Biodiversity (n). the variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem.
Most of us think of our gardens as peaceful places to spend time and quite literally “smell the flowers,” but what if our gardens brought us a little closer to nature?
Biodiversity in the garden is a hot trend; the result of a crossover between gardening and ecology. Biodiverse gardens, also known as cottage gardens, wildlife gardens or mixed plantings, are all about bringing back a little more “nature” into our lives.
Unlike traditional gardens that may have five or fewer species, these nature-based gardens boast a dozen or more species. Everything is all planted together in a way that mimics their natural habitat.
As a result, the plants in these gardens are much more resistant to common issues, like disease, than they would be if planted alone.
If you plan mixed plantings into your garden, you can improve both your own property and your community. Consider these benefits:
It seems counterintuitive, but mixed plantings really are lower maintenance. They create their own ecosystem, and work together to prevent the spread of disease, save water, prevent plant loss, and stop pests in their tracks. All of which mean less work for us. Mixed plantings also look great even when allowed to get a little “messy.”
Many species of birds and insects are in grave decline throughout the United States. But even small gardens can make a huge difference! With their wild habitats in decline, our gardens can help fill the gap, providing shelter and food for these small wildlife.
In fact, studies have shown that even a moderate increase in garden biodiversity can support the recovery of threatened birds, butterflies and bees.
Diversity in the garden, like in nature, provides a buffer against major issues, like disease and pests.
It is no secret that public parks and sidewalks are grappling with an influx of invasive pests and diseases that are decimating our favorite shade trees. Some of the worst offenders include:
These infestations, along with more common issues like fire blight and aphids, can be very costly and time consuming to control. Fortunately, biodiverse gardens slow the spread of these pests and give your plants a better chance at fighting them off. An oak tree standing alone is much more likely to succumb to invasive disease than one grown in a community of other species.
Mixed plantings of shrubs, trees, perennials and grasses can work wonders for erosion and water use. Together, the plants act like a sponge in a rainstorm, greatly reducing water runoff and erosion.
Large shrubs and trees also shade cool the air around them, slowing evaporation and helping smaller plants thrive on less water. This natural effect is especially important during dry spells, when plants are extra vulnerable.
Not only do mixed plantings require less water, they can also help you save on utility bills! The tree canopy alone can lower your home’s utility bill by $20/month if it shades your home for part of the day. And the natural buffer against plant and water loss means less money spent on watering and replacing plants.
The best gardens have year-round appeal. They look amazing, no matter what the season is. Mixed plantings can easily achieve this, thanks to the great diversity that they have.
When designing your mixed planting garden, incorporate trees and shrubs with pretty bark during winter months, as well as fall color. Spring-flowering bulbs will help welcome spring with bright, early color.
Still not convinced? There are even more fascinating benefits to biodiverse gardens:
Adding diversity to your garden, and creating mixed plantings, is as simple as mixing up your garden landscape with some new plants. If your garden is already established, consider adding something new, like a serviceberry bush or a white coneflower.
Mixed plantings use up all available vertical space, from the creeping groundcovers to the soaring tree canopies. When planning your mixed garden, layer with trees, shrubs, tall and short perennials, groundcovers, spring bulbs and annuals. The result will be a nice finished look that provides all the benefits of a true biodiverse garden.
Take full advantage of a mixed planting by bringing in different colors and textures. You can stick with a simple theme (pick four plants to combine, and repeat in a pattern), or you can get a little more creative.
These plants make wonderful additions to any garden, but are especially good at attracting local wildlife and supporting a low-maintenance mixed planting garden.
These native tree species can be used to create a large-scale forest cover. Mix plant species together to create natural forest biodiversity. You'll support a wide range of forest dependent animals and insects, and enjoy a gorgeous "get-away" just by walking outside.
Gift yourself a life-long passion and create a native forest.
Ecosystem productivity and biodiversity can be achieved, no matter the size of your landscape. Use a mix of shrubs to work preventing soil erosion, providing food and shelter and supporting the needs of pollinators.
Don't forget the smallest components of mixed planting design. These charming - and easy-care - additions polish the look by adding color and scent.
Through biodiverse mixed plantings, we can make our yards even more beautiful. At the same time, we can save money, support our local wildlife, and enjoy a little more nature in our lives. Happy gardening!