October 2010

Native plants, wildlife key to ecosystem gardening

November 6, 2010
American goldfinches feed on the seeds of coneflowers throughout the year in Indiana.

American goldfinches feed on the seeds of coneflowers throughout the year in Indiana. (C)

Build it and they will come, says landscape designer Carole Brown.

But she’s not talking baseball. She’s talking bugs, birds and other wildlife.

“When we choose to do something to help wildlife, the impact can be almost immediate,” said Brown of Philadelphia, who has been designing, installing and maintaining wildlife gardens for 20 years.

Brown is one of the keynote speakers at the Indiana Native Plant and Wildlife Society’s annual conference Nov. 6 at the University of Indianapolis. This year’s theme: Conserving Biodiversity with Native Plants.

When we hear about saving whales, rainforests and polar bears, we frequently feel inadequate to make a real difference, she said.

Gardeners who incorporate native plants in the landscape are at the forefront of making a difference, she said. “It’s not as overwhelming as trying to save something as huge as the rainforest. It has immediate, positive results, and we are contributing. That’s a good feeling.”

The lack of plant diversity — a landscape of yews and lawn, for instance — contributes to the decline of native wildlife. “With our zeal for constant development, we have simply left no place for wildlife to go,” Brown said in an interview. Her book, Ecosystem Gardening is due to be released later this fall.

Simply stated, the more native plants we have in our gardens, the more wildlife we will have. “So, to that end, one native plant is good. Three of that same plant is better,” she said.

For Brown, every plant selected for landscapes is planted with the needs of wildlife as a top priority. “I am fully aware that many gardeners are not yet ready to make that commitment, but I’ve been saying for years, that if everyone of us did just one positive thing for wildlife in our gardens, the cumulative effect would be enormous.”