“I know my limitations,” Amy Jedlicka says. Growing up, her Japanese mother was always the gardener in the family. While helping her, Jedlicka was as likely to pull a precious perennial as she was a weed.
The busy real estate attorney hasn’t made much progress since then, but when she purchased a house on Lake Wononscopomuc in northwestern Connecticut in 2012, she had a clear vision for her acre plot. With the help of ecological landscape designer Larry Weaner, she’s realized it.
Jedlicka’s main wish was to bring wildness back into her traditionally landscaped yard, and to get rid of her manicured lawn, with its fertilizer- and herbicide-laced runoff. (Lawns are often major polluters of lakes.)
Weaner’s solution was to cultivate a garden full of native plants: species that have evolved locally and typically require less water and fertilizer — and are more resistant to pests — than non-natives. They’re also more apt to handle extremes in weather, like drought and freezing winters.
From a personal standpoint, Jedlicka wanted to wander into nature without leaving her property. Why drive to take a walk?
Weaner’s design philosophy goes beyond just growing natives. He takes a holistic approach, grouping plantings into communities that grow well together and thrive in an area’s topography, soil, microclimate and eco-region. (He isn’t a purist, though. He did keep a few existing exotics on Jedlicka’s property that he thought would do well.)
Then he lets things evolve in a managed way: Plants reseed, expanding and finding new homes, and durable, slow-growing trees, shrubs and perennials live among faster-growing ones so that varieties can pop up at different times.
The garden’s storybook terrain also includes a micromeadow, a flowering woodland and a small orchard, and the blooms along the path connecting them change from week to week. Weaner also indulged Jedlicka’s love of foraging edibles. He mixed in self-reliant offerings like asparagus and rhubarb, as well as hazelnuts and highbush and lowbush blueberries. Wild strawberries that Weaner planted in one spot have sprouted all over.
Most evenings, Jedlicka takes a cocktail with her as she strolls among the birds and insects that flock to her yard, humming with activity. She loves that when she goes out on the lake just before sunset, her little house disappears into its leafy setting. And she’s thrilled when she discovers a wildflower that wasn’t in the original planting, proof that nature is taking over what she and Weaner set in motion and is running with it.
A LUSH, LOW-EFFORT PLAN
Under a canopy of tall trees and shrubs, designer Weaner created a leafy carpet of native ground covers, like groundsel, Canada anemone and heuchera. Knitted together, they provide an organic barricade against weeds and invasive species.
The upshot for Jedlicka is that her time weeding has decreased “by three quarters, at least,” she says.
Native plants are varied and beautiful, but they’re also hardworking. Since they’ve adapted to their regions over many years, they tend to be hardy and are unfussy to cultivate — which means a lot less work for the gardener.
They’re also a magnet for pollinators: the birds, bees, bats, butterflies and other insects that are vital to both the food we eat and our ecosystem. Sadly, loss of habitat, the spread of invasives and chemical pollutants are wiping out these essential creatures.
Weaner planted some standout varieties specifically to attract pollinators and let them work their magic.
To make an open field look pretty and plentiful for months on end, Weaner combined flower varieties that are fast to grow and bloom with ones that take longer to establish. For example, this area was once filled with black-eyed Susans, but they were gradually overtaken by these slower-growing pink coneflowers.
If something disturbs the soil, like an animal digging a hole, the seeds of the black-eyed Susans, which have been lying dormant, will take root, and the cycle will start again.
Jedlicka is passionate about keeping Lake Wononscopomuc clean, so Weaner created a natural filtration system to block harmful runoff, which can starve water of oxygen: He planted moisture-loving varieties (such as rose mallow, blue flag iris and joe-pye weed) along the shore. Their roots and stems intertwine and block pollutants, like silt and nearby lawn chemicals, from flowing into the lake after heavy rains. They also work with nearby oak trees, mountain laurel, rhododendrons and native ferns (as well as the extensive plantings throughout Jedlicka’s entire property) to further block runoff and reduce erosion.
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate