The Evolution of a Gardener
By Lynn O’Shaughnessy
Does the following sound familiar? You go to the garden center to pick up some plants for your garden. The plant with big flashy flowers calls to you. You put it in your cart. Then you discover that it comes in several different colors! You put one of each color in your cart. You take them home to plant not really knowing where they will go…but you loved them and will find a place for them somewhere.
Or how about this? You go to the garden center and pick up several trays of annuals because they bloom all summer long and you want continuous color in certain areas of your gardens.
Well, this was me up until 2018. That was the year I applied for the Monarch Waystation designation. I enjoyed raising Monarch caterpillars as a kid and this spoke to me to see what I could do now to provide for them. The application said that I should have at least the equivalent of 100 square feet of host and nectar plants for the Monarch (only 10’ x 10’) and the plants could be spread about in my gardens. It also gave me a list of plants I should have and could select from, most of which were native. Of course, Milkweed was definitely needed as a host plant for the caterpillars. I only had one Butterfly Weed plant, so I added two Swamp Milkweed. I already had a few of the nectar plants, but I went ahead and added some more Bee Balm, Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan and Phlox. I also went out and bought some Zinnia and Cosmos, that were on the list. I had no idea what was about to happen next.
That summer I saw butterflies! I had not paid much attention to the wildlife in my garden up until then, but now I realized that because of my plant choices, I didn’t have any butterflies! I had a few bees, but only on certain plants. It was then that I decided if I gardened with a purpose, I could not only have a pretty garden, I could also help the pollinators. I was hooked! I wanted to attract more pollinators and figured that native plants would be the answer.
In 2019, I started the construction of a 100 foot diameter geometric circle design garden that would be home to only Michigan native plants for pollinators. The construction was completed almost one year later in July of 2020. I knew I would need lots of plants to fill this garden, so I did lots of reading on how to grow native plants and began growing my own native plants from seed. What a joy this garden was to create, a beautiful garden with the added bonus knowing I am doing my part in restoring biodiversity. This project gave me the opportunity to learn more about native plants and I realized that my work with the Monarchs was only partway there. I know now that what I really want going forward are true native plants and not hybrids, cultivars or nativars.
This year I will be revamping my extensive shade gardens. I had never thought I could attract pollinators in my shade gardens either…but then again, I never considered native plants up until now.
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