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Native Plant Garden Styles: Let's Get Messy

March 24, 2020

By: Barb Holtz

Picture your home's junk drawer. We all have one. That place that stuff gets tossed that you neither have the time nor inclination to organize. Sure, once in a while (especially now that were all home more!) we dump it out and find treasure we thought long gone. There is satisfaction in order, a sense of accomplishment and sanity. But I invite you to embrace a titch of disarray, particularly in your garden.

Garden with Clean Mulch BedNative Plant GardenNative Prairie Planting

Of the three pictures above, which draws you in? Which is your outside garden style?

All have merit, but I'm guessing the far right (top) picture ranked low as your yard choice. The affinity for plants in a line or pattern has been deeply ingrained in American yardscape psyche since the 1940s. The first picture (left) exemplifies this plant-mulch-plant-mulch paradigm. Everything in its place, no touching. Again, has merit but it is upkeep and resource heavy. Keeping it clean requires doting, mulch costs money. While mulch cuts down on weeds and evaporation, the sea of mulch mindset doesn't rank high in wildlife friendliness.

The middle photo groups like species but allows plants to touch. Pollinators coast from bloom bunch to bloom bunch easily. No need for continuous mulch spreading (but you can use it to prep the bed) as the plants themselves create soil shade and leave compost material behind in dead leaves and stems. Personally, I like this look. It appeals to both an affinity for order with a little wild side kicked in.

The last photo (right) is truly the poster picture of native. Species blended, creating a tableau of "messy" yet still lovely and approachable. I want to walk in this garden, not simply stand on edge. Birds, bees and butterflies come to do the same as the tall and short, wide and thin jumble gives every kind of nook and cranny to find food, shelter and mate. While most suburbs would not tolerate a prairied-out front lawn, you can find that space in your yard to be messy. No more wallflowers, wander inside and see what you can find.

OPN Seed native seed mixes, in large quantities and small packets (you can create a prairie with 250 square feet!) take the guess work out of designing that untamed spot. All you do is prep the bed and sow. Once established, the perennial grasses and wildflowers appear to the delight of you and winged garden visitors. Sowing a native seed packet is a gift that keeps giving as you give in to messy to elsewhere in your yard. Even to the place with rows and patterns. It's okay to organize, but throw some caution and seed to the wind. Let's get messy and Prairie On!

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