Friday, September 23, 2011

Since You Asked...Dean Hill

For the inaugural Q&A, I thought it appropriate to chat with the co-author of Weatherproofing Your Landscape...the book. Emmy-nominated landscape architect Dean Hill is co-host of the popular DIY Network program, Grounds For Development.

(You just never know where Dean will pop up next! Catch him on the Rachael Ray show next Monday, September 26th. Check your local listings for the time. And keep up with Dean on Twitter @greendeantv.)

Q. Dean, as far as extreme-weather events are concerned, what are the advantages of using trees and shrubs that are native to a local area?

A. One of the biggest advantages is that native plants can be genetically and historically adaptable to extreme weather events. For example, there are oak trees that survive and thrive after being involved in a fire event, and there are bald cypress trees that thrive in flooded, low areas.

The most important consideration is to find out what plants are native in your area, ecoregion and/or ecological community. (Plants adapt to specific areas,  known as ecoregions or ecological communities. That’s logical—plants that like water are going to grow where there is water, and plants that like dry are going to grow where it is dry! All of the plants that grow together in these specific areas form a community. These communities are where you can get ideas for your plantings.)

And always remember to put the right plant in the right place!  Don’t take a plant that grows in the wet and expect it to grow in a dry area.  Look around at natural areas where you live and emulate nature.     
Welcome to the Friday question-and-answer feature. Feel free to leave your own questions related to weatherproofing your landscape—or recovering your landscape from an extreme-weather disaster—in the "comments" section on any Weatherproofing Your Landscape posting.

Q. How difficult is it to convert a conventional landscape to native?

A. Conversion is not difficult. The best part is that it can be exactly the same as designing for a “conventional” landscape. Natives lend themselves to easy incorporation into mixed planting beds, perennial beds and even shady, woodland plantings!

As an added bonus, native plants that are incorporated into shady, woodland settings are less likely to be eaten by browsing deer that can be an extreme, ongoing problem.

Q. Can the conversion to a native landscape take place in stages, over several years?

A. The conversion can easily take place in stages. For do-it-yourselfers, if you have limited or no experience with native plants, start small! 

Do some online research. Choose a couple of attractive native perennials that you like, and plant them in a favorite bed. Keep expanding your knowledge and your plant palette.

Make sure to look for state native-plant organizations and associations. Some of these advocate groups—of  which you don’t have to be a professional to be a member—have annual sales of native plants that come with no-cost expert advice.

I have found native plants to be infectious...almost obsessive. Any time I travel to a new place or design in a new area, the first thing that I look for is information on the native plants of the area. This gives me insight into the local context, and also helps me understand why this place is unique and different from the next place!

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