla – bigleaf hydrangea and Hydrangea serrata – mountain hydrangea)
  • Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis or (syn. Sambucus canadensis) – American black elderberry
  • Aesculus parviflora – bottlebrush buckeye
  • Aesculus pavia – red buckeye
  • Rhus aromatica – Fragrant sumac
  • Rhus typhina – staghorn sumac

Some Trees  

  • Maclura pomifera – Osage orange
  • Quercus imbricaria – shingle oak
  • Quercus stellata – post oak
  • Quercus phellos – willow oak
  • Quercus macrocarpa – burr oak 
  • Sassafras albidum – sassafras

How do you go about installing a hedgerow?

I would typically start by planting trees — both deciduous trees and conifers. Remember you are building a remnant of a woodland. There is no need to move or remove any soil or remove any lawn. Plant your trees as if you were planting them in your lawn and plant your shrubs in between. (Make sure to plant long-lived species such as oaks as well as short-lived species such as cherries.) When you have planted all that you can, use newspaper and cardboard over the entire area making sure all the paper products overlap. (There is an art form in doing this. Start at one end and work to the other. Mulch the entire area with triple ground hardwood or woodchips or combinations of mulch. Pine straw is great, too!) Allow the area to settle in for a year to kill weeds and invasive plants and then you can go in and plant additional shrubs and trees and plant bulbs, native woodland flowers and ground covers. Lay a few logs in the mix too for beetle habitat.

How do you expand the hedgerow?

When planting a hedge make sure to leave a well cultivated area around the hedge. They can be planted like the hedgerow (described above) leaving the lawn intact. Make sure to be generous and methodical about using newspaper and cardboard in between, in front and behind the hedge, and cover with triple-ground hardwood (no dyed mulch – too many chemicals in them). A more refined mulch will create a good sound cover. The following year, you can plant perennials, bulbs, or annuals or a combination along the edge to provide a more diverse habitat.You can also use several different types of plants to make your hedge and instead of creating a straight line of plants stagger them – in and out. Plant them the same way as you did the above. The following year, you can plant bulbs, perennials and annuals in the alcoves that were created, maybe even some shorter shrubs that will add different seasonal interest to the hedge.

Stories of Native Plants and Their Homeplaces

By Debra Knapke

Most discussions about native plants start with a definition, but not this one. Instead here are my thoughts of where native plants belong in our gardens.

First and foremost, native plants are organisms that have developed affinities for the soil, climate, moisture, and light quality of their homeplace. Plants have co-evolved with animals, fungi, and bacteria in places we call habitats. This is the basis of the oft recommended meme: right plant, right place.

If you know where a plant originates, you know what it needs. Some plants must have the conditions of their homeplace, while others can adapt to a wider range of environments. Consider the Lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea).

Lakeside daisy in Alvar region garden at Heritage Garden at Ohio Governor’s Residence

Its homeplace is only one location in the world: growing in full sun in the cracks of exposed limestone bedrock on the Marblehead peninsula in northwest Ohio and on Kelley’s Island in Lake Erie. The only way that it can be grown at the Heritage Garden at the Ohio Governor’s Residence is in the crevices of a transplanted limestone slab and in limestone gravel. If you think you will be able to grow a Lakeside daisy in your clay soil, you will be deeply disappointed.

Contrast the narrow tolerance of Lakeside daisy with the exuberant dance of the celandine or wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum). I have not attempted to count the number of seeds that one plant can disperse, but my original plant has multiplied into hundreds. While celandine poppy prefers shady conditions and moist, humus-enriched soil, it has seeded into sunny, drier locations in my garden. The trade-off is that the plants in dry, sunnier areas are smaller and seem to make less seed.

Celandine poppy likes to spread, but its cheery yellow flowers are like drops of sunshine.

So… if you have a newly built home, which of the two above plants has a better chance at success?

But even the celandine poppy will have issues with the typical soil that is left when a home is built. Be prepared to spend some time healing damaged soil with compost and recreating the habitat that was.

All plants have developed amazing mechanisms for being pollinated and then getting their seed dispersed.

Our native toadshade or sessile trillium (Trillium sessile) beckons to native beetles and flies who are attracted to what we would consider an off, rotten smell. The reward for the beetles and flies is pollen. The reward for the trillium is pollination.

 Toadshade with ramps in my garden
 The native plant of Ohio is the beautiful large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). The pink tinge on the petals indicates that these flowers have been pollinated.

The seed dispersal mechanism – for all trillium – also involves a food enticement. Each seed has a fleshy appendage – an elaisome – that is prime food for ants. The seeds are carried to the community, the elaisome is removed and stored, and the seed is discarded outside the anthill. This is important for two reasons: removing the elaisome also removes a dormancy requirement, and the discarded seed is in new territory, which will have less root competition from the mother plant and may contain more nutrients.

Many of our native plants have cousins who live in similar habitats but in different parts of the world. We may struggle with the idea of whether or not we should plant the native or the possibly more spectacular non-native plant.

Our diminutive Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) may seem to pale in contrast with the showy Japanese native bleeding heart (Lamprocampnos spectabilis), but each has its own charm and have more similarities than differences in their life stories. Both are spring ephemerals and disappear when dry, hot summer approaches. Both are pollinated by long-tongued bees and both offer ants tasty elaisomes in exchange for moving the seeds around.

But there is the question: does a native plant offer better food to native bees and other native pollinators? Research is being conducted to answer this question at Mt. Cuba, Cornell University, and other botanical gardens and universities. Can’t wait for the answers . . .

At 6-8″ tall and wide, Dutchman’s breeches is more effective when planted in groups.
Goldheart bleeding heart is a golden beacon in the garden. Its larger size, two to four feet tall and wide, allows it to stand alone in the garden as a specimen plant.

As we end Native Plant month, we all know that a commitment to the environment and nature is a year-round effort, but it has been a good exercise to focus on these wonderful plants for this time.

I leave you with the beautiful native blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna), a plant that I want in my garden, but she is picky about her homeplace. After years of developing an area for shyer native plants, I just might be close.

‘Wishing you good health and love!

So Many Reasons to Plant Trees

By Michael Leach

The mention of Arbor Day brings visions of shovels, holes and little sticks with balls of soil at their bases.

Trees are planted for many reasons. But they do more than provide lumber or counter climate change by reducing atmospheric carbon and the heat island effect. They also offer food and shelter to birds and a host of other animals. Sometimes trees become part of local history, childhood memories, voices in the wind or heirlooms. This is the story of five sugar maples.

Perhaps it was Arbor Day in 1912 when the spindly plants were dug from a woods less than a mile from the front lawn of a small Victorian farm house, which was a mere 22 years old. Four of them were transplanted along the country road, the fifth near the house.

The Titanic sank in 1912. It was two years before the start of the butchery of World War I,  and a decade prior to the publishing of  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, Tales of the Jazz Age that helped define the 1920s.

Frivolity and bathtub gin gave way to the Great Depression decade. In 1939 The Wizard of Oz was released to sing and dance its way into the fabric of American life. Then came the horrors of World War II. 

By late1952 the first  hydrogen bomb was tested, prosperity raged in America. Tiny-screen televisions mesmerized millions with their  black-and-white images. The road in front the now dilapidated frame house was no longer rutted dirt, but shiny black asphalt. The maples, meanwhile, had grown and thrived. 

Their tops were well above the story-and-a-half house, when two small children, a girl and boy, moved there in 1952. With their mother’s help, they quickly learned to climb a fat-branched apple tree. After a year or so, they were tall enough to scale the nearby sugar maple. It was the tallest and closest to the house. Their mother was ok with them climbing trees, but not playing near the road, which carried more cars every year.

Fast forward another half century. Space travel was ho-hum, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan underway and the little girl’s children were graduating from college. They had grown up far away and had few chances to climb trees, certainly none like the maples. The traffic on the road was almost constant. Semi trucks increasingly rumbled by, hundreds of motorcycles growled on balmy weekends of spring and autumn. The woods where the trees sprouted became a housing tract and only a few gnarly giants remained. 

It was about this time the maples began receiving regular visits from an arborist, because they are not good street trees. Corrective pruning, cabling to help them weather storms, and regular fertilizing became standard care. Despite the remnant of a hurricane, ice storms, droughts and deluges, the trees continued to grow, but less vigorously. Yet their autumn show of golden leaves rivaled the effects of peacocks when it came to  dropping jaws. 

The trees continued filling their various roles, plus they shaded pedestrians and a swath of pavement. They were a source of free mulch when those glorious leaves fell.

About five years ago the tallest and most beloved maple was diagnosed with a rotten center. It  was a threat to the nearby house and the front porch, where the children’s mother had come out to look up into the dense, green cloud and shout, “Kids, supper’s ready. Come on in.”

All that remains from of a beloved sugar maple.

All those years disappeared in three hours. Only scattered sawdust and a smooth, flat shelf of wood at ground level remained. Last fall, the second of the “hospice” maples, as the arborist described them, was cut down. During its last three or four years, this tree displayed ominous signs: little if any new growth, early coloration and leaf loss in fall, and a shower of dead branches and twigs after every wind storm.

Sugar maple blossoms add beauty to the spring scene.

Because the maples are profligates when it comes to seeds, a few sprouted and quickly grew in the landscape beds. The next generation was well underway when the boy, following in the footsteps of his great uncles, transplanted a spindly maple to mark his college graduation in 1970.  Every autumn it puts on a show and then carpets the ground with brilliant leaves.

No wonder some wise people created Arbor Day to celebrate and plant trees. 

Natives and Beyond

Discover Nativar Plants to Bring Beauty and Eco-Benefits to Your Backyard

By Teresa Woodard

Flopping grasses, no-show flowers and unruly plants. Many home gardeners say “no thanks” to such “wild” native plants for these reasons and others.  But, thanks to the flourishing native plant movement, the market has responded with a new and improved plant palette of “nativars.” It’s an industry buzzword for selected, hybridized, or crossbred varieties of native plants that offer more compact sizes, cleaner foliage, better color, or tidier appearance especially for home landscapes.

‘Standing Ovation’ little bluestem and ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ coneflowers at Kingwood Center in Mansfield, Ohio.

Nativars like ‘Standing Ovation’ little bluestem or ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ coneflower offer many of the eco-benefits of their straight-species cousins but also behave and show better in the home landscape.

A bonus is these nativars are more widely available through garden centers and big box stores, unlike native plants that are often exclusively sold through specialty growers or occasional native plant sales.

Planting more nativars would seem to be a plus for pollinators, but some purists challenge nativars don’t equally benefit insects and birds like straight-species natives. Research shows not all nativars are equally beneficial when it comes to pollinator appeal. For example, a change in leaf color or flower shape may dissuade pollinators. Several trial gardens across the country are taking a closer look.

Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ (Photo by Mt. Cuba Center)

At Mount Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware, the botanical garden’s team trialed 66 varieties of garden phlox (Phlox paniculata which is native to much of eastern United States) and found  the mildew-resistant nativar Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ was a winner with 530 butterfly visits. They also trialed 40 monarda selections and named two nativar winners — Monarda fistulosa ‘Claire Grace’ and Monarda didyma ‘Jacob Cline.’ For a complete list, see https://mtcubacenter.org/research/trial-garden/ Other nativar pollinator plant trials include Penn State, Chicago Botanic Gardens and Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens.

The bottom line for me is nativars are making a positive impact for their beauty, ease of care, accessibility and ecological integrity. And, the more variety of natives and nativars we can bring to our backyards, the better. So, when shopping for new plants this spring, give nativars a try. Plant a few (see 10 perennial favorites below), run your own experiments and watch to see if pollinators show up. Even consider sharing your results with the Chicago Botanic Garden’s BudBurst citizen science research project.

  • Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Standing Ovation’)
  • Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’, Cheyenne Spirit’ and ‘Ruby Star’)
  • Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium dubium ‘Baby Joe’)
  • Giant hyssop (Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’)
  • Aster (Symphyotrichum ‘October Skies’)  
  • Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’)
  • Beebalm (Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa `Fireworks’)
  • False indigo (Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’)
  • Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’)

For more ideas, see “All About Our Native Plants” at Proven Winners.

Hope Taft Champions Native Plants

One of Hope Taft’s favorite garden chores is caring for the Heritage Garden’s water garden.

By Michael Leach

Those of us at Heartland Gardening have long admired Hope Taft, Ohio’s visionary former first lady. Debra has worked with her for many years in the Heritage Garden at the Governor’s Residence in Columbus. Teresa met her while they were wading the Olentangy River observing concretions with a mutual friend. Michael interviewed her about the garden at its inception when he was working as garden reporter for The Columbus Dispatch. The venerable house is America’s only governor’s residence with a landscape showcasing the state’s native plants and vignettes of its five major natural areas.

As Hope has been instrumental in bringing Ohio Native Plant Month into reality, we thought it a good time to for a Q&A session. Her replies have been edited for space considerations. 

Why do you garden?

Gardening to me is something that takes your full concentration and attention. When I am working in the yard, all consideration of worries or time go away. I find it very refreshing to come in tired from pulling invasive plants and weeding. Instead of the hour I had planned to spend, three have passed, and the area looks so much better! More important, the worries I had before venturing into the yard are so greatly reduced in size, or a solution to the situation has emerged. In our present home, I view what I do as gardening, but it’s more restoring its natural habitat. Wildlife has been nice enough to let us share their home, so I am trying to create a space where all can live in harmony. I recently heard the term “conservation gardener” and think that is what I am.

How do you find time to garden?

Even a few minutes outside, picking herbs for supper or looking for a gift of nature to bring inside for the table, can refresh me. But it’s hard to limit the time to a quickie, so the dinner doesn’t burn! On hot summer days, I find the best time is early in the morning. When I come home tired, if I can walk in the yard and pull a few weeds before I open the door, I am a much happier person.

The prairie garden at the Heritage Garden of the historic Ohio Governor’s Residence

What inspired the Heritage Garden?

When I was fortunate enough to be the first lady of Ohio (1999-2007), we gave many tours of the historic Governor’s Residence. Guests always wanted to know what was from their part of the state. We could do that with artifacts throughout the home. While traveling the state, I realized Ohio is made up of many different regions that favored different plant communities.

One day it dawned on me, we could highlight Ohio’s special topography and plant diversity in the yard and let people from all parts of the state find a spot they could relate to. And it would provide blooms from early spring to late fall!

(A master plan, featuring the five major regions and some of the plants that grow there, was drawn and planted. The small areas around the back lawn include a water garden representing a tiny cranberry bog, sand dunes from Lake Erie shores, and a boulder from Appalachian, which supports a host of plants.)

To further promote Ohio’s natural heritage, Hope helped develop the Geologic Walk Through Time at the Ohio Expo Center and State Fairgrounds in Columbus. 

Why continue working in the Heritage Garden?

Gardens, yards, nature and environments are continually changing. It is that change that is exciting to me. We sometimes call the residence and grounds a “living museum” because its occupants, furniture, colors are always changing, just as the plants and landscape do outside. I feel blessed that first ladies who have come after me have allowed me to stay involved, so it can be maintained, nurtured and protected. Wonderful volunteers under the leadership of our native plant habitat curator help us maintain the garden, as well as learn the value of, and how to care for native plants. It has become a test area of what works well and what doesn’t, and why it doesn’t.

Protecting nature

“I now believe that by saving or restoring our natural areas and the life that lives in them, we are saving ourselves,” Hope said. To that end she’s currently promotes Ohio Native Plant Month, protection of the Little Miami River, a state and national scenic river;  the Ohio Scenic River Association; Tandana Foundation, a nonprofit started by the Tafts’ daughter, Anna; and works to win designation of the Hopewell ceremonial mounds found in three major clusters in Ohio as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

A passion for people 

Long before becoming Ohio’s first lady, she  was active  for many years in the campaign to end drug abuse.  People have always seen me as an organizer or networker. So when the mayor of Cincinnati (where the Tafts once lived) asked me to help with the emerging crack cocaine crisis in 1986, I said yes. As a young mother at the time, I could see the havoc alcohol, tobacco and other drug use was having on youth and families, so it was easy to work on preventing the problem. 

While serving as Ohio’s first lady, she helped start Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free in 2000. After her husband’s term of governor ended, she became executive director to this nonprofit of first ladies and traveled the country, helping the U.S. Surgeon General release his report on Underage Alcohol Use. The organization disbanded in 2013. 

At the request of Gov. Ted Strickland and Gov. John Kaisch, she served on the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professional Board. Now I am on the retired, senior list of several organizations still involved with this issue.

Time management tips

I learned from a wise woman many years ago to deal with a piece of paper or email when you first receive it. Now my policy is to read all my emails for the day before I go to bed. It makes for some late nights sometimes, but this helps me sleep. (She also recommends, rest, good diet, enthusiasm for the work, keeping your calendar up to date, and having good friends who have special knowledge in your areas of concern that you can depend on to help.)

What’s next?

“As one interest leads to another, it will be exciting to see how my passions evolve in the coming years,” she said. “What other ways can I work towards leaving the world a better place?”

“But,” she added, “I am realizing that others need to be encouraged to take up the efforts that matter to them, because none of us lives forever! I am realizing the importance of planting seeds and mentoring their growth in the next generations.”

Hope Taft at the Heritage Garden with Debra Knapke and Ed Marriman.

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