Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Perennials are forever, well, almost. Mowing is a boring, wasteful, and redundant activity. Why burn the time and fossil fuel once or twice per week? I decided a few years ago to install a rain garden filled with native plants. Native perennials are plants that grow naturally in your geographic area. They are more drought and pest tolerant than hybrids or plants brought in from other areas. Once established, the natives require the least amount of maintenance. Thankfully, I learned of the watershed district’s native plant program. Like most Minnesotans, I reside in a watershed district, applied for and was accepted to receive reimbursement for half the cost of supplies (no labor can be reimbursed). Originally I was only going to install a small area but the financial assistance greatly expanded my options. I decided to tear up the entire front and side yards (about 300 square feet).

My lot is twice as long as it is wide and the length runs east west. The short side faces east with the street, sidewalk, and a three-foot wide boulevard. The house sits on the north side of the lot, with the short side facing the street and a detached garage on the south side of the lot. Near the sidewalk, there is a four-foot wide patch on the south side of the lot, hemmed in by the ten-foot wide driveway, which is about fifty-feet long. The sunny part of my lawn is bordered by the house and driveway. There is a short walkway from the front porch to the sidewalk. Due to a boulevard tree, the area is part-shade. The north side of the house is full shade. The backyard is very small.

Education is the most important step. I learned about planting techniques, native plants of the Twin Cities region, and places to procure the plants. I developed a list of plants and grasses. The Extension Service is a reliable source of free information and the local Master Gardner program may offer classes. University of Minnesota has a fabulous website for upper Midwest plants. I knew that I wanted a variety of plants, different colors, heights and blooming times. Learn about sustainable landscape design at

Luckily, there are several nurseries and events around the Twin Cities that focus on native perennials. The Twin Cities Friends Plant Sale in early May also has a good selection visit for details. The Twin Cities Living Green Expo in May offers free workshops. Not all the plants were in stock but at least I knew what I sought when I went shopping. A list of MN nurseries is at You can also check out the Native Plant Expo and Market coordinated by the St. Paul Audubon Society at in June. If you don’t reside in Minnesota, just check with your local Extension Service, they should have a list of resources. It is best to purchase from a local nursery or obtain cuttings from a local gardener rather than ordering from a catalogue.

Of course, talking with an actual gardener is the absolute best method of learning. Drive around your neighborhood and look for an impressive garden. Stop and chat with the gardener, if they aren’t home leave a note. It’s flattering when someone notices. Lots of people wave when they walk by or else say nice things if I’m out in the yard. When sitting on my porch I’ve seen people stop their car and take photos. Most gardeners love to talk about how they created their yard. I like to blog about it.

Preparation is the most tedious part of the process. Turf or regular grass tends to build upon itself and the under layers of thatch don’t absorb much water. I could have just sprayed a general herbicide and killed the grass but the thatch would have impeded the growth of the new plants. The grass and weeds could have started growing if it had not been completely destroyed. Thus, I decided to rip out all the turf. I convinced a bunch of friends to bring their shovels and join me on a lovely spring Saturday to dig dig dig the largest part of the yard, the sunny side. We dug out the entire turf growth, about three to four inches down. The turf was deposited into a pile in my back yard and I bought them pizza. More hands make lighter work.


Think green and greener.
© 2012 Ima B. Musing

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