Naturalistic landscaping revisited

Published 12:12 pm Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Max Phelps does a fine job explaining naturalistic landscaping (Tryon Daily Bulletin September 28, 2022).


His blueprint is the natural setting. It is made up of native vegetation starting with mature trees as backdrop forming a canopy under which small trees and shrubs can flourish. Flowers, annuals and perennials as well as grasses and groundcovers make up the bottom layer of this landscape.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox


He recommends looking to nature for design ideas that will achieve this layered look. The first step is to evaluate what is already established. Phelps then recommends choosing some native trees suitable for your area and conditions but hedges his bets with “carefully selected exotic and non-native trees” as possibilities. The emphasis should be on “carefully selected.”Here his choice includes buckthorn which is one of the plants that is listed as invasive in the Field Guide for the Identification of Invasive Plants in Southern Forests, a publication of the US Department of Agriculture and Forest Service.


Lately much research and attention has been focused on the demise of butterflies and our native and honey bee populations. I would have liked to see more pollinator plants included in the list of perennial flowers. However I realize this is not the space for an exhaustive list and no harm is done.


Where I take great exception and feel the need to speak out are the recommendations Phelps makes for the ground cover layer. Ivy and I assume it is English ivy, vinca, wintercreeper and liriope are all listed in the Field Guide and identified as invasive and to be avoided. If anyone is interested in planting ivy, vinca or wintercreeper I would pay you to dig it up in our woods where I am battling the generous gift the previous owner bestowed upon us. Concerning wintercreeper, the Missouri Department of Conservation says “It climbs on just about anything that holds still long enough.” We already have Kudzu and English ivy doing that job.


As far as the pachysandra goes it too can be invasive, luckily we have a native alternative, Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens). We also have the option to plant the beautiful native Muhly grass, why would anyone want to choose Japanese forest grass instead.

The point is, we all need to do our own research. Professional landscapers, garden centers and nurseries are serving their customers and will provide what sells. Asking the right questions is a first step towards a beautiful and I might add sustainable landscape. Inviting invasive exotics is a sure recipe for disaster and an environmental nightmare, none more obvious than the kudzu that covers much of Polk County.


As Phelps states, living with nature has many benefits for people, trees, bees, birds and butterflies. What he is missing is the importance of making sure we provide the right living conditions, a habitat where invasive exotics will not out-compete our incredible diverse native plant communities and the creatures dependent on it.


Submitted by Christel Walter, Mill Spring