The Benefits of a Native Plant Garden and its Volunteers
By Gail Dennie, VA-TACF Chapter
Visitors and staff walk through a beautiful meadow-like area of native plants on their way into the Glenn C. Price Research Laboratory at TACF’s Meadowview Research Farms. The garden was established as landscaping for the new lab in 2011. These native plants are an appropriate complement for the ongoing research to restore our native American chestnut. The garden provides wildlife habitat, is an education asset, and absorbs runoff from the lab roof and parking lot. Finally, the garden is located in Meadowview, VA!
This garden is a low-maintenance flower bed of native plants displaying a variety of color throughout the year. Over thirty perennial herbaceous and shrub species were planted. Plants were chosen specifically for berry, seed, and nectar attributes. Birds nest in the bluebird house and butterflies have benefited from the flowers — over 16 species serve as butterfly host plants. A rain garden was added in 2012 that includes 12 native plant species. Rainwater from one side of the Lab roof is collected and moved to the rain garden by an underground pipe.
The Southwest Virginia Branch of the VA-TACF Chapter and the Washington County Master Gardeners planned, planted, funded, and have maintained the garden area. Farm staff assisted in site preparation. The rain garden was established with a grant and expertise of the Upper Tennessee Round Table. Low maintenance was the number one criterion for the landscaping. That is how we came to choose a native plant garden. (Cultivars of native plants were also accepted to make finding some species easier.) No fertilizing or watering of established plants has ever been done (new plants were watered to get them established the first year). Because native plants have evolved in our soils and climate, they are able to handle drought or other weather conditions with little help from us. They thrive in their natural environment.
Our gardening maintenance group consists of Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists and SWVA Branch members volunteering their time, with additional support provided by Meadowview farm staff. Garden maintenance takes place bi-annually in the spring and fall. Weeding the non-native invaders is priority, along with pruning the shrubs. Because it is a full, mature garden, plants have filled in so that maintenance also includes removing excess plants. Extra plants are an incentive for volunteers! Mulch is added to the edges of the garden. Farm staff moves mulch with their tractor and disposes of all weeds.
The garden was designed to become part of the environment in which it is located. It is a peaceful space that provides food and shelter to wildlife, plus education and enjoyment for visitors and staff, while requiring minimal effort from those who maintain it.
This volunteer project was funded in part by Extreme Terrain.