How Backyard Native Plant Gardening Can Help Save the Natural World!

Shooting Star Plant
Shootingstars (Dodecatheon meadia) in the native plant garden in front of Shirley Heinze Land Trust’s offices. Bumblebees pollinate these plants, which bloom in May and June.

For gardeners, this is a busy time of year. Depending on where you are in your gardening journey, (and it truly is a journey), you may be looking at flats of seedlings in your window (or green house, if you’re lucky!), placing orders from a nursery, or planning to attend a local plant sale. Maybe you are starting your very first garden, or thinking about planting trees and shrubs to enhance your home landscape.

Most home gardeners begin their gardening journey with a limited goal. For those who live in cities or suburbs, with just a window box or a small patch of land, it may start with a desire to eat fresh tomatoes, grow pretty flowers, or create some shade. We start there, with simple goals – eat fresh things, see pretty things, stay cool. As time goes on, you begin to feel a deeper connection to being outdoors. Activities like placing your hands into a bed of warm soil, watering, pruning, and other garden chores make you feel good. Pulling weeds becomes great therapy for a stressful day!

You also notice that you have enticed some bumble bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to linger around your goodies and pretties. They weren’t here before – how did they find you? You start to realize that what you are doing has an impact. You hear about “native plants”, and your curiosity kicks in. You begin reading seed catalogs, you see posts and groups online, you engage with other gardeners, and your understanding grows deeper.

We invited one of our recent Bringing Nature Home program awardees, Karl Ackermann, to share his thoughts and his path to gardening with native plants. Karl’s home garden in suburban Munster, Indiana is an exceptional one. From the front curb to the backyard, Karl’s garden is lush with plants, trees, and shrubs that are native to the area, as well as the birds, bees, and butterflies that are drawn to them.

Karl Ackermann in his backyard garden in Munster, Indiana.

Karl is not your average home gardener. He is the president and treasurer of the Gibson Woods Wild Ones chapter in Northwest Indiana. In case you aren’t familiar with the organization, Wild Ones is a not-for profit, environmental, educational, and advocacy organization. It has over 4,000 members in 18 states. The group promotes environmentally sound landscaping practices to encourage biodiversity through the preservation, restoration, and establishment of native plant communities. Karl was introduced to Shirley Heinze Land Trust through his affiliation with the Wild Ones. The two groups work on projects together, aligned with a common mission.

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Karl’s interest in gardening was born out of the legacy of his parents being presidents of their local garden club in Riverdale, Illinois. He participated then, he says, “by making flower arrangements and winning blue ribbons in contests.”

After joining Wild Ones four years ago, and being inspired by the likes of fellow Wild Ones members – Lorrie Otto, the late founder of the natural landscaping movement, and founding inspiration for the Wild Ones organization; and Douglas Tallamy, entomologist and author of the book from which our Bringing Nature Home program borrows its name; Karl quickly realized, he says, “the Wild Ones is not your parents’ garden club! Like one of our forefathers, James Madison, wrote in the 1790’s, ‘there is a relation and proportion between flora and fauna.’”

“Shirley Heinze helps me appreciate the vast diversity of habitat and wildlife that is unique to northwestern Indiana,” says Karl. “I realize that all of our backyards are connected in this whole fabric of our ecosystem. What I plant in my garden, what habitat is created, has a direct impact in what life is sustained in my yard, as well as my neighbor’s yard, as well as the lands surrounding my yard. The meaning to me of the Bringing Nature Home program is an understanding that my yard is connected to your yard; and we share this habitat with all the critters that know no backyard boundaries.”

Karl adds, “As Lorrie Otto eloquently said, ‘if suburbia were planted with meadows, prairies, thickets or forest, or combinations of these, then water would sparkle, fish would be good to eat again, birds would sing and human spirits would soar.’”

Home gardening can benefit our own health and well being, as well as the health and resiliency of our local natural ecosystems. We encourage you to include native species in your own garden, and avoid planting harmful invasive species. Join us in protecting and restoring the precious natural lands and waters here in northwestern Indiana, by taking the next step on your own gardening journey.

Our Bringing Nature Home (BNH) program enters its tenth season this year! This outreach program recognizes gardeners who include native plants in their home gardens and landscapes. To learn more about native plant gardening and the BNH program, please click here. If you are already on the path to saving the natural world with native plants in your garden, please consider submitting an application this season!

Wild Columbine
Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) blooms in mid to late spring, and attracts hummingbirds as well other pollinators.