In my work at Prairie Nursery, I advise customers who are planning their prairies and native gardens to “work with your existing soil conditions” and choose plants that will thrive without amending the soil. “Work with Mother Nature rather than fighting against her!” There are native plants that love that heavy clay, that challenging wet soil, or that dry sandy soil! Satements like these are my daily mantra.
I wish I would have listened to my own advice. My back yard in Neshkoro, WI is situated on an ancient sand dune — cambrian glacial outwash to be exact. My sandy soil is the sandiest of sands: when digging a hole for a plant, the sand collapses back into the hole like I’m digging on a sunny Gulf of Mexico beach!
The seven gardens throughout my yard are home to many natives that thrive on the beach-like soil, but occasionally I am lured toward other more nutrient-loving species, and tempted by the beauty of the loam and clay-loving plants such as Purple Coneflower, Ironweed and Joe Pye Weed. Yes, these plants can survive in my sandy soil, but in order to maintain them I must water them — and I mean water them daily. And if I fail to water them, the leaves droop and lay flat during a hot summer day. These out-of-place specimens grow alongside the happily sited natives that LOVE sandy soils: Lupine, Beardtongue, Rough Blazingstar, Lavender Hyssop, Prairie Smoke, and Showy Goldenrod. These beautiful denizens of dry-land are blithely thriving as if to say “hah, I do not need your soaker hoses, drip irrigation or layers of mulch or compost — I am perfectly content in Sarie’s desert-like backyard!” These plants are at home and delight in the dry sandy soil.
There is a lesson here. I really want the Purple Coneflower, but must choose Pale Purple Coneflower. I lust after Prairie Blazingstar, but must choose Northern Blazingstar, and so on. In other words, I must follow my own advice: work with the soil conditions at hand and do not attempt to manipulate or bend plants to my will.
This is my year to stop the incessant watering, honor the native plants, and acquiesce to Mother Nature. I am, with my husband and head gardener, Wayne, removing the wrongly sited plants. Renovating each bed is an enormous task, but I feel quite strongly, that it must be done. In the end our water bills will be less, our watering time in the garden will be cut, and out in my yard I will hear a the sigh of contentedly growing plants – and I think I hear Mother Nature saying, well done, Sarie, well done.