Serendipity Gardens: Become better stewards of the land

Published 9:00 am Saturday, December 8, 2018

Serendipity Gardens by Carol Hegel Lang

Carol Hegel Lang is a green thumb residing in Albert Lea. Her column appears biweekly. Email her at

Have you ever asked yourself why is native landscaping important in my gardens? Over the last five years I have tried to add a few more natives every year. Take it from me, I have seen the benefits firsthand of going this way. Reduced water, energy and chemical usage, wildlife habitat enhancement and invasive weed management are just a few reasons to go native.

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For me, lower water usage and increased survival of plants along with reduced use of chemicals was what made me decide to go native. Increasing the wildlife in my gardens and less yard that required mowing were also huge perks. Turf is the highest water-user and requires the most maintenance time, so why not eliminate some of the grass? Once plants are established, they need only minimal water to keep them healthy and growing.

Now let’s get rid of this misconception that if you incorporate native plants your landscape is going to look wild and unkempt. If you drive around Albert Lea next spring and visit the parks and Albert Lea High School, you will be able to view the native plantings that have been done in these small gardens over the past few years. They are anything but wild and unkempt. Now take a drive over to Brookside Park and take a walk on the trail and visit the pollinator park we planted in 2017. Notice how this planting differs from the others as this is a native planting of 1.4 acres and you will see no grass planted in this area that is to be mowed except along the trail. Is it wild — yes, to a degree it certainly is — but you are not going to plant your gardens like this one is planted, where there is no space between the individual plants. This garden is strictly for the pollinators’ use.

In my gardens, planted next to the natives are annuals like zinnias and cosmos, perennials like daylilies, lilies and hosta. Add a mix of shrubs and trees, and now I am adding natives of both of these to go right along with the spruce, pines and oaks. This year I added chokecherry and dwarf cherry, and hopefully next spring I will add serviceberry to the mix. I didn’t take out the old things in the gardens, but instead I added to them and will continue to do the same every year.

The loss of habitat for birds, butterflies, pollinators and an array of wildlife has me very concerned of what we will have in another 20 years to keep this balance of nature going. Wildlife normally require more than one habitat to thrive, so by including native plants, trees and shrubs along with what you already have in your landscape, you are increasing their chances of survival. Plant a wide variety of plants in your landscape with different bloom times and remember that you need to create a multitude of heights for plants, shrubs and trees to fill the requirements of all the wildlife that visit your gardens.

Each individual species needs something unique just to them from groundcovers, nectar plants, varying heights of tree and shrubs canopies so they have a refuge from predators and weather as well as a source of water. If you provide all of this, you will be a steward of the earth.

We all need to become better stewards of the land, and we can start by not using chemicals to help prevent the runoff that affects our lake and streams and killing our pollinators. Those dandelions you spray are one of the earliest sources of nectar for bees coming out of hibernation. What do you want to leave to your children and grandchildren? Think about that when you spray chemicals that not only kill our pollinators, but also have carcinogens in them that cause cancer in humans.

“The way a crow shook down on me the dust of snow from a hemlock tree has given my heart a change of mood and saved some part of a day I had rued.” — Robert Frost