Spring Projects in My Native Garden (Going Native in Toledo series)

Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

It’s been five years since I started my native garden journey. Like all gardens, it’s always a work-in-progress, and that’s part of the fun. I think most gardeners like to fantasize about their dream garden and make plans toward it each year. For instance, if money were no object, I’d hire someone to come in and cut a system of walking paths and have most of my lawn removed (lawns are ecological dead zones, supporting nothing). I’d have my long-yearned-for pond installed with a cozy seating area beside it. But in reality, I have to do what my budget and aging body will allow. So progress is slow. But I love my garden and spend many happy hours in it each year watching the insects that live among my flowers and shrubs.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Some of my beds don’t have neat edges to them, and that’s been on my to-do list for years. Having ill-defined borders to the garden beds makes everything look messy and untended, and it’s made me too embarrassed to share the garden with anyone other than close friends. So I think this might be the year I finally get that done. Part of the reason I haven’t done it yet is that I can’t make up my mind about what kind of edgings I want, and it feels like such a big project if I want to do it right.

The other day my neighbors asked if I wanted some edging stones they’d pulled up from their yard, so that nudged me into action. There weren’t enough of them to encircle my large island bed in the middle of the yard, but there were enough to put a nice edge on what I call the shade bed. I like it alot and it makes me more enthusiastic about cleaning up the edges on the rest of the beds.

This small corner of the yard below three redbud trees was my shade bed, the only part of my garden where I could plant shade-loving plants. Unfortunately, it’s in transition to a sunny bed now because I had to take out one of the trees last year and the other two are dying and will have to come out soon too. It’s frustrating because I’d been filling this bed with lots of spring ephemerals that typically grow in the woods: Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, wild ginger, sessile trillium, and Virginia bluebells among others. There’s shade under my silver maple tree but I can’t plant there because there’s still a massive root system left over from the large burning bushes I removed when I bought the house. And I lost a lot of shade when I had to remove the dying elm tree a couple years ago too. I’m planting new trees whenever I can, but they won’t create much shade in my lifetime, sadly. One of the biggest drawbacks to my yard is that it’s just too sunny and hard to enjoy on a hot day. Who wants to sit in the sun and read a book? Not me.

In preparation for the eventual loss of this shaded spot, I’ve planted a native nannyberry (viburnum) shrub in the center of the bed (you can see it above if you click to enlarge that photo). It should eventually be large enough to provide shade, but I worry that my spring ephemerals won’t survive the years in between when they’ll be getting pounded by the sun.

Wild ginger flower (Asarum canadense)

You’ll also notice two more of my nemesis yucca plants in that bed. Just looking at them makes me discouraged, so I try to ignore them until I’m ready for a long day of manual labor. Here’s a photo of the root system of one I dug up (for the third time) a few days ago. I added my glove for scale so you can imagine how large the full root system was — this portion was maybe a quarter of it. You have to get every tiny portion of the tuberous roots because all it needs is one little piece to regrow into another monster in a couple years. I just don’t understand why anyone plants these things! (I wrote more about this plant at the end of this post from 2020.)

You could probably knock someone out with this chunk of yucca root. (Yucca filamentosa)

The yucca in this bed is part of the reason I don’t yet have my pond. I want to make sure I’ve gotten all of the root system out so it doesn’t try to grow through the pond liner (yes, I think it could!). After I wrote most of this post I dug up the other yucca clump in the background of this bed. It took my about two and a half hours of digging but I think I have most of it out now. I’ll have to sift through the dirt in the hole to see if there are any more pieces lurking in there. Here’s the “before” pic:

And here’s the “after” with one of two full wheelbarrow loads of yucca parts:

As I was on my hands and knees tossing pieces of yucca root out of the hole, I accidentally tossed a little toad out. I think he’d been hibernating in there, because he was very lethargic. I moved him to a secluded area beside the shed and covered him with some of the dirt from the yucca hole. A little while later he’d woken up and moved on. What a miserable way to wake up from a long winter’s slumber!

Here’s one of the serviceberry shrubs I planted in 2018, blooming beautifully now and taller than me.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier species)

The chokecherry tree I planted last year is budding out right now and looks healthy so far.

Chokecherry tree (Prunus virginiana), planted in 2022

I just got some red-twig dogwood shrubs and am considering options for placing them in the garden. They can get 6-10′ tall and wide, so they’ll eventually help to re-establish some of the privacy that was lost when I removed the large burning bushes in 2018. (Maybe not in my lifetime, but the next owners of this house should be able to enjoy the privacy.) The old photo below shows the beautiful but very invasive burning bushes I removed. I sometimes wish I’d only taken out one at a time so I could have kept some of the privacy, but I think I was eager to prove how committed I was to reducing their negative impact on the environment. I’m not sure how much good I did in the grand scheme of things, because there are hundreds more of these very common landscape bushes in my neighborhood. Some states have made this plant illegal because birds eat the berries and poop the seeds out in natural areas where the plants grow and outcompete native shrubs, resulting in less of the biodiversity that’s so important.

Here’s where I’m thinking of putting the dogwoods, in that same corner of the yard. I’ll try to dig up the grass for this new bed, but will most likely end up putting down some cardboard to help kill it.

I’ve been reluctant to put many shrubs around the lawn areas because it’s too hard to mow around obstacles with a lawn mower trailing a long, heavy cord. But I just got a new battery-powered lawn mower, so now I’ll have more flexibility in mowing and I can start putting more shrubs around to create winter structure for the garden.

Well that’s about all I have to show you right now. It’s still early in the season, and my established native beds won’t do much blooming until June. Hopefully by then I’ll have made more progress on the edgings. And I’ve been resisting the urge to go chase insects so I can focus on some of these garden projects, but I’ll definitely have some bug pics for you soon. I did manage to toss my shovel aside quick enough to get some video of an American lady butterfly laying eggs on my pussytoes already. Enjoy!


  1. […] And below, notice the curling leaves on this large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora). If the flower is hidden from view as I approach the plants, I can be confused for a moment because my eyes focus on those curling leaves and I instantly remember how I’m always transfixed by the tenderness of the leaves on these bellworts. And my gosh, how can anyone not admire those delicately spiraling yellow petals? This was one of the first spring ephemerals I fell in love with. I have a couple of them in my garden, but they’ll likely die when I lose my last bits of shade in that bed this summer (I wrote about that unfortunate turn of events in my previous post). […]


  2. Your posts motivate me to dig into my gardens and clean them up. I’m just waiting for Mother Nature to show her warmer side. If you get bored in Toledo, I’ll gladly let you work on my projects!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That edging is looking great Kim. I can sympathise with all the work you are doing. Having a garden means work. No two ways about it. We’ve decided we are over it but after three tries to hire a gardener to come regularly to maintain things for us and had all of them quit for various reasons, we are not sure what to do next. It sounds like you are taking things step by considered step which should work well. Ours was working well until the storm last November and because the insurance company seems to have abandoned us we just can’t do anything to get it back together. Hopefully that will eventually change. Those Dutchman’s Britches to make me chuckle! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kim-

    Always a pleasure to read your posts! Sounds like you have been doing a lot of work there and I hope it all works out for you.



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