CHOOSING THE RIGHT PLANTS FOR YOUR SMALL GARDEN

Why use indigenous plants to landscape your property?   Considering the benefits to health, environment, and economics, among others, a better question is why wouldn’t you?

It is easy to admire Chicago’s neighborhood landscapes on a purely aesthetic level.   What you might not think about is where the plants originated.   Curious how that plant from another part of the globe ended up in your backyard.   Imagine the native home of that plant differing dramatically in climate and geography from your own.   You may then consider how non-native plants affect the delicate balance of our ecosystem.   You might then think of weeds.   Weeds are one example of an ecosystem gone awry.   Weeds are not considered indigenous, whether they made their way here through purpose or chance.

In its unsettled beginnings, the Midwest was a land of tallgrass prairies, oak savannas, woodlands, and wetlands.   Industrialization transformed Illinois from an originally 65% tallgrass prairie to less than 0.01% of the original prairie (represented today in the form of nature preserves).     European settlers brought with them agriculture and garden plants from their native lands, which in their beginnings were as few and far between as the preserves of today.   What exists today is a land of non-native plants with boundless power to spread, with far less diversity in the plant and animal community.     Happily, there is a strong trend that is beginning to reverse this non-native culture.   Welcome to the indigenous landscape revolution.

Imagine a yard which eliminates the need for a gas-powered mower or even a push mower.   Think of a landscape free of fertilizers and pesticides.   Think of a yard which requires a fraction of the water to maintain.   Imagine a yard filled with diverse plants that attract wildlife.   Transforming your landscape to native plants is a growing trend that is both environmentally healthy and financially sound.   You’d be amazed how significantly your landscape increases the value of your property (click here for information).   Going indigenous will save your pocketbook on a host of direct and indirect expenses.

Let’s take an example.   You maintain a landscape that’s predominantly comprised of Kentucky bluegrass (not indigenous to Chicago, Illinois).   You will spend a small fortune (in dollars, time, and maybe even physical suffering) in the direct cost of eliminating the popular non-native varieties of weeds.   Consider this fact:   Over 70 million pounds of pesticides are applied to America’s lawns in a year.

Let’s also assume you use a gas-powered mower, which you can’t use for free.  Remember to include the cost of fuel, oil, and other mower maintenance.   Add to that the indirect costs of health care, with illnesses related to toxins emitted into the air by that fuel.   Don’t forget the toxins on your neighbor’s lawn, recently treated with chemicals.   Add excessive carbon from the burning of fossil fuels, more adverse impact to the ecosystem’s natural balance, and the costs become more insidious and much harder to measure.

The good news:   You can start locally, in your own backyard, by using indigenous plants.   Not only do they create a beautiful and creative aesthetic to your landscape, but they also thrive naturally in this region.   Remember, they are natives.   They require much less maintenance and can survive drought.   You would be taking action to begin to restore balance to the environment in your backyard, leaving a larger carbon footprint in a minimalist way.   You could attract birds and butterflies to their indigenous plant counterparts.   If you think replacing grass with the diversity of indigenous plants is expensive, try calculating your expenses in the above scenario (the indirect costs to your health and wellness are immeasurable–you can’t maintain any landscape– or much else–without your health).

Not only are homeowners in Illinois jumping on the indigenous bandwagon, but schools, businesses, corporations, developers, and more.   In Oak Park, Illinois, two neighboring homeowners share a wildflower garden in the hopes of attracting wildlife to their landscapes as well as reducing pesticide use and valuing diversity.     In Wheaton, Illinois, Wheaton-Warrenville South High School has introduced native landscaping to their school grounds.   Their endeavor has saved time, reduced costs, promoted environmental education as the value of aesthetics.

Look for my next post for specifics on going indigenous.

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