Not sure how to start using native plants around your house?
John Mariani suggests starting with an oak tree.
“It serves more insects than any other species,” said Mariani, whose family business, Mariani Landscape in Lake Bluff, has been around since 1958.
The impact of using native plants on nature is often lost in the dominant buzz words like environmentally friendly and sustainability.
“It’s how we support nature,” Mariani said. “If we don’t do it, a lot of these animals will disappear. When you use native plants, you’re taking your property back to its pre-settlement days. You’re also attracting the type of wildlife that was there too. You plant a few native plants, and here come these birds and butterflies you never saw before.”
Mariani will speak about creating native landscapes at Thursday’s Lake Forest Open Lands’ Conservation Coffee at Elawa Farm, 1401 Middlefork Drive, in Lake Forest. The program starts at 10 a.m., and tickets are $25 for Lake Forest Open Lands members and $35 for non-members. To purchase a ticket, visit www.lfola.org.
Thursday’s gathering is a teaser to the Go Native! Plant Sale May 19-20 at Mellody Farm Nature Preserve, 350 N. Waukegan Road, in Lake Forest. Native wildflowers, grasses, sedges and ornamental plants will be on sale.
Though native plants are generally absent from a majority of the residential landscape designs in Lake Forest and Land Bluff, Mariani believes the opportunity to introduce them is paramount to creating a greater quality of life for people and wildlife.
For example, he noted prairie plants filter and clean water, stop run-off, and halt pollution from getting into creeks and rivers.
“They are giving us free water,” he said. “We’re not paying those prairie plants to do anything. But if you take sewage in some of our communities, clean it and redistribute it, try to do that for free. There is an economic value to native plants.”
One bad rap against using native plants is their appearance. It looks like a weed patch, Mariani said.
“Just because they are native, doesn’t mean they are ugly,” he said. “If you get up close and look at some of the natives, you’ll see color combinations and detail that I know for one I’ve never seen myself until I started to get into this.”
Another misconception is that native plants are high maintenance. Mariani believes the design of your garden or landscape sets the tone for what the level of maintenance will be.
“You need to get the weeds out of there the best you can,” he said. “Start with a clean slate. If you put in plants that don’t associate with one another, you’re going to have maintenance problems.”
Native plants actually use less water and require less labor.
“Once the garden is established, it’s much less expensive and better for environment,” Mariani said. “You don’t have to trim them, you don’t have to mow them, you don’t have to prune them or spray them with insecticides. You don’t have to water them. They are very, very drought tolerant.”
Since restoring a 60-acre piece of property in Kettle Moraine, Wis., Mariani has witnessed the emergence of many native plants he has never seen before.
“I have had all of these beautiful, rare remnant prairie plants showing up,” he said. “It’s like finding treasure every time you see one. I thought I knew my plants, and I knew very little about native plants, and there are still so many out there I don’t know, so it’s a nice surprise. That’s fun.”