by Connie Oswald Stofko
We gardeners want to be kind to the environment, but it can seem so complicated.
We may know that we should have a sustainable landscape, though many of us probably can’t define exactly what that means. We should be organic, which encompasses so many different gardening practices.
Can we do it all and have a pretty garden at the same time?
Yes, and gardening expert Sally Cunningham will tell you how during a talk at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 12 at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, 4484 Clark St., Hamburg.
It is part of the Fall Garden Fair to be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13.
Here is the schedule of all the speakers:
Saturday, Sept. 12
10 a.m. Tweaking Our Gardening Ways: Sally Cunningham
Cunningham’s new presentation analyzes how gardeners and homeowners can move toward permaculture and ecologically healthier yards, while keeping it beautiful.
11:30 a.m. Twenty Top Trees for Urban and Small Gardens: Dawn Hummel
This speaker from Oregon, known for her creativity in landscape design, will present benefits and uses of beautiful, less known, or under-used trees for Western New York yards.
1:30 p.m. Gardening from a Hammock: Dan Cooper
Based on the new book by this Ontario garden writer, this presentation will focus on how to minimize weeding and cut down on the time spent on gardening chores so that you have more time to enjoy your garden.
Sunday, Sept. 13
10 a.m. Gardening from a Hammock: Dan Cooper
11:30 a.m. Plants and Pairings for a Great Spring Garden: David Clark
Learn about plant partners that will make your spring garden shine. David Clark of Hamburg, a nationally renowned horticultural educator, will discuss bulb care and selection, and great partners for them, with the focus on texture and fragrance.
1:30 p.m. Hostas, Arisaema and Their Shady Friends: Mike & Kathy Shadrack
This Hamburg couple will show and tell about superior shade-preferring beauties. Mike is a photographer and author (The Encyclopedia of Hostas) and Kathy is an arum collector and author (The Book of Little Hostas).
The event will include vendors as well as speakers.
Admission to the fair is free, but the cost for talks is $10 each or $25 for the full day. You can register online or call 649-4684.
Lunch can be purchased and eaten in the backyard food court where there is ample seating and shade. There will also be a free demonstration at 1 p.m. Saturday of the Four Thieves Vinegar recipe, a simple combination of herbs which, during the Bubonic plague, was believed to have saved lives.
How to have a pretty and environmentally friendly yard
In her talk, Cunningham wants to bring together the various principles of sustainability and make it doable for the regular gardener.
The first thing to think about is insects, she said.
“Without insects, we have nothing,” she said, because they are vital to the pollination of plants. Cunningham, author of the book Great Garden Companions who has taught organic gardening for 20 years, has become even bolder in speaking out about our “insect-phobic and pesticide-oriented society.”
To help insects, one simple goal we can all aim for is to have 20 percent of the plants in our yard be native plants, she said.
“Twenty percent is a modest beginning,” she said. “You can aim for more.”
But when you hear “native plants,” don’t think “weed” or “messy.” There are many native plants that are attractive, she said. You may already be familiar with bee balm or monarda, a brightly colored flower that many gardeners love.
Another suggestion is a fragrant shrub called clethra or summer sweet. Don’t forget that native plants can include trees, too. Sugar maples not only give us amazing fall color, but they provide a huge home for hundreds of species of life, she noted.
While some native varieties of plants are better for pollinators than some hybrids, pollinators can get food from a wide range of flowers. Planting something—anything besides lawn—in your yard provides some diversity to the landscape.
“Cut back on the amount of grass you have,” Cunningham said. “We don’t have to be surrounded by golf-course-like swaths of lawn.”
Urban gardening with yards full of plants is now familiar to us on the many garden walks and Open Gardens we enjoy during Western New York summers. It’s a way that gardeners are encouraging butterflies and other insects.
“As a collective group, we’re doing what we need to do for pollinators,” Cunningham said.
We’ve heard about droughts in California and in other parts of the world, but water is something that we in Western New York must start paying attention to, even with this wet summer we’ve had and our seemingly limitless supply of Great Lakes water, she said.
“In the long run, water will be the crisis of this century, world-wide and community-wide,” Cunningham said. “We have to be concerned about overconsumption. We have to start valuing water and stop taking it for granted.”
When you water, water properly, she advised. It’s not just good for the greater environment, it’s good for your individual plants. Water deeply so the water reaches the roots. If you water shallowly near the surface of the soil, the plants won’t establish deep roots. If there is a storm, the plant will fall over, or if there’s a drought, the plant will die.
We can have attractive gardens, and we can make them environmentally friendly.
“For many gardeners, the first question is: How pretty is the flower on that plant?” Cunningham said. “That’s important, because our gardens are for our enjoyment.
“But gardens aren’t just about flowers. There are many reasons to plant a plant. It’s not just a frivolous decoration.
“It’s extremely important for nature and for sustaining our ecology as we know it.”