Life in the Garden

Every day can be Earth Day when you landscape with native plants

Look closer ā€“ some of those wild spaces might actually be new native gardens

By Cindy and Ed Moura
Posted 4/23/24

Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 as way to honor the planet and bring environmental concerns to the forefront of conversations and consciousness. It is a day aimed at awareness, but the intent …

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Life in the Garden

Every day can be Earth Day when you landscape with native plants

Look closer ā€“ some of those wild spaces might actually be new native gardens

Posted

Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 as way to honor the planet and bring environmental concerns to the forefront of conversations and consciousness. It is a day aimed at awareness, but the intent is to spur action. What if there were actions you could take right outside your own door to make every day Earth Day? Well, we’re here to tell you that there are!

Across the East Bay you may have noticed a trend of slightly wilder spaces popping up in neighborhoods, schoolyards, churches, post offices, libraries and more. These are all part of a growing trend to create gardens and landscapes that offer safe homes and food for wildlife, especially pollinators and songbirds who make great use of even small patches of habitat.

Many of our region’s native pollinators – bees, beetles, butterflies, flies, hummingbirds, moths, and wasps are in decline, with some even facing extinction. Recent studies have also shown an alarming decline in bird populations – more than a third lost in the last 50 years. This loss of biodiversity is a challenge to our well-being, but it also presents a real opportunity to help.

These wilder yards and public spaces tend to veer wildly if you will from the undergrown look we’ve become accustomed to in local landscapes. But these spaces are doing the hard work of building resilience in our neighborhoods and communities. They are much more than just gardens and are often connected to growing regional and national initiatives like the Northeast Pollinator Pathway, Homegrown National Park, or the National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Backyard Habitat Program.

Conservation lands are fragmented

In densely populated areas like the East Bay, conservation lands are fragmented – severed apart by buildings, roadways, and even by sterile landscapes dominated by turf grass lawns and closely clipped ornamental plantings. By creating patches of wildness right in our own yards, we build stepping-stones between natural areas and help nature thrive. These nature-centered yards and public spaces are rooted in the use of native plants.

Native plants are not the plants typically found in suburban gardens and landscapes, and yet without them nature cannot thrive. Native plants are those that historically occurred in a region without human introduction. They have co-evolved with local pollinators, birds, and other wildlife for thousands of years and form the very basis of the natural food web.

You would think forming the foundation of a food web was enough of a superpower for native plants, but they have more to offer. They absorb water, improve soil, slow erosion, sequester carbon, filter pollutants, and clean the air we breathe. And well sited native plants do not require any chemical inputs. This helps to reduce some of the 90 million pounds of pesticides applied to yards and gardens annually while also reducing some of the fertilizer runoff that is contributing to the algae blooms choking out local water bodies. That’s some pretty Earth Day friendly stuff! 

These very benefits are why April was declared National Native Plant Month through a bi-partisan and unanimous U.S. Senate resolution further endorsed by nearly every state in the nation, including our own. That’s unparalleled agreement in these times. But as the resolution itself says, native plants are vital both to our environment and to our economy, and we need them both to survive and thrive.

Create your own native garden

There are many ways to incorporate native plants into your own yard. You can plant a tree and surround it with native groundcovers. Or swap out some ornamental foundation shrubs for native options that provide nectar for pollinators or berries for birds. Better yet, dig out a big patch of lawn and replace it with a vibrant garden filled with flowering perennials or create a magical woodland garden in a shady spot and watch it come to life.

When you use native plants, focus on planting abundantly and in layers. Use groupings of plants and incorporate plants with different bloom times and varied seasonal interest. Consider what plants will look like at all stages of their life cycle since it is important to leave stems and flower heads standing throughout even the winter months. These simple tips offer the greatest benefits to nature while also helping achieve instant design impact.

Want to learn more about native plants? The Native Plant Trust in nearby Framingham is the nation’s oldest plant conservation organization and a treasured resource for eco-conscious gardeners across New England. The Rhode Island Wild Plant Society focuses on the appreciation, protection, and study of Rhode Island’s native plant community. And Grow Native Massachusetts offers an array of dynamic programming designed to bring their vision that “Every Garden Matters – Every Landscape Counts” to life. Their resource rich website also includes a directory of local spots to purchase native plants.

With these tips in mind make a commitment to celebrate Earth Day every day right in your own backyard.

“Life in the Garden” brings eco-friendly garden tips to you from your neighbors, Cindy and Ed Moura, at Prickly Ed’s Cactus Patch Native Plant Emporium, where they are passionate about helping people realize the essential role everyone can play in supporting life right outside their own doors.

2024 by East Bay Media Group

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.