Originally published in Castine Patriot, October 3, 2019 and The Weekly Packet, October 3, 2019 and Island Ad-Vantages, September 26, 2019
Why go native? Wild Seed Project has the answers
Gardeners talk with Wild Seed Project founder Heather McCargo, at right, and browse Wild Seed Magazine issues and native plant information.
by Anne Berleant
Why fill all or part of your garden with native plants? Heather McCargo, a past Brooksville resident and founder and executive director of the Portland nonprofit Wild Seed Project, listed the reasons.
“Our native plants are beautiful and deserving, and crucial to our ecosystem,” she told a well-attended Castine Garden Club talk at Hutchins Education Center in September.
McCargo outlined the ways and means of planting suitable native flowers, trees and ground covers without changing a garden or its soil, listing varieties that thrive in sand, gravel, wet ground and shade.
“I get very upset when people say nothing grows in the shade except hostas and mulch,” McCargo said.
All the native plant varieties she listed—blue burbane, blue flag iris, rose or swamp milkweed, purple flowering raspberry, pussy willows, hay-scented fern were just a few—attract bees and butterflies, pollinators essential to our ecosystem.
McCargo shared a range of ways to add native plants to gardens, lawns and more urban areas. Going native can mean simply using native groundcovers. For small, shady spots, she suggested bloodroot, red columbine and wild geranium. For acidic soil, pine, spruce and fir are native trees that will thrive, while smaller bushes and plants include wild strawberry, bunchberry, Canada mayflower and lowbush blueberry.
“It’s really important in our landscape to include a lot of trees and shrubs,” McCargo said. “[They] provide a lot of habitat for a lot of different creatures.”
Fruit trees, in particular, are important for migrating birds, while the fruits of native dogwoods and viburnums are high in protein. Non-native trees feed migrating birds in other regions but not here, McCargo said.
“Most of our garden plants and lawns do nothing for biodiversity,” she said. “Just start by adding native plants.”
McCargo also explained that fields should be mowed in late fall, not midsummer, which is like clear cutting for the insect and bird population. She suggested mowing a path as a meadow grows tall, to walk through and enjoy biodiversity first hand.
In more urban landscapes, planting native flowers around street trees or creating native plant flower boxes “are something we all can do.”
Adding native plants to the garden not only feeds birds and pollinators but will help keep those plant species from dwindling. “We need to be proactive, because all our native species are retreating,” McCargo warned. “When you isolate [plant] populations, over time they lose diversity, then [we] lose the species.”
McCargo collects wild native seeds in November, offered for sale at wildseedproject.net, which also hosts her blog, and she sells copies of Wild Seed Magazine, which has membership information and contains lots of information on native plants.
Maine has undergone a major loss of its native plant population since the late 1970s and early 1980s, McCargo said. “We need lots of people caring, and lots of people taking action. They are beautiful and will start making a difference in your neighborhood.”
She added, “To be natural, you can’t just do nothing anymore.”