First installation of 2020!

What a treat to have already installed a garden this season! These native plants will thrive, and as spring comes and the soil warms, their roots will go deep.

It is exciting that this back yard gets quite a bit of sun. The plantings were composed to create privacy for the hammock, a great home for a new Oak tree, support for #birdsbeesandbutterflies and such. Though the plants are protected from rabbits now by a mesh fence, we anticipate this garden will be tough enough to co-exist and feed the bunnies after the plants establish (but that will depend a little on the hawks).

Most of the plants were installed as “plugs” – very small handfuls of dirt and roots. This gives them the chance to establish quickly in their new home. During the first year or two the plants will put most of their energy into sending out roots. Some of these plants can have root systems that go 8 to 12 feet deep! By year two and three, the plantings will start to really express their structure. The matrix areas will share, intertwine, and co-create throughout the seasons. The larger, more “wow” plants, like the Silphiums and Liatris will make great eye-catchers while other tall and full prairie plants create some privacy.

The shade matrix area includes two to three species of sedges, maybe more. Interplanted in them are Phlox, some Allegheny Spurge I wanted to try having seen it coated in pollinators at a property in St. Charles last spring, and some other plants. There are three species of Penstemon interplanted in this garden. The locations were chosen based on the anticipated sunlight. Penstemon is a reliable, “well-behaved” genus, and the plants are lovely, flowering for quite a long time. Some species are quite early, and some start later but continue flowering for many weeks.

Panicum virgatum and a couple species of Joe Pye Weed will help providing privacy. Several Lindera benzoin, Northern Spice Bush, will provide swallowtail habitat, and smell delicious! Hand pruning will keep them from getting to large. There is a nice place to put the hammock stand next to the Oak, and watch the bird bath. Once the plants grow and flower, one could spend all afternoon watching the pollinators, and in the fall, watching the birds collect seeds.

There should be an array of pollinators on the Vernonia fasciculata, Ironweed. There is plenty of Asclepias, or milkweed, also. Helenium autumnale is a rubust and gorgeous performer. This plant will likely grow large fairly quickly, but after a few years decide to move to a different location. Remember, Nature can’t be tamed or controlled, just observed, guided and nudged.

Another favorite plant to provide quick size and many flowers in this type of soils is Solidago speciosa. Here is a picture of it in Wisconsin loaded with butterflies. It is one of my very favorite plants. In the Wisconsin Sand Barrens, it is small. I have also seen it in large colonies. Here is a great picture of a single plant.

There is an elderberry and a serviceberry that will provide delicious berries – as long as you beat the birds to them!

To help screen the view of the garages in the back of the lot, several plant types were intermixed to provide a naturalistic screen and a sense of depth. We wanted this to be effective reasonably quickly, but within budget. There are also overhead powerlines. Five Rhus typhina are carefully located back there, and in a few years will be quite noticeable, especially in the fall when they turn glorious red-orange. Over time, it will take some strategic pruning and guiding to keep these plants proper in size and shape for the job they are being asked to do, but this is part of the fun. I even imagine walking below their canopy or sitting on a chair in their shade in a few years, hidden from the outside world.

This is a good time to talk a little about how gardens are never stagnant or stationary. The garden is ruled by Nature, and She is always evolving. Stewardship Gardening is the term I use to describe the kind of insight, planning, and work that goes into keeping the determined (even evolving) aesthetic strong in a designed landscape, even as it evolves over time. This work also allows the ecological value of the landscape to be. This is a big discussion, and I think there might be a post here somewhere that talks about it a little….. …to be continued another time

Thank you!


All plants used in this landscape are indicated as being native to Illinois except the Allegheny Spurge which tends to be from farther east, and the Amelanchier, which is a cultivar, and the two Thuja cultivars. No other cultivars, and no exotic plants were used.

Published by Alexia Landscape Architect; Re-Ecology LTD

Designing with systems, both natural and man-made, in mind, with a careful consideration of stewardship and maintenance, will go far in creating a sustainable design.

2 thoughts on “First installation of 2020!

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