New York Native Plant Landscaping
To schedule a visit or tour of the Armstrong educational gardens for yourself or a group, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 914-205-3533.
The objective of the native plant gardens at the Armstrong Education Center is to promote the conservation of habitats that foster and protect native biodiversity. Our native plant gardens contain only native species obtained from local sources with a verified genetic lineage in order to help preserve local genotypes.
Invasive species threaten native plants, animals and ecosystem resiliency and lead to a decrease in overall species diversity within the area. There is a consensus among land conservation groups that in order to protect and preserve native biodiversity it is necessary to directly manage and maintain native plant species as habitat for wildlife.
Removal efforts of invasive species must be paired with strategies to promote the reestablishment of native plants. Disturbed soil is rapidly colonized by invasive, non-native species, so all newly planted zones and their surrounding areas have to be monitored and weeded to prevent their reestablishment. Additionally, fencing around young and newly planted native species is often required to protect them from deer, which enjoy browsing many of our native plants.
Habitat management and native plant restoration help to control and prevent infestation by invasive plant species, which aides in promoting greater overall species diversity within the ecosystem, as well as increasing the ecosystem’s resiliency to outside shocks or disturbances.
Through our native plant gardens we are building awareness and helping to change behavior in regards to landscaping and native plant restoration. This is imperative in achieving the long-term success of functioning native ecosystems, of which our backyards and preserved lands are an integral part.
In many home gardens, landowners choose to use domesticated plants from other parts of the world. Many of the invasive plants that currently alter our ecosystems started their tenure in North America this way – they were shipped in from afar and sold in a nursery. These plants eventually escaped domestication and initiated wild populations, which now spread to the detriment of our local native plants.
With the assistance of our summer 2014 student interns and volunteers, several of our gardens were ready for end-of-summer planting. As there are wonderful web-based sources for reference, we offer on these pages a series of templates along with a simple model of the process of establishing a native plant garden that is both visually and sensually appealing throughout the four seasons and plays an important role in stewarding the wildlife in our yards and surrounding landscape.
Designing Your New York Native Plant Garden
Step #1 Site Analysis and Site Inventory
The purpose of this analysis and inventory is to document the current conditions of a site and to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the site from a design perspective. Included are the following steps:
- Determining the soil type and condition.
- Assessing light conditions and changes in light through the seasons.
- Determining the existing structures, trees, and perennial plantings that cast shade and provide backdrops.
- Assessing the presence/absence of wildlife species, either plant or animal.
After conducting this analysis, we found our soils tended not to have a have large amount of clay and therefore we needed to use plants that did well in dryer soils as more sandy or loamy soils (less clay) drain water more rapidly. We also found the proposed planting locations varied in the amount of light they received. Therefore, we designed two relatively common garden types. The first is dry with part sun and part shade and the second is dry with partial sun all day long. Both these garden designs seen below can be used to create wonderfully enticing native plant sanctuaries on your own property.
Step #2 Mapping
Site analysis and inventory go hand-in-hand with mapping which is something all landscape designers do when they begin a project. Start with pencil, paper, and a measuring tape, or use one of the many digital mapping tools available. Aerial photos can be obtained from Google Earth (natural color, taken during the growing season) or Bing Maps (natural color, taken during the winter). Microsoft’s PowerPoint and Paint programs can help you to add text and other details to maps without investing in more expensive and technical programs.
Our summer 2014 Intern, Tuddy D. used the free program Google Sketchup (in conjunction with Google Earth) to map the contour lines of the topography around Armstrong House. She notes that this is only really useful if the site or surrounding area is very sloped, spanning multiple contour lines. She incorporated this information into Adobe Illustrator to produce a general map of the Armstrong House landscape.
Step #3 Plant Selection
The key to successful low-maintenance gardening is to grow plants that thrive in existing conditions. As said previously, limiting plants we select to known varieties that have evolved locally is best in order to protect local genotypes. Be sure not to dig up plants from the wild and know that seed collection can be detrimental if more than 10% of a plant’s seed is collected.
Native Plant Garden Design Ideas
The diagram below shows the layout of the Armstrong Education Center’s sun and shade garden at the time of initial planting in 2014. In this layout, the sun hits the left side of the garden and a tree canopy covers the eastern side. The garden sits above a rock ledge and is permanently fenced to protect the plants from deer.
This native plant garden grows in a partly sunny and dry location and harbors plants that are not especially favored by deer. The garden is fenced temporarily, until the tender young plants become established and can withstand some deer browse.
We have included here Armstrong Education Center’s Native Plant List as a work in progress. We will be updating it periodically as it documents trees, understory shrubs, herbaceous plants, grasses, and ferns and although not all-inclusive, it does contains plants documented at the Armstrong Preserve as well as those selected for planting because of their particular value to wildlife or their former local abundance. Habitat categories are identified generally. Propagation guidelines are also available upon request.
Books we recommend:
Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening & Conservation by Donald J. Leopold
Planting Noah’s Garden, Further Adventures in Backyard Ecology by Sara Stein
Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East by Carolyn Summers
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Douglas Tallamy
Rain gardens. The best material we’ve found is through one of our local, native garden centers. See: earthtonesnatives.com/digging-deeper/rain-gardens/
For Native Plant Material: earthtonesnatives.com
The Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College: sunywcc.edu/about/npc/
Native Plant List: Native Plant List for New York, Pennsylvania and Northern New Jersey: plantnative.org
Consider a visit to the Native Plant Garden at the New York Botanical Garden: nybg.org