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A Yard in Harmony with Nature

by Chris Cain
June 22, 2019

Recently Mark Ahronian, among many other things a MA Certified Horticulturist, and his daughter Amber Rose Ahronian gave a presentation to the MA Horticultural Society.

The topic was “Xeriscaping in the Northeast.”  If you are not a horticulturalist, or like me a ‘Darwinian Gardener’ - put it in the ground and if it survives it’s the fittest, the technical term xeriscape might be intimidating.  Yvette and I set up a time to interview Mark and Amber about their presentation.

Amber, a graduate of Dartmouth College with a degree in Environmental Science and employed as an environmental consultant for ICF International, was very kind to indulge this primitive New England vegetable farmer as she explained the fundamental principle of xeriscape – harmonize the plantings in our yards with Mother Nature.

Mark explained that lush green grass which we all crave needs a lot of care and water.  He shared that most yards have some ‘microclimates.’  We know them as shady areas, wet sections, steep slopes, etc.  Each microclimate has plants, shrubs, and trees that are naturally good at thriving in those conditions.  Lest you must have a lawn, plant the grass where it makes the most sense in your yard.

Also, by planting native plants that succeed in our microclimates, we are inviting our native pollinators to prosper along with our plants.  Our native bees have a lifecycle that has, over many years, evolved to coincide with the blossoms of our local flora.

Amber frequently used the term ‘inputs.’  Inputs are all the watering, pruning, thinning, fertilizing, and mowing we do to support our plantings.  Choosing plantings that are in harmony with nature reduces our ‘inputs’ and increases the sustainability of our plants.  To me that sounds like less maintenance and more beauty.

A very hot topic these days in our world is preserving our environment and the precious resources that make the ecosystems work.  Green plants make oxygen and consume carbon dioxide.  If we own a patch of land, we can do our part to increase the amount of ‘green space’ in our world.

Clean water is essential for our survival.  ‘Grey’ water (not potable – like rain barrels) can be used for plant survival.  Many native xeriscape plants (like most plants), require more watering following transplanting and over time can ‘fend for themselves’ on the normal amount of rainfall.  No need to put a strain on our reservoirs – let the plants do the work they have evolved to do.  Mulching and composting help to retain the rainfall in the soil near the roots.

The bottom line is – put the right plant(s) in the right spot(s) and just give them a little help to get started.  Less work for us, more oxygen for our air, less clean water consumed, and happy pollinators.   Through our discussion, I learned that xeriscape sounds complex, yet makes tremendous common sense.  Thanks to Mark and Amber’s insights we will be planting water loving Blueberry bushes in the wet sections of our yard.

P.S. I learned one more important tip – pruning and fertilizer encourages growth (that part I knew) – AND increases the amount of water the growing plant needs.  Time these activities when rainfall will support the desired growth.  Who knew?!

 

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