We read disturbing news everyday about the fate of our honeybees and the demise of the iconic Monarch butterfly. It’s enough to make any dedicated gardener feel helpless! But there is something we can do to help solve the problem. Establishing and growing native plant gardens can provided critical refuge and food sources for many of our beleaguered pollinators and other important insects beside habitat for a wide array of songbirds.
Native plants are not only beautiful, functional, and potentially water thrifty, they provide ecosystem services to a wide array of native creatures that rely on indigenous vegetation. Amazingly, in this country we grow somewhere between 32 and 40 million acres of lawns. Lawns do provide some cooling and water infiltration services in urban areas, but they provide no habitat for wildlife. Only about 3-5 percent of the total land area in this country is undisturbed. The rest has been modified for farming, grazing, cities, parks, roadways and mining, to name a few uses. This lack of pristine habitat creates hardship for many creatures, particularly our pollinator insects.
So many of our introduced horticultural plants can be beautiful but that is the extent of what they add to the garden. They do not attract pollinators or birds as the indigenous wildlife does not recognize the plants. The other problem is some introduced plants can spread into nearby habitat and become weedy. At Chatfield Farms, we deal with these “ornamental” escapees all the time like Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris); Bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis) and Oxeye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum), plus a host of others. We spend thousands of dollars every year trying to control these invaders on the property.
Fortunately, our offices are surrounded by the three-quarter acre Earl J. Sinnamon Visitor Center garden at Chatfield Farms. This amazing planting, created by Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden, features over 140 taxa of native herbaceous and woody plants.
While the garden features a wonderful progression of bloom throughout the season and year 'round appeal with the integration of grasses and non-native bulbs, I find something else fascinating about it. Late spring through fall, it is a constant unfolding drama of butterflies, bees, beetles, hummingbirds, finches, swallows, sparrows and other creatures interacting with the amazing array of native plants.
The garden was named a Habitat Hero Garden by the Rocky Mountain Audubon Society in the fall of 2014 and it really illustrates how a planting can be so much more than just a somewhat random collection of plants.
Learn how to use native plants in home landscapes in a unique, three-session class, Gardening with Native Plants, on June 17, July 15 and August 19, 2015. A combination of indoor presentations and outdoor learning in the native plant garden at Chatfield Farms is featured. Get ideas for summer-long color and texture and watch as the palette of plants change over the months from Penstemons to grasses and Asters. Register online or call 720-865-3580.
GUEST BLOGGER: LARRY VICKERMAN
Larry is the Director of Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms and a recognized expert in native plants.