by Eve Springwood Minson
It’s finally June, and while our showy home gardens provide us with visual enjoyment, there is also a quieter, natural landscape underfoot in the Catskills. Since spring has been cool, the native landscape has been blooming leisurely for weeks, showing us the naturally occurring fruiting and flowering trees! While walking with my dogs the other evening, I was contemplating how few people know their native neighbors or how to integrate the beauty inherent there into their gardens.
Fortunately, garden centers are now selling more natives, so they are not that hard to find. These interesting, rugged and hardy plants tend to get eaten a little less by deer and also endure our harsh weather well. Among native plants there is something happening at every level: ground cover plants like rabbit-ear blueberries, small blooming ephemerals that come and go, magnificent ferns that grow in wet or dry areas, clumping grasses that grow in shade, sun and wetlands, wildflowers, wonderful shrubs with huckleberries abounding, flowering trees like serviceberry or apple trees, and stately canopy trees like maples that give us shade and maple syrup. Pussy willows, Red-Twig Dogwoods, viburnums, winterberries, and more are all around us if we learn how to identify them. All we need is a good field guide, or a knowledgeable friend, and we can get to know a whole new world of plants and how to use them.
More importantly however, native plants provide protective cover and food for our fellow critters producing pollen, berries, nuts and seeds. Birds, bees, butterflies and insects, along with mammals use the meadows, wetlands and forests (and sometimes your gardens) for their forage to survive, but we can also use natives to reduce lawns, create shade, protect our waterways, and even use some medicinally. Using native plants also enhances our regional identity and reminds us we are in the spectacular Catskill Mountains. So, pick up a field guide and head out into the wilderness! I’ll see you there.