|Perennial border at Mottisfont Abbey, UK. Beautiful, but is it environmentally sound?|
I’ve definitely gone Susan’s way. Mine is an ornamental garden. I like flowers, and that’s what motivated me to start my present garden. I started out with the goal of having something blooming from early spring through late fall. But my shady lot wasn’t going to support heavily-blooming perennial borders, so I adjusted my aims. Instead of nonstop bloom, I focused on contrasting leaf textures, sizes and colors, with a few shade-tolerant flowers as accents.
|Hosta flowers bring a bright accent to a shady spot|
When I read Bringing Nature Home and got on board with growing native plants for native insects, my gardening aspirations changed again. Now I’m trying to make a pretty garden that’s also environmentally friendly and hospitable to native insects. Sure, I’ve got a vegetable bed that struggles to produce because of too much shade. But growing food isn’t my primary motivation. It’s making something beautiful.
|Around the garden pond in May|
That doesn’t mean that my fellow ornamental gardeners and I are failing to do our part for the environment, though. Except for providing food for humans, ornamental plants provide the same ecological services as vegetables and fruit trees.
My yard is sequestering carbon in a major way because I’ve got so many big trees at this point. A tall oak, horse chestnut or pine extracts more carbon from the atmosphere than a smaller cherry or apple tree. And although they're not producing edible fruit, my trees modulate temperature, hold water in the air and soil, and prevent erosion. The soil fungi feeding on rotting leaves and wood chips sequester carbon too.
|A horse chestnut provides lots of ecological services|
Beautiful mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and winterberry (Ilex verticillata) foliage cleans the air and converts carbon dioxide to oxygen for us to breathe just as well as utilitarian leaves of corn or tomato plants would.
|Mountain laurel offers beauty and much more|
My berm of ornamental trees and shrubs—white pine (Pinus strobus), Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens), Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia), and mixed juniper and arborvitae shrubs (Juniperus and Thuja spp)--prevents stormwater runoff effectively even though I didn’t plant them for that purpose.
|The berm in November|
Rain percolates into the soil at their feet, replenishing groundwater instead of carrying debris and chemicals into storm drains and the nearby Charles River.
Growing a mix of ornamental native plants and imports promotes biodiversity, providing food and shelter for animals, from insects on up. If I only cultivated a vegetable garden, they’d find less support in the yard. As I add more native milkweeds (Asclepias spp), garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), and other flowering plants that feed insects, lots of pollinators and beneficial insects show up to collect nectar and pollen and lay eggs where their caterpillars will find the right food.
|A monarch on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)|
Yeah, I’m an ornamental gardener. Want to make something of it?