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Put some wild in your garden

Occasionally someone will refer to my yard and gardens as a jungle. I am never quite sure if they are overwhelmed by the wildness of the overgrown shrubs and nature-placed trees, or if they delight in the myriad sounds, songs and activity when wandering the areas.

It pleases me when they understand that my attention to nature’s wants and whims can produce a wildlife habitat unlike any garden you are likely to see on a tour.

Before I became so invested in wildlife gardening, I indeed used to fuss and fume over details in plant colors, heights, bloom periods and site selection. Then I observed nature in the woods and in the prairie. I’ve seen her work on wet and dry sites, as well as in sun and shade. Her pattern is a little wild, more akin to English gardens than formal gardens. But what I like most about nature’s care, is that it’s not just about the plants, but the birds, bees and a horde of other critters that call the wild place home.

Fortunately, I don’t have any restrictive subdivision covenants that prohibit individuality or transgression from the “committee approved” form of landscape, which is usually out of touch with current concept and design. Many subdivisions demand chemicals on lawns as well as irrigation systems. Neither is in the current trends of today’s landscaping ideals. My “jungle” or natural wildlife habitat is far more favored by designers over the rigors of older, traditional landscapes.

Sustainable design and eco-friendly gardening are in the forefront now — and for good reasons. Not only is there new awareness for the urgent need to be more earth friendly, but the cost savings is strong. The push for less chemically dependent exotics and lower maintenance plants also frees up time for the homeowner/gardener.

A 2016 survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects emphasized the trend for natural areas. One new focus in sustainable design is interest in rainwater harvesting. As homeowners see the water costs rising, as well as the potential for more frequent and widespread drought, their interest in saving and protecting water has increased.

Landscape architects offer several solutions to water scarcity. One is less lawn, which is also on the Top-10 list for 2016 from ASLA. Traditional lawns demand more water than standard garden plants, shrubs or trees. Native plants can be an even bigger water saver once they are established. Traditional lawns also demand more chemicals to keep them green. On the other hand, grasses with a mixture of clover and violets are easy on the eye (with a burst of purple in the spring), easy on the wallet (less money on water and chemicals), and offer wildlife benefit from the clover (bees) and violets (butterflies). Moreover, without the additions of toxic chemicals, you needn’t worry about letting little ones and four-legged friends wander through the yard.

Reducing the size of the lawn means more natural or wild space. Plant natives with a focus on prairie plants. These beauties, once established, will almost take care of themselves. If you don’t have large swaths for the full prairie grasses and plants, fill your garden with low-maintenance shrubs, along with a mix of easy-care perennials like native purple coneflower, bee balm and coreopsis, and watch the birds and butterflies come for pollen, nectar and seed.

Careful selection of easy-care, drought-tolerant plants along with a mixed natural lawn and a sustainable water source will bring more birds, frogs and pollinators to your own wildlife habitat. It will also give you more time to set up that hammock and enjoy your jungle out there.

Lynn Jenkins lives in rural Zionsville, where she is learning to live green. Email her at

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