Guest Blog: Attract Pollinators With These Plants
This is the final installment of Rethinking the Traditional American Lawn, a four-part series by High Country Gardens founder and chief horticulturist, David Salman. Salman also writes The Xeric Gardener. Click here for Part I, Part II and Part III.
News Flash: Dandelions Are Flowers, Too
Villainized by chemical lawn-care companies for decades, these harmless little plants have a greater place in our pollinator-depleted world than ever before, and they’re edible, too.
February 28, 2011
SANTA FE, N.M. — Years of marketing by fertilizer and lawn-care companies have convinced us that the beautiful little dandelion is our mortal enemy; that it’s our duty to create a perfect, weedless green carpet to match the other yards in the neighborhood. To have its cheerful flowers buzzing with honeybees in our spring lawns is to have fallen to the siege. We’ve been shamed by peer pressure into embracing a lawn-care regime that’s expensive, unhealthy to the environment (and ourselves and our pets), energy intensive, carbon generating and counterintuitive to common-sense gardening.
And if the folks at Harvard University can stop using herbicides and pesticides, the rest of us can, too.
In a landmark project undertaken by Harvard to become a carbon-neutral community, the administrators switched to an organic lawn-care program, swearing off the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. The program embraced recycling and composting leaves and lawn clippings for use as fertilizer and compost tea — a foliar spray or soil drench derived from steeping compost in water. In two years, even the skeptics among the staff have had to admit that organic lawn care is nothing short of miraculous. Keystone metrics include reduced water consumption (by 30 percent), an imperiled campus forest restored to health and greener campus lawns now able to withstand the wear and tear of constant use by a hefty student population. When this illuminating New York Times article came out in 2009, 25 acres of the campus had been fully converted to the organic agenda, with Harvard’s groundskeeper, Wayne Carbone, expressing the university’s hope to turn 80 campus acres organic by this year.
Examples like Harvard make the scientific basis and benefits for organic lawn care glaringly undisputable. In light of this, the most important concept we need to shake off is the notion of a “perfect lawn,” because it’s an illusion created by years of propaganda and advertising, a corporate siren calling us to harm in the pursuit of imagined beauty. Dandelions feed our habitat-starved pollinators, and us too. The leaves and roots of these vigorous little beauties are edible, and a little help from epicurious.com makes it clear that, when we wage war on them, we’re just throwing away good food. And if we still can’t learn to appreciate them for their beauty and sustenance, all we have to do is mow them before they go to seed to prevent those fun little puff globes that have enchanted children since time immemorial from blooming.
It’s time to for the country to switch to natural organic lawn care so we can enjoy the benefits of what lawns have to offer. Lawns should be part of a landscape that provides cooling in an overheating world while absorbing rain water and filtering it on its way to recharging our aquifers. And like natural meadows, they should grow under and around the urban forest without being a source of damaging herbicides and harsh chemical fertilizers. Ironically, we’ve forgotten the simple steps necessary for a low-care lawn, having been brainwashed for years into an expensive, high-input chemical war against the imagined enemies of a perfect turf.
Let’s allow our natural pollinator plants to do their work, and let’s help them out by planting a few perennials around them to provide our honeybees with a constant, recurring food source. For some suggestions on perennials offered exclusively from High Country Gardens, read below, and then check out our how-to video for planting them.
Agastache ‘Blue Blazes’: ‘Blue Blazes’ is a large, vigorous hybrid that blooms non-stop from mid-summer into fall, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds with its nectar-rich flowers. While the plant takes two growing seasons to reach its full size, it blooms the first year from planting. Situate it in full sun with well drained soil. Pinching back the plant in late spring keeps it more compact. ‘Blue Blazes’ is an amazing hybrid between our own Agastache ‘Desert Sunrise’ (introduced in 2000) and the blue flowered eastern native Agastache foeniculatum. Bred by Kelly Grummons, owner of Timberline Gardens in Arvada, CO. Special Notes: Pinching back in late spring keeps it compact.
Salvia pachyphylla ‘Blue Flame’ PPAF: ‘Blue Flame’ is a selection of the xeric sub-shrub Giant Purple Sage, chosen for its huge, brightly colored 10-inch-plus flowering spikes. Like a gas flame, the long tubular blue flowers poke through the rose-pink bracts attracting hummingbirds from the entire neighborhood. To help support the huge flower spikes, it’s helpful to pinch back the tips of the new shoots in mid-spring to thicken up the plant. This beauty likes full sun, good air circulation and fast-draining soil conditions. Zones 5-9. Not recommended for fall planting in Zones 5-6.
View our entire catalogue online for more information, and be sure to look at pages 89-98 for alternative suggestions to the traditional American turf lawn. Again, if you haven’t signed up for our e-zine, you’re missing some great deals on waterwise, low-maintenance, gorgeous plants, and spring’s on its way, so there’s no time to wait.
As always, happy lawning! And thanks for reading.