October 28, 2015: Native Landscaping with Neighbors in Mind

~by Virginia Anson Rhys, OFS

My husband affectionately dubbed it my weed garden. Two years of careful planning and cultivating my prairie area, and it was dubbed my weed garden.

Yet to many people, that is likely what it was. Some native plants are seen as weeds. Milkweed is a prime example. Although critical to the Monarch butterfly, it is frequently eradicated. But I digress.

Modern suburbia typically does not recognize the aesthetic beauty of native plants. Well-intentioned neighbors may caution you that city ordinance does not allow weeds to grow unrestrained in city lots. Most people are not familiar with the concept of landscaping for wildlife. To humans, native plants are weeds. But to wildlife, they are not. To wildlife, they are shelter and sustenance.

There are steps, however, that you can take to gently accustom reluctant neighbors to the potential new look of your yard. Subtly educate. Not classroom style. Just tactfully discuss your plans with your neighbors. Perhaps show pictures of the native plants you intend to grow in full bloom. Help your neighbor realize the benefit of native plants to wildlife and to the neighborhood.

Butterflies, for one, are much wanted and appreciated visitors in suburbia. Neighbors would likely welcome landscaping that attracts them. Likewise, hummingbirds and dragonflies.

Enticing neighbors to your native garden really starts in the planning stage. Plan your native area carefully ahead of time. Well planned curves and angles give definite form and interest that masks the perceived wildness of your “weed” garden.

When you are ready to break ground, perhaps starting with a small section would help your neighbor get used to the new look of your yard. Grow your native garden in baby steps. Neighbors should transition gradually, and baby steps creation of your garden will not overwhelm you.

Plant clumps of colorful, native, wildlife-attracting flowers. Though nature may be a tad more random in her design, we are, after all, humans who have become accustomed to clumps of color. And we are trying to help wildlife without offending or alienating our neighbors or having them think us daft.

Borders provide a pleasing frame for a garden. Perhaps a short decorative fence outlining the circumference. Or decorative bricks framing the garden.

Paths, especially if your prairie garden morphs beyond your original dream, are a must. Human animals need a place to meander and drink in the sights, smells, and sounds of your native garden. Natural paths, perhaps of crushed stone, wood chips, or stepping stones, would blend well with the native ambiance.

Create a pleasing look and don’t ignore the human. Your native garden isn’t, by all means, just for wildlife. You must build in space for yourself within. A bench. Yes, a bench. One must have a place to sit enveloped within the nature that surrounds. And, just maybe, a small, round table for sipping a bit of tea or partaking of a light snack.

A natural looking water feature adds a delightful sparkle to a garden, with the added bonus of providing an essential element for God’s creatures.

A bird feeder or two, a butterfly house, a bird’s nest, a bird bath will cement the appeal of your garden. They should confirm to your neighbor that the prairie garden is a pleasing addition to your yard.

Nature themed statues add the jewelry—and just maybe a bit of whimsy—to a native garden. Might just give your neighbor a needed chuckle. Don’t overdo, but have fun with this element. Stone mushrooms or gnomes. Statues of wee fairy folk. Could be you will attract pixies and nymphs to visit. A statue of St. Francis, lover of God’s creation, graces my garden.

Lest we neglect the entrance to the garden, an attractive, natural arch would invite. If it were also trellis-like, a trumpet vine or honeysuckle vine would dress it while attracting hummingbirds and butterflies and adding an ever so sweet fragrance.

As a final touch, add a small sign to your garden—likely the sign designating it as a back yard habitat registered with the National Wildlife Federation.

Landscaping for wildlife is so very pleasing and oh so necessary. A native garden can be a beautiful addition to your yard. With the proper planning and care, neighbors will eventually warm up to your native garden—hopefully sooner rather than later. The steps you have taken will ease their transition.

Do keep your neighbors in mind. Recognize the rights of others. People need to be accepted where and as they are. Realize, too, that your neighbor has the right NOT to plant native. And that is okay. Don’t become a self-righteous natural landscaper. It will turn others off and won’t convert them to the desire to plant for animals. Example works wonders. Invite your neighbor over to sit in your native garden and enjoy the peace and nature.

With a few extra features, your native garden will cease to resemble a wild area, a “weed” garden. It may even rival the more exotic garden types.

For more information, you may peruse The National Wildlife Federation and the Wild Ones websites.


Virginia Anson grew up in the shadows of Sandia Crest in New Mexico. Family camping trips may have sparked her passion for nature. She holds an A.S. in Electronics Technology, a B.A. in Writing, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and a certificate in Wildlife/Forestry Conservation. Her book, Mother Earth’s Caretakers, targets middle school youngsters and is published as an e-book for Kindle. Virginia is a Vietnam Era veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and her volunteer endeavors see her as a lector, Eucharistic minister, and sacristan in her parish and as a habitat steward for the National Wildlife Federation. She especially cherishes her life in the Secular Franciscan Order, following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.


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