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Green Towson Alliance to recognize native planting

With buds on the cusp of blooming, golden ragwort attracts small bees and is host to the caterpillar of the gem moth.
With buds on the cusp of blooming, golden ragwort attracts small bees and is host to the caterpillar of the gem moth. (Maeve McGee/Courtesy photo)

I am so happy that spring is here! I’m enjoying seeing new signs of life emerging daily.

Anneslie resident Beth Miller invited me to come see her woodland garden and learn a bit about native plants (defined as plants that were here before European colonization).

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Last year, Miller replaced her front lawn with native plants, which support hundreds of species of insects, moths, butterflies and caterpillars — a great food source for birds (incidentally, doves are nesting in her trees).

Some of the many natives in Miller’s yard include: American holly; tulip poplar; goldenrod; serviceberry trees; mountain mint; oak leaf hydrangea; celandine poppy; and willow oak (a “keystone species” that hosts 500 kinds of moths and butterflies).

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“It all makes sense when you know,” Miller said, of choosing native plants over non-native or invasive plants. “Natives don’t require chemicals, they have better roots, are more drought resistant, don’t need to be fertilized. They draw insects, that draw birds.”

She raked the fall leaves into the garden beds, creating a safe haven for overwintering butterflies.

As I toured the space, I learned how newly awakened spring ephemerals, such as blood root, are an important food source for ground bees. Ants and woodland mice carry the seeds away, and new growth spreads.

I learned that even some plants we might discard as weeds have essential roles in the ecosystem.

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Green Towson Alliance is keen to find more yards like Miller’s in our community.

GTA has just announced the area’s first Native Garden Contest. Anyone who lives in Towson and incorporates native plants, trees, shrubs or grasses in their yard is encouraged to enter. Entries may be a single garden bed, an entire yard or a community plot.

Photos can be uploaded from June 14 to July 16. GTA’s Homegrown National Park Workgroup will select semifinalists, then open online voting to the community. Winners will be announced on July 26.

Patty Mochel of GTA hopes the contest will inspire public interest in native plants and their importance to the environment.

“Insects and birds can’t keep declining or the next era will really be daunting,” Mochel said. “Most insects [90% of them] can eat only the leaves of native plants.

“Virtually all birds must feed insects to their fledglings. This is why native plants are a vital link to the food webs that support our local ecosystems — the pollinators, butterflies, moths, birds, and wildlife that share our communities. In this contest, Green Towson Alliance will celebrate our neighborhood gardens and yards that contribute to the health of our local ecosystems and mitigate the effects of climate change.”

GTA is redefining what a thriving and meaningful garden space looks like. It can be pretty, peaceful and calming, but even more so it’s about function, harmony and healing.

“When combined, our yards become a giant nature park, and together we can restore the ecosystem,” Mochel said.

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