Yes, there is such a thing! Madison, home to the Leopold legacy, was the place.
Many credit Aldo Leopold with energizing the native plant movement. Leopold was one of the first students to study at Yale's School of Forestry, author of the ground breaking book about land ethics "A Sand County Almanac" and an ardent believer that we can't, and shouldn't, control the land.
Aldo Leopold spent much of his time affiliated with the University of Wisconsin in Madison and the area is filled with tributes to him. When I learned the annual Garden Bloggers Fling, a gathering of garden bloggers, vloggers and writers, was to be held in Madison, I knew I would have to go!
What does this have to do with the Chesapeake? Aldo Leopold's son, Luna, co-authored, with Abel Wolman, a ground breaking book about hydrology and geology. Baltimore buffs will know Baltimore's public works department is headquartered in the Abel Wolman building, a tribute to Wolman's many contributions to water quality and management. Aldo Leopold's grandson, the late Bruce Leopold, worked for much of his professional career in Baltimore and, at one time, was a neighbor. The Leopold garden was ahead of its time and inspired me, and others, to learn more. There were no neatly manicured shrubs and perennial beds though the garden literally overflowed with birds, pollinators and wildlife. Hedges were allowed to grow tall, grasses were whatever seeded in, and wildflowers and trees were encouraged to roam freely. Balancing all of this happy chaos was a collection of neatly tended bonsai trees and rock gardens. It was magical and inspirational.
I was so looking forward to visiting the place that so inspired Aldo Leopold. It came as no surprise that Madison gardeners have an ethic for native plants. The first sign was the enormous number of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) plants allowed to grow no matter where they seeded in. Near my hotel, a neatly manicured planting bed of ornamental impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri) had a tall common milkweed plant. It landed there and maintenance crews allowed it to stay. There seemed to be an implicit acknowledgement that the common milkweed was important. Madison, squarely in Zone 5a, is a bit cooler than the Mid-Atlantic yet many of our native plants were featured in the gardens .
The prairies of Wisconsin were much studied and written about by Aldo Leopold. Many Madison gardeners have planted their own. This prairie was located at the rear of a one acre homestead garden. Native wild flowers are encouraged to grow freely and attract pollinators for the extensive fruit and vegetable beds in the tended parts of the garden. Gardeners Betsy True and Danny Aerts landscape with an eye toward insect nutrition and habitat, extended bloom for bees, habitat for small animals and edibles for the house!
Linda and Phil Grosz planted this one acre prairie on their 1 3/4 acre vacant lot first thing after arriving 25 years ago. The prairie was grown entirely from seed. Linda and Phil mow the meadow once a year and burn it every three years recognizing meadows are continually evolving ecologically. To maintain it, it is necessary to renew it. They also over seed most springs. In late June, Canadian anemone (Anemone candensis), fleabane (Erigeron annuus), penstemon (Penstemon digitalis), spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) and grasses were in full swing.
So many of the gardeners use ground covers as mulch. Maidenhair ferns (Adiantum pedatum), wild ginger (Asarum canadense) and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) were very common. Other ferns and sedges were also abundant. There was very little mulch apparent in any of the gardens.
In keeping with a conservation ethic, wood is reused in gardens wherever possible. Edging, trellises, sculpture, signs -- wood does it all.
Just Plain Fun
No explanation needed!
June seemed the season for white flowers in Madison. Possumhaw viburnum (Viburnum nudum), goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) , black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) and cultivars of wild hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) were blooming in shade and elderberries and bush honeysuckle in the sun. Particularly enchanting were the tall spires of black cohosh. Hard to photograph but they really light up in shade. Elderberries (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadesis) were every where - by the side of the road and in gardens.
I was inspired to be a little more like the Leopolds ... let a bit of happy chaos into the garden!