Native plants nurture gardens yet leave plenty of time to enjoy other fall activities


October 08, 1999|By Lourdes Sullivan | Lourdes Sullivan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THIS IS the optimal season to plant, to get a good root system established before winter.

Astute observers may notice a certain homogeneity of vegetation in our area -- a creeping sameness in our gardens. That's not too surprising. We frequently opt for mums, day lilies, peonies, wild roses and other plants that are easy to grow and require little maintenance.

There may be a better way to get spectacular results in our gardens, help the environment and still have time to enjoy the outdoors -- choosing native plants.

Debra Schultz, former president of the Savage Community Association, will talk about "Gardening With Native Plants" from 10: 30 a.m. to 11: 30 a.m. Wednesday at the Savage library.

She'll bring small, potted plants -- probably False Indigo, she thinks -- to give to audience members.

Non-native plants have no natural predators in their adopted environment, and their vigorous growth can crowd out native species. Biodiversity suffers, and, frequently, wildlife cannot adapt to losing its native food supply.

Schultz, a member of the Native Plant Society of America, began her gardening with evergreens.

"I didn't start this way," she says, referring to her native plantings.

A stint as a volunteer at the National Arboretum in Washington changed Schultz's horticultural ambitions, as did a two-year stay in Spain, where her husband was transferred. In Spain, Schultz noticed a variety of flowering plants adapted to the dry environment.

"That's what's really interesting: It's a totally different ecology," she said. You see how some things are circumscribed by their environment." At the arboretum, she found that native plants were easy to propagate and began planting them in her garden.

"Plants won over animals to capture my long-term interest," she said. "They stand still so you can get to them."

Schultz is a bit of an expert now, although she denies it. She acknowledges having favorite non-native plants but tries to keep them contained. One way is by planting annuals.

"I have favorite oddball plants," she says. "I like growing them as annuals, and then you know they're going to die. Then I don't feel I've sinned against the native mantra.

"You know," she adds, laughing, "it's not just botany. It's a religion."

Schultz also acknowledges having an Achilles heel: her front flower border. The bed contains old fill dirt from where the county widened the road in front of her house. The border is also where snowplows deposit snow and dirt.

"It's going to be a surprise what comes up," Schultz says. "I put in some of the tougher herbs, those that like dirt and car exhaust, like lavender."

The dividing line between native and non-native species is somewhat blurry, Schultz says. Some horticulturists argue that any successful new plant is by definition a native plant.

Some non-native plants have been in the Americas for three centuries.

"But I don't want the whole world covered in kudzu," Schultz says, referring to an Asian vine introduced for erosion control in the Southeast and rapidly spreading to Northern states.

Among the most invasive foreign plants in our area is honeysuckle, Schultz said. "Anytime you disturb the ground, you get honeysuckle."

Wisteria can escape its boundaries and sneak into other gardens, too, Schultz said. Indeed, some plants have escaped back yards and appeared in Savage Park, with tree of heaven and Paulina.

Schultz's interest in horticulture is shared by her family. Her sister, Sally McCrea, owns a farm in Pennsylvania. Her sister-in-law, Mary Lou Winder, is a member of the Potomac chapter of the National Herb Society.

Both women joined Schultz at the Savage Community Yard and Craft Sale on Sept. 18.

McCrea brought her favorite llama, Chocolate, who allowed himself to be ridden around the park for a nominal fee.

Winder brought fragrant jewelry made of crushed, pressed rose petals. The necklaces smelled heavenly.

A success

Schultz, who was in charge of renting spaces at the community yard sale, says that sales yielded more than $1,000 for the targeted project: a Savage evergreen. The holiday tree will fill an empty flower bed in front of Carroll Baldwin Hall.

Schultz would like to thank everyone who helped make the day a success.

Myra Phelps brought in trays of mums and pansies for sale. Has anyone noticed how colorful our neighbors' gardens are this fall?

Linda Doran coordinated the bake sale. The pecan pies sold out before 10 a.m.

Bill and Ellen Waff, longtime officers of the Savage Community Association, sold mugs, posters and tote bags -- all bearing the new Savage logo, a colorful print of the town's best architectural features.

The line drawing shows Savage Mill and mill houses, American Legion Hall, Bollman Truss Bridge and Savage United Methodist Church.

Michelle Allen organized the food concession, serving hot dogs through the day. She got the rest of her family involved, too.

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