A new kind of gardening movement is making its way into the U.S., and it aims to encourage both large botanical and backyard plot gardeners to make their gardens more useful to the environment.

Douglas Tallamy, professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware and author of gardening book Bringing Nature Home, believes gardeners must work toward easing the effects of climate change and habitat destruction by sequestering carbon, feeding pollinator, and managing water.

"It's a lot to ask, but it doesn't have to look messy and it may be the key to our survival," Tallamy said. "It's no longer enough for a garden to just look pretty. Every garden needs to do more and every garden matters."

Environment-friendly gardens are composed mostly of native species, which are what local wildlife, especially birds, depend on. They also tend to have a more naturalistic design.

Kristin Schleiter, associate vice president for outdoor gardens and senior curator at the New York Botanical Garden, says the new trend in gardening and horticulture resembles the ethos of naturalistic, purposeful gardening one can see in the High Line, a New York City park and garden situated on a strip of elevated track.

Around 50 percent of the plants at the High Line are native plants, while the remaining half are self-seeded species, which take care of themselves and require little maintenance.

"There's way more forgiveness and durability about it," said Tom Smarr, director of horticulture at the High Line. "A lot of people have totally been inspired by the wild look and have tried it on their own at home."

One of the people who shifted to this type of environment-friendly gardening is Ann Savageau of Davis, California, where she pulled out what remained of her drought-infested garden last year and replaced them with desert grasses and other native plants. Savageau says she has seen an increase in birds and bees and a decrease in water usage by as much as two-thirds since switching to naturalistic gardening.

"It's one of the few things an individual can do to mitigate climate change," she said. "The cumulative impact on the environment is huge - plus it's easy, affordable, and fun."

Aside from desert grasses, native flowering plants are also important to feed pollinators, without which most plants would not survive and human food supply would also be endangered. In the West, Schleiter recommends blazing star and milkweed, while further East, mountain mint, sunflowers, native holly, sweet pepper bush, and goldenrod will keep gardens blooming from April through September.

Tallamy says planting oaks is also helpful because they have large root systems that manage a lot of water, and the trees use up a lot of carbon.

Photo: Karen Roe | Flickr

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