First home to master gardener to native plant community guru!
All of a sudden, "growingnativeinmaryland" appeared in my Instagram feed so of course I followed. Then, seemingly within a few months, photos showed the story of a traditional suburban front lawn transformed into a sea of native perennials. That IG account also quickly amassed a couple thousand followers. Both of those accomplishments take some doing so I was intrigued.
Jamie Wiesner moved to suburban Laurel, became a homeowner, became a gardener, and then a Master Gardener, and essentially created two front yard gardens. All since 2017! The first garden was brimming with native perennials and shrubs. The second, created last winter, is a front yard vegetable garden surrounded by an oval perimeter still brimming with native perennials, shrubs and trees. All of this accomplished on a budget using lots of plugs, sharing plants through FB and local plant sales and swaps!
While visiting Jamie's garden in late July, within the first few minutes, hummingbird moths, dragonflies and hummingbirds flitted about. I often get to write about gardens filled with buzzing and humming -- this one is a cut above and featured music of the human kind too! Talk about being transported.
The Future is Wood Chips
Moving into her now home in 2017, Jamie knew she wanted to garden in the front yard. The rear garden, another wonderful story in itself, is filled with huge oaks creating an ecological and shady oasis. All the sun was in the front yard. Jamie began by planting in a drainage swale. It was a discreet area and looking across the front lawn, she thought that area needed the most help. Selecting plants that thrive in moist conditions, Jamie planted button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), joe-pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) and coastal mallow (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos). Today, this mature rain garden magnificently screens the street side corner of the garden.
Next, Jamie began to improve the view from the living room window. She says she used loads of cardboard and 4 to 6 inches of wood chips delivered for free by a local arborist to suppress weeds and eliminate the grass. It worked quickly. Jamie began planting perennials through the chips along the street side. She knew she had to keep plants off the street so neighbors could continue to easily walk by. She created an edge to the garden shaped like an "A" -- high plants in the middle and shorter plants on the sides. The 8 foot or so wide edge is wild yet restrained thanks to the height profile. It really works!
Jamie started with the same conditions many of us have -- fairly compacted clay soils and full sun. The wood chip mulch made creating garden beds easy and once she started, Jamie kept on going. Check out her instagram reel to see how she did it!
Arrivals and Departures
Jamie created two entrances to the garden with arches. They give you the feeling you have entered a very special space and you have. Designers would call it marking the arrival. I call it inviting you into an enchanted zone that transports you away from the world's day to day. Jamie knew the arches would have to be very sturdy because she planned to cover them with native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempivirens), the hummingbird magnet. Mature native honeysuckle can eventually grow very robust woody stems that support lots of growth, flowers and nature's magic. Jamie built her arches from scratch using metal t-posts and cattle fencing panels.
As we chatted, a hummingbird settled on a dead tree branch Jamie positioned a couple of feet from one of the arches. I have never seen a hummingbird so close and still for so long. It was perched on an old branch Jamie added as a wildlife perch. The branch adds artistic structure and Jamie says birds use it all the time.
Let There Be Sun
Fast forward a couple of years, Jamie had been growing her vegetables on the side of the house but thought more sun would help. Last winter, she ordered another load of wood chips which again filled her one car driveway. She repositioned as many perennials from the center of the garden as she could and added the wood chips to the center of the front garden. With the help of her gardening sister, Malissa, Jamie built raised beds and created a delightful arched tunnel, again with t-posts and cattle panels. Cattle panels come in 16 foot lengths, too long to be moved in a passenger vehicle. By this time, Jamie had quite the network of gardening friends through FB and IG. She put out a call and several fellow gardeners who also wanted cattle panels chipped in to share a rental truck to pick up and deliver panels.
The end result is my idea of a garden paradise. The structure of the beds and arches is the perfect compliment to the abundance of the flowers in the surrounding perennial border. Jamie is always learning and sharing her expertise through FB, IG and the occasional open garden tour. Jamie highly recommends two gardening FB groups: Gardening with Maryland Native Plants on FB and Maryland Area Gardening for the Environmentally Conscious. I highly recommend following Jamie @growingnativeinmd and Malissa @wildrosemallow on Instagram. A New York Times opinion piece "How to Fall Out of Love with Your Lawn" also featured Jamie's garden as a lawn alternative!
What's next for Jaimie's garden? A magnificent mature redbud tree in a neighbors front yard across the street has been delightfully seeding volunteer saplings in Jamie's front garden right along her curbside. She envisions a row of redbuds creating a shady canopy for neighbors walking by. Native, sheltered and oh so neighborly!