Make a Survey
Although it is best to have photos of your house and landscape throughout the seasons, start now by photographing your house and yard from several angles. Then print the photos in as large a scale as you can.
The next step is the fun part. Start looking through native-plant catalogs for the plants you want to incorporate. Consider the colors you want to add — when and where. Consider the lines and shapes — height and fullness. Consider the wildlife you want to attract — birds, bees, butterflies. Consider obstructions and distractions — neighboring trees, street lights, sump-pump hoses. And finally, consider the harmony between all these elements in the habitat as you lay your choices on your photos. See the various chapters in the Wild Ones booklet Landscaping with Native Plants on the EPA website.
Making the Plan
When I started to plan my prairie in 1986, I didn’t know what I was doing. In fact, I’m not even certain I understood what was a native plant. I learned about the benefit/necessity of surveying my property from Don Vorpahl. Don was one of the first native-landscape designers in Wisconsin and an early member of Wild Ones. His generosity in sharing what he had learned about the fledgling native-landscaping movement was immensely helpful.
I started developing my yard by surveying my property, and then as I planned to add to my natural landscaping, I updated my design. This gave me better control over what I was trying to achieve, instead of a “willy-nilly plunking in” of plants in our yard. We now have a very large prairie in our backyard (south) and an adjacent woodland in our sideyard (east).
Benefits of Native Landscaping
Where once we had 1-1/3 acres of lawn that took my husband all week to mow because of its soggy nature and Northland Creek’s tendency to overflow, he now has only about an hour of mowing to do.
The rest of our time is spent enjoying the birds, the insects, and the rest of the wildlife that frequents our beautiful yard. We are fortunate to have mature bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) and shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) on our site, so we built our prairie and woodland around them.
But over the past 36 years, the green ash (Fraxius pennsylvanica) have come down, and the dynamics of our prairie will rebound.
In 2020, many native plants sprang up. The yellows, purples, and whites just crept up and filled in the spaces. In 2021, I experienced the native plants “no longer bloom all at once.” They seem to come in the spring, then in the summer, then in the fall, and systemically not all together. (Climate Change Is Moving Things Around) I can’t wait to see how everything turns out this summer.
Where Did We Get the Native Plants?
Many of the prairie and shade plants in our yard came from plant rescues arranged through my Wild Ones chapter, (Fox Valley Area). Other plants came from my chapter’s spring plant sales. Seed for the original planting came from Prairie Nursery. Subsequent overseedings have come from Wild Ones Fox Valley Area Chapter seed exchanges, Stone Silo Prairie Gardens, Prairie Nursery, Wild Ones Fox Valley Area Chapter plant sales — and through the nursery catalogs that have become increasingly more available.
Our backyard prairie hosts many insects, butterflies, birds, raptors, spiders, and a variety of other wildlife such as deer, turkeys, foxes, groundhogs, and opossums.
As we grow older, our landscaping grows older with us. Soon, we may not be able to care for it as well as we do now, but our hope is that it will care for itself when we get to that point. I am also hoping that by then the invasive noxious weeds I’ve written about previously will have ceased to be a problem.
For more information about planting your own naturally landscaped yard, you can also read the book Wild Ones Landscaping with Native Plants on the EPA website.
Kelly Maloney says
Very informative, thanks for sharing. I’m always looking for ways to enhance my landscaping to inspire my paintings!
Donna VanBuecken says
Thanks for your comment, Kelly — Donna