Thursday, July 21, 2016

Nature Skills

I was pleased, yet dismayed, to come across someone's short-lived wildflower patch on the side of a less traveled road in my community. It inspired me to think that guerilla gardening like this could be done in many other places, with no permitting needed. I just wished that the native plants could have out-competed the countless weeds that had come to dominate. Perhaps, with the right soil preparation, the best plants for the location, and attention to plant spacing, it could have looked something like this without much follow-on maintenance. 
Photo by Richard Ashley
Even with the array of information easily available on numerous native plants to consider for various purposes, the art of garden design requires first-hand detailed knowledge of plant appearance and behavior. For example, I can see that a Great Blue Lobelia might be a lovely addition to a butterfly garden, but how well does it play with others in its root space? The answer is not easily found in documents, and is probably best discovered through consulting more experienced gardeners and naturalists.

Master Gardeners should be able to design gardens and use available online tools and references to make informed plant selections. Yet, it wasn't until I was trained as a Master Watershed Steward that I got exposed to enough of this material to feel confident in garden design. I have also come to realize that even both of these designations won't fit me to single-handedly design conservation landscapes or many other planting schemes. It's going to take collaboration.

Master Naturalists are skilled in wetland restoration, among other things, so they could be good resources for rain garden plant selection. There are many Master Gardeners who seem to have a good amount of native plant knowledge. +Kurt Reitz operates an outdoor native plant nursery at the Elms Environmental Education Center and would be one of the first people I'd ask, partly because he will give away plants for public gardens and restoration projects.

Let's face it. Most of us who take on these volunteer roles are amateurs. However, maybe one-third have had careers that make them extraordinarily valuable sources of information in their particular area of expertise. If you want to make your conservation landscaping or other restoration project have lasting value, asking enough of these kinds of folks until you find the expert on the matter in question could be critical to your project's longevity.

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