When I was young (a long time ago) Memorial Day was always a big event in our home garden. Memorial Day marked the first frost free weekend and my father and I would go out and buy plants for the flower and vegetable gardens. My father worked in an office, in the city, long hours each day. Then he worked just as hard in the garden on the weekend. He would roto-till the vegetable garden while I weeded the flower beds and planned where the flowers would go. We had lots of flowering trees and shrubs in our small yard. I loved this time together with my father – making everything look great for the summer.
Today our frost free date has moved, it is now May 15th, but Memorial Day weekend is still a busy planting weekend for many people. We have an extra day, the weather is usually pretty nice and it feels great to get out and put our hands in the soil again.
Now, when I garden I think about our place in the ecosystem. I don’t ONLY plant native plants, but I do try to add some natives among my favorite garden flowers at home. Native plants attract native wildlife. If you want to attract a variety of birds to your yard, plant native trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Nurseries often have tags that will identify plants as native now, or offer lists of native plants for bees, butterflies and birds. Surprisingly, many of our New England trees are host plants for caterpillars of many species of butterflies. Oak trees support over 500 species of butterflies and moths. Oaks also provide food for squirrels, chipmunks and turkey. Their branches offer nesting sites for birds (who may also love to eat the butterfly and moth caterpillars).
We may not all have a place to plant a large oak tree, but there are plenty of native shrubs and wildflowers that will encourage wildlife too. Blueberry bushes, deciduous azaleas, hydrangea, winterberry, dogwoods (both shrub and tree), chokeberry, elderberry and viburnum are all great shrubs for the garden. Milkweed, columbine, asters, phlox, foam flower and lupine are wildflowers that do well in our home gardens. So this weekend, when you are buying plants for your home garden – try to find one or two that are native to the northeast (there are non-native varieties of many of the plants I listed too, so take the time to be SURE it is native). Bringing Nature Home, by Doug Tallamy, is a wonderful book that can help to guide your selections why you want to use them. Even better, his website – www.bringingnaturehome.net – will allow you to download lists before you go to the garden center.
Happy Memorial Day!