JeffCo H2O: Square Peg, Round Hole


You saw a picture of what you consider to be the perfect yard and can’t seem to get it out of your mind – lush weed-free turf, abundant blooming flowers, and perfectly pruned shrubs.  You say to yourself: “I don’t care how much work or money it would take to have a yard that looks like that – it would be worth it!”  It’s easy to get carried away by the standards set in those pristine (and probably enhanced) photos you see in magazines.   Trying to force a set of standards on your landscape when natural conditions, your time, or your resources make it impossible for your yard to live up to those standards can be counterproductive, time consuming, expensive, and filled with seemingly endless tasks: watering, fertilizing, raking, spraying, clipping, bagging…the list goes on. 

Usually when we try to interfere with our landscape’s natural balance and attempt to take over what would best be left to nature, we are in effect trying to put that square peg (the perfect yard in the picture) in a round hole (the realities of our yard).  Our efforts inevitably set off a series of necessary and expensive ‘fixes’ which can include overuse of yard chemicals and extensive watering requirements.

Spring is nearly here and the frigid unpredictable winter weather of January and February  is safely in the past (we hope).  This is a great time to take stock of your landscape and consider making choices that follow the path of least resistance.  By letting the conditions in your yard – sun, shade, wet, dry, flat, sloped – dictate what grows where, you will go a long way toward creating a lovely and low maintenance yard.  You may want to read the wonderful 12 Lessons Learned by John Manion, Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, to learn more about working with and appreciating the uniqueness of your yard.

12 Lessons Learned

By John Manion

Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator, Birmingham Botanical Gardens


After many years of several types of gardening in many different locations, I have developed the following list of lessons I have learned that may be used to establish, preserve, or maintain a healthy and sustainable ecosystem:

  1. Work with what you have – versus trying to impose your wants on your landscape. If you have sun, plant sun loving plants; if you have poor drainage, plant species that like wet feet from time-to-time.
  2. Take your cues from nature; it knows how to do it best. Use native plants; they already know what to do!
  3. Develop an intimate relationship with your landscape over time. Study factors such as its light, moisture, and air flow.
  4. Think of your property as a stepping-stone, or corridor for wildlife – and thus provide safe passage.
  5. Plant a variety of plant species and group several of each species together. Many plants are reputed to repel certain pests and pathogens and larger clumps attract beneficial insects more effectively.
  6. Learn which plants are hosts to desired insects and animals, and then plant them in groupings of several plants.
  7. Always include a source of water, whether it is a bird bath, a pond, or a rock with an indentation that holds water.
  8. Avoid dedicating large areas to plants that require significant use of chemicals and/or fertilizers, such as lawns. Keep in mind that monocultures (an entire area with a single plant species) are host to a reduced variety of beneficial organisms.
  9. Avoid extensive use of synthetic fertilizers and significantly limit, or even consider ceasing, the use of chemically based herbicides and pesticides.
  10. Remember that many of the most beneficial organisms are microscopic, so maintain healthy soil.
  11. Compost, compost, compost! I believe that making and applying your own compost is the single best thing you can do for your landscape. Its benefits are countless.
  12. Be a lifelong learner and take advantage of the countless sources of information…online, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, public gardens, libraries, Master Gardeners and other plant groups.

What’s Happening?

Come on out to the Brown Bag Seminar Series, co-sponsored by Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Jefferson County Storm Water Management. This nine seminar series, which runs March through August, is free with no reservations required and light refreshments provided.  For more information, call 325-8741.

Upcoming seminars include:

Trees and Shrubs – March 26, Birmingham Botanical Gardens – 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  (Auditorium) Find out why planting the right plant in the right place at the right time makes all the difference!  Instructor: Mike Rushing

Eat Your Yard – April 2, Birmingham Botanical Gardens – 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  (Auditorium) Discover how to incorporate fruits, vegetables and herbs into your existing landscape.  Instructor: William Randle

Medicinal Gardening – April 9, Birmingham Botanical Gardens – 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  (Ireland Room)  Learn about herbal medicines and how to include them in your garden and everyday life.  Instructor: Cameron Strouss

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203

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