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Tuesday, 09 February 2016 11:00

The Ecology of the Lurie Garden

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We talked last time about building native habitats locally, in the spirit of conservation.  When creating a native habitat we boost the food chain, support the life-cycle of a variety of insects and small animals, and fashion an incredibly aesthetic space rich in biodiversity.  Today we give you some more information on building a landscape that is actually a natural system.

Scott Stewart, the Director of the Lurie Garden in Chicago, spoke on the ecology of the Lurie Garden with a reassurance that their systems and designs can be scaled down to a residential setting of any size.  He tells us that they manage the space, in that management cultivates nature and the ecology of the space, how all the living entities function there together.  The process focuses not in single units, such as one plant or one bird, but on a system.

Amsonia hubrichtii Courtesy of the Lurie Garden

An entire space can be divided into three layers.  This is a common practice when creating a design, various heights, elements, and textures are considered for overall appeal.  The layers in the Lurie Garden ecosystem, though, are more focused on their function.

The bottom layer is the ground, or groundcover because nature abhors open soil and empty space; if you don’t plan for and encourage groundcovers of your choice, something else will fill that space, probably weeds.  The second layer holds what we refer to as perennials and annuals, filling in a mid-range height and offering food sources and cover for wildlife.  The third layer is considered structural, shrubs and trees that give the space definition, and may dominate depending on their size.

Plants are chosen that will thrive in the existing environment, with many natives being included, but not exclusively so.  In the beautiful image below, for example, Scott tells us “the native Gentiana andrewsii is interplanted with the non-native Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta at the Lurie Garden to create a haven for local pollinators.”

Gentiana andrewsii with Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta Courtesy of the Lurie Garden

So that describes the system, and it can be applied to virtually any space.  For example, take a wide open sunny lawn.  Create a natural grassland as the lowest layer; add the second layer of plantings around the perimeter, which can be sculpted into a formal design, or left loose and natural; and maybe even strategically place shrubs and/or an appropriate tree to finish the space.  Every environment can be managed this way, it may take a bit of work to remove unwanted species, but once that is done you have the opportunity to drive the space toward its native essence.

Eryngium yuccifolium and Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Little Spire' Courtesy of the Lurie Garden

We thank Scott Stewart for these fantastic images of the Lurie Garden.  You can find more images of natives in our “Native Plants, Prairies, and Other Lands” gallery, and on our PinterestNative Plants and Gardens board.  And join us again here, in the garden.

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Seattle Rockeries creates hardscapes and landscapes using stones, boulders and concrete structures.

Hardscaping creates structures that can be used on slopes and hills to prevent erosion and create water barriers or drainage.