I was asked about popular gardening trends for a local newspaper article and I mentioned how gardeners across the nation are replacing turf grass with perennials and how traditional garden beds are partnering with edibles. While that is true for many gardeners, another trend is emerging here and abroad.
Drought has become a major concern for gardeners and having too many plants means reducing some of the most resource-intensive areas due to changing weather patterns. Gardens are facing diminishing water supplies and warming climates. Our area has been hot and without rain for some time now. Thunderstorms promised never materialized. It really makes one think of all the public water being used even on gardens predominately planted with native plants.
Installing native plants has been both a fix for drier climates, but has created a problem for overly ambitious older gardeners as they cut bed after bed to add a bevy of rambunctious native plants.
In addition, gardener’s time constraints don’t permit hour upon hour of watering, pruning, dividing or plant pampering.
Too many gardeners were quick to follow the “eliminate the grass” trend without thinking to what the weather may bring or the work involved in overly exuberant plantings.
I would not be surprised to see many more gardeners backpedaling on all the turf they removed and rethinking what drought resistant plants to install instead. Some gardeners are removing beds and replacing them with hardscape materials, like gravel, pavers, concrete, stone and asphalt.
While the current trend encourages using native plants to cut back on natural resources, native plants still need water as well. I mentioned that many times on GWGT because in times of drought, providing for the pollinators is very important. Having too little water, even the native plants don’t bloom, go dormant or die.
This current trend has shifted to adding trees and shrubs. Both have less maintenance and their water needs are generally met naturally. I am a big fan of trees and shrubs.
Having the garden layered starting with trees, is both esthetically pleasing and very needed for wildlife. See below that all grass does not need to be mowed. Keeping it longer with succession plants within has all the benefits for wildlife and the environment.
Notice too that there is no real downside to having trees within this unmoved area either. Mowing turf between for paths is very appealing to people and wildlife. It is just getting creative with plant materials, even turf grass.
Having a garden alive with birds and insect life which is only occasionally irrigated to sustain plants for wildlife is what a garden should be. If it does not pollute the environment with unnecessary chemicals and will replenish the underground aquifer, that is even much better.
Go Native Grasses
While turf grass is a poor choice for all of the above in many cases, there are native grasses that can be used as lawn alternatives if you select ones that grow well in your area. Most grow tall, but some like Prairie Dropseed stay a bit shorter at 15″ and while in bloom, 36″. It is a soft grass that lays over in nice clumps so it makes an interesting ground cover. I love this grass for estate gardens.
Estate gardens have huge expanses to fill and this grass makes a beautiful application in large areas.
Carex plantaginea is a native sedge on the East coast and will reach only 10 inches high with flowers in May. Carex siderosticha ‘Lemon Zest’ is another low grower at 9 inches. Watch the carex, though.
I grew Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ on my own property and it would have covered the entire property if I let it, both in sun and shade. It stayed less than one foot high, but spread by runners. I started with three plugs. Carex although nice, has a hard appearance and feel, not one on which you would want to walk. I removed it because it required too much dividing.
Schizachyrium scoparium, little bluestem is a nice native prairie grass that stays upright rather than drooping like other grasses of the prairie. It too is a bit taller at 2-4 feet. I can list many more but you see a pattern forming. These grasses will not meet many city ordinances because of their height and somewhat unorthodox appearance.
Gardens are becoming more and more about reducing maintenance, managing gardens better and conserving resources, yet many may be less out of choice than necessity in some areas around the country.