Hidden Toxins in Plants from Big-Box Retailers

A report recently released by the Pesticide Research Institute and Friends of the Earth warns that, “More than half of ostensibly bee-friendly plants sampled at 18 Home Depot, Lowe’s and Walmart garden centers in the U.S. and Canada contained high levels of neonicotinoids (a pesticide), which are considered highly toxic to bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators.”

Read the entire article here, and take a moment to sign a quick petition here to help save our essential pollinators.  Learn more from my previous post titled, “A World Without Flowers?” and see why declining populations of pollinators puts much of our own food supply in jeopardy.

So, what can you do (besides signing petitions)?  Ask your local garden center if their plants have been treated with these dangerous pesticides and shop at native plant nurseries whenever possible.

photo above courtesy of Bachman’s Floral Gift and Garden, a Minnesota-based retailer committed to eliminating neonicotinoid pesticides in the plants they sell.

6 Architectural Elements that Add Character and Structure to the Garden

Creating a sense of place, or identity, in any landscape design includes utilizing elements that fit in with the context of the site, which may be historical, cultural, environmental or geographical.  In addition, architectural features that help create or enhance the special character of a place can be functional, whimsical and/or simply beautiful.

To keep it green, it’s best to incorporate local, reclaimed or recycled materials.


Nesting Materials For The Birds

While taking a little time to stop and smell the roses this spring, you may notice the intricate handiwork of birds building their nests. It’s amazing what these instinctive architects can create with found materials.  While an ideal environment provides them with the right building materials, we can also lend a helping hand by providing them with additional, and sometimes surprising, materials.  The National Wildlife Federation put together an informative list of things we can add to supplement what birds find in nature.

You can also learn how to get your backyard certified as an official wildlife habitat by providing a few things, including food, water and cover for these crafty creatures.

To see some remarkable birds and other animals building their incredible homes, check out this PBS episode of The Animal House.

Topiary Gardens Take a Giant Leap

They’re whimsical and imaginative, artful and sculptural…topiary gardens take many shapes and sizes.  The precisely sheared shrubs and trees seem to come to life.  Recently though, topiary gardening has morphed into something even more magical:  Mosaiculture.  These public works of horticultural art, often several stories high, encompass wire frames that act as colossal planters filled with potting mix, thousands of colorful plants, and sometimes even irrigation systems…these are the divas of the plant world.

Some of my favorites include:


Best Blooming Native Trees

Trees have so many benefits, from providing shade to intercepting rain water, but some have additional appeal–they put on a lovely flowering show for us each spring.  Native trees have especially great value in our landscapes, as they provide food and habitat for song birds, butterflies and other wildlife.  Native plants are also well adapted to your particular region and thrive with little water and care.  Read more about the importance of using native plants in my previous post here.

Some of my favorite flowering native trees include:


Green Solutions for Stormwater Management and Drainage Problems

After receiving record-setting rainfall in many areas of the United States last week, and seeing raging creeks and rivers, the eroded streambanks and many flooded areas, it’s clear that home and business owners need to do something to help manage stormwater on their properties.  The rain water that runs off impervious paved surfaces, and even lawns, causes numerous problems, from contaminating drinking water to environmental degradation.  Read my previous post here on the subject.

The good news is that we can all do things that can reduce drainage issues on our properties and minimize runoff.  These methods will also help your community to lower maintenance and construction costs associated with water treatment systems and flood control.


Great Native Ground Covers, Part II

In Part I of this series, I highlighted just some of the varied ground covers, including evergreen plants, ferns and flowering perennials that are suitable for many different types of landscapes.  I also talked about why ground covers are better than lawns.  Here, I’ll focus on many more types of ground covers that are environmentally-friendly, and perfect for slopes or any other area you don’t want to mow.  Plus, ground covers are far more interesting than any lawn out there!


Free Trees for Philly!

Philadelphia residents are very fortunate this spring to receive up to 2 FREE trees for their yards from TreePhilly, a partnership between Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, Wells Fargo and the Fairmount Park Conservancy.

According to TreePhilly, “The purpose of the Yard Tree Program is to contribute to the tree canopy in the city; the layer of branches and leaves that capture falling rain, reduce flooding, clean our air, and shade our streets and homes.”  See my earlier post here about additional benefits of trees, including lowering heating and cooling bills!

There are six free tree giveaway events taking place between Saturday, April 5 and Sunday, April 13th.  This year, twelve different tree species are being offered, so there’s one that will work well in every yard!  The trees are large enough (4-6′ tall) to make an instant impact on your property, but small enough to easily transport them.  They’re even throwing in the mulch for your new trees for free!

TreePhilly will also provide planting and care demonstrations to teach you all you need to know!



A World Without Flowers?

We’re all looking forward to spring, a time of renewal and beauty, and the opportunity to get outside and improve our surroundings.  Appealing landscape design often involves the artful arrangement of flowering plants, but imagine for a moment that 90% of flowers are no longer able to bloom.  This could be our future reality with essential pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and bats, being decimated in alarming numbers.

So, why are pollinator numbers dropping so drastically?  Pesticides, lack of food (nectar & pollen) & water, loss of nesting habitats from development, disease and the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder.

It’s not only flowering plants that are affected by a lack of pollinators, but also our very own food supply.  According to the Pollinator Partnership, “one out of every three bites of food you eat is there because of pollinators.”  Pollinators are responsible for the quality, quantity and size of our food crops.  Even the economic value of pollinators is staggering, in the billions of dollars per year.

The good news is that we can all do some easy things to help pollinators (and ultimately ourselves):


Great Native Ground Covers, Part I

Our native ground cover plants are far superior to turf grass, which is not native, because they’re low maintenance.  They don’t need fertilizers or pesticides, and they don’t need to be mowed or watered once established (learn more from my previous posts here and here).  Plus, they help manage stormwater runoff, allowing rainwater to follow their deep roots down into the earth where it can replenish our depleted aquifers.  Ground covers also reduce erosion on slopes, conserve soil moisture, add nutrients to the soil, replenish organic matter and suppress weeds.

Ground covers provide critical food and habitat for birds, butterflies, valuable bees and other wildlife (Learn the must-haves for a great butterfly garden here).  Creating a  healthy garden also means a more balanced web of life, which typically results in less bug problems.

Of course there are aesthetic reasons to plant ground covers too.  They can define a space as borders or edging; they can fill in areas in front of taller, leggier perennials and shrubs; they add texture to the landscape; and they can create quite a design statement when planted in mass.

Ground covers come in all shapes and sizes, evergreen and deciduous, flowering and fruiting, and grow in a wide variety of site conditions.  Here, I’ve listed those best suited for the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S., but many are suitable for the Midwest, Pacific Northwest and Southeast, as well.


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