The arrival of spring brings out the gardeners throughout the region. Flowers and vegetables appear. Lawns turn green. Trees and shrubs begin to leaf out. Before you commit yourself to a particular scheme, why not consider ways of providing a natural, sustainable landscape? The application of ecological landscaping has enormous implications for a coastline. Sensitive areas such as Cape Cod are subject to problem plants such as the many invasive species that seem to increase each year.
Consider the fact that the Cape also must protect its groundwater from contamination. Nitrogen and other nutrients from lawn fertilizers get into the water supply and eventually end up in coastal bays and estuaries. So finding attractive plants that minimize the need for fertilizers can help reduce nitrogen loading in marine waters. Better yet, why not use home-made compost from yard wastes and food scraps?
The use of native species has many benefits to the coastline. These native species are well adapted to the seasons and require minimal maintenance. They also attract several species of wildlife, thus increasing biological diversity, always a good thing for the environment. In other words, they help stabilize an ecosystem more effectively than one or two dominant invasive plants.
Of course what most homeowners want is an attractive place, one that they can enjoy throughout the year. By using ecological planning for a garden you can enhance its beauty and attractiveness. Some local plants have a side benefit of producing fruits such as beach plum (Prunus maritima) which make a tasty jelly. I am particularly fond of a few of the evergreen groundcovers such as bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).
One could make a strong argument that the native plants of Cape Cod are just as attractive as exotic, imported species, and a lot less expensive to maintain. The sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), which grows along the edges of wetlands puts out a very strong aroma in the summer. Clusters of the bright orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) sparkle in a pine woodland. And rows of low bush blueberry (Vaccinium augustifolium) as an understory produce an ample crop of food for wildlife.
Most importantly, an ecologically designed garden reduces our impact on the coast, making it healthier and cleaner. This, in turn, supports the diverse marine plant and animal communities that are essential to our local environment and economy.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.