By Cindy Gilberg
On a typical day in the Whitmire Wildflower Garden, butterflies sip nectar, birds devour seeds and berries, bees buzz, dragonflies dart and hummingbirds nest. Native grasses and flowers sway in the breeze – a visual symphony of colors and textures. Established natural landscapes such as these thrive with only the lightest touch of the gardener’s hand.
Has your curiosity been piqued? Want to explore further and learn more? Adding native plants into your existing landscape or converting to a low maintenance native landscape is a natural choice (forgive the pun!). Discover what will work for you by doing a little research.
One of the first stops in your quest for inspiration should be a walk through some of St. Louis’s native plant gardens. There are numerous destinations within an hour’s drive of St. Louis. For example, check out Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center (Kirkwood), a part of the Missouri Department of Conservation. The small native garden in front of the Visitor’s Center is full of native plants that bloom throughout the season. When you visit the Missouri Botanical Garden, seek out the Native Plant Garden near the Kemper Center for Home Gardening. The EarthWays House (in St Louis City) and the Butterfly House (West St Louis County) both have gardens that are predominantly native plants.
Shaw Nature Reserve (part of Missouri Botanical Garden) located in Gray Summit, MO, is home to the Whitmire Wildflower Garden. Meandering pathways lead visitors through various examples of natural landscaping. Another St Louis destination is The Green Center in University City. It boasts a prairie garden, woodland garden, a wetland and a Missouri Endemics Garden.
Be sure to visit some or all of these public gardens throughout the year to be in tune with what blooms or is attractive in different seasons. You can gain not only insight into what groups of plants typically flower together but different design styles as well.
An excellent source of information is the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Grow Native program. Peruse the Grow Native website, for landscaping ideas, detailed descriptions and photos of native plants. There is also a directory of nursery sources for native plants and seeds.
Another website that offers information about native plants is the MBG Kemper Center PlantFinder. In addition, browse the Plants of Merit section of the website, for it includes numerous native plants.
Now in its third year, Shaw Nature Reserve’s Native Plant School is worth looking into as a resource for hands-on learning sessions about native landscaping. This year’s topics include rain-gardening, birdscaping, prairie reconstruction, propagation and container gardening. Each class covers a specific concept that is in-depth and conducted in an informal setting (outside as much as possible!). More information and schedules can be found at Native Plant School.
Wild Ones is a national organization with a local St Louis chapter that promotes the use of native plants in the landscape, provides education and focuses on preserving the biodiversity of our natural habitats. They host an annual tour, in addition to monthly visits, of local native plant landscapes. Their newsletter provides information and ideas on native gardening, includes an events calendar and many other native plant resources.
So begin your adventure – you will be rewarded with a whole new outlook on landscaping and the natural world around us.
Cindy Gilberg, horticulturist and Missouri native, founded and ran the garden center at Gilberg Perennial Farms with her husband Doug for 28 years, also teaching classes and workshops on gardening and garden design. She now focuses on garden design, consulting and teaching, and also works part-time in the Whitmire Wildflower Garden at Shaw Nature Reserve, emphasizing the use of native plants in home landscaping.