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LANDSCAPING WITH NATIVES
LOW MAINTENANCE GARDENS

Anne K Moore
Photographs by Anne K Moore

Rick Huffman is passionate about the environment.  When Huffman graduated from the University of Georgia, he flip-flopped through several landscape-related jobs.  When he couldn’t interest employers in using native plants and sustainable gardening practices, he decided, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to have to do it myself.”  And so, his business, Earth Design, came into being fourteen years ago in Pickens, South Carolina. 

He believes, “Education leads to understanding.”  He travels the state speaking, teaching, and installing earth-friendly gardens.  He has won numerous awards for his volunteer and professional work including Environmental Educator of the Year and the Governor’s Award for Environmental Awareness.  According to Huffman, “Statistics show that a well-maintained landscape increases property values 15-20% and native plants located in the proper environment require much less maintenance than the average landscape.” 

When planning a landscape for an individual homeowner or for a business, Huffman’s focus is on plant communities.  “The surest way to build a landscape of native plants is to look at where they came from.  “With our sixty-five mile per hour lifestyles, we have forgotten how to look closely,” Huffman explained.  Gardeners should, “learn to look at nature.  There are models all around us.”  Homeowners can be more environmentally friendly by integrating rain barrels, rain gardens, and native plants into a new or existing landscape.

Rainwater harvesting is not new.  It has been used around the world for thousands of years.  By hooking up a rain barrel, you can save water that would otherwise run to storm drains.  A roof area of only 1,000 square feet might provide about 600 gallons of water during a one-inch rainfall.  If you use the collected rainwater on dry days, there will always be room for more rain. 

In order to put a rain barrel to use, your house should have gutters and downspouts.  The rain barrel system should contain a tight-fitting lid.  Lids on rain barrels are important to keep out thirsty animals that might fall in and drown, and to keep the mosquito population from using it as a nursery school for their wiggly youngsters.  It should also have a diverter so that when the barrel is full, the water reroutes back to the downspout and out to a drainage area.  Using a rain garden as a drainage area slows or stops water runoff in the yard.

A rain garden’s purpose is to hold water in the landscape where it can percolate to the plant roots.  It holds and slowly filters excess water back to the underground aquifer.  If you have a natural depression in your yard, you already have a spot for a rain garden.  On the other hand, you can dig one.  It should be at least ten feet from the house foundation.  You can either pipe water from your downspouts or put the rain garden in a naturally occurring run-off area.  Trees, flowers, and shrubs you use in the rain garden should be both wet and drought tolerant. 

There are plants that will flourish without trimming and fussing and that are adapted to local rainfall and soil types.  “If you choose natives and place them in the same or similar conditions where they grow in the wild,” said Huffman, “they will thrive in your garden.”  You can be a gardener and still have time to lounge in the garden furniture and hammocks of your garden rooms. 

“Many of our native plant choices are extremely hardy,” Hoffman pointed out.  He calls these, “Stick plants - you can beat them with a stick and they still grow.”  Making a difference starts with one person and an idea.  Plant trees and shrubs to clean the air.  Plant native grasses and sedges to clean the water.  Plant flowers to feed the pollinators.  Make a difference.

PHOTOGRAPHS, Top to Bottom
Native wisteria ‘Amethyst Falls’
Native hydrangea, oakleaf hydrangea
Coneflower

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