Bending to Mother Nature’s Will

In my work at Prairie Nursery, I advise customers when planning their prairies and gardens using native plants to “work with your soil conditions”, install plants in your garden that will like living in your soil without the need to amend the soil with compost.  “Work with Mother Nature rather than fighting against Mother Nature!”  “Conquer your soil conditions using native plants that love living in that horrible clay, challenging wet soil or dry sandy soil!”  These statements are my mantra.

I wish I would have listened to my own advice.   My back yard in Crystal LakeTownship,Neshkoro,WI is situated on an ancient sand dune (Cambrian Glacial outwash to be exact!).  My sandy soil is the worst kind of sand; just imagine installing plants in a garden when digging a hole for a plant, the sand filters/collapses into the hole like I’m digging on a sunny Gulf of Mexico beach!

In my seven gardens throughout my yard, I incorporate many plants that will thrive on my sandy-beach soil, but occasionally I am lured to the dark side…..lured by the late spring plant sales in Prairie Nursery retail store each June, tempted by the blooms of loam and clay loving specimens such as Purple Coneflower, Ironweed, Joe Pye Weed, Prairie Blazingstar, Wild Quinine and Orange Coneflower.  These plants will survive in my sandy soil, but in order to maintain them I must water them; and I mean water daily, and if I fail to water them, the leaves droop and lay flat after a hot July day.

Growing nearby these out of place plants are the more than slightly smug natives that LOVE sandy soils; plants that include Lupine, Beardtongue, Dense Blazingstar, Lavender Hyssop, Prairie Smoke, Hoary Vervain, Showy Goldenrod and Brown Eyed Susan.  These beautiful denizens of dry-land are blithely thriving as if to say “hah, I do not need your soaker hoses, drip irrigation or extra layers of mulch and compost, I need none of these, and I am perfectly content in Sarie’s desert-like backyard!”  These plants delight in their drought tolerance.

There is a lesson here is a hard one, as 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, follow my own advice; work with your soil conditions.  Do not attempt to manipulate or bend plants to my will, as the plants have attested, they are not content in my manipulations.

This is my year to bow down to the native plants, stop the incessant watering and bend to Mother Nature’s will. I am (as we speak) with my partner and head gardener, husband Wayne removing them.  Renovating each bed is an enormous task, but I feel quite strongly, that I must.  In the end our water bills will be less, our watering time in the garden will be cut, and somewhere in the great outside in my yard, I will hear a sigh….and yes, that is the faint sigh of contently growing plants, and I think I hear Mother Nature saying, well done, Sarie, well done.


  1. MrILoveTheAnts

    I have always wanted to grow Lupinus perennis but alas I’m on several feet of clay soil that turns as hard as cement every summer. I’m tempted to just build a sand box at this point.

    1. sarie (Post author)

      Hello MrILoveTheAnts,

      Thanks for your comment! Lupine are certainly beautiful plants, however as I mentioned in my post, these dry site specialists like to live in a sandy soil. You will likely have difficulty using these plants in your clay soil, even amending it with sand. As mentioned in my post, working with the plants that love your soil is the best course of action. I would suggest using Blue False Indigo, a great legume for clay soils! Here are our top 10 plants for Clay soils:

      Butterflyweed for Clay
      New England Aster
      Sweet Black Eyed Susan
      Blue Vervain
      Blue False Indigo
      Prairie Blazingstar
      Smooth Penstemon
      Brown Eyed Susan

      Enjoy your time in the garden this summer!

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