Dee and George Clark's landscape bursts with life and natural beauty - a Ruby-throated hummingbird zooms past with an iridescent flash, a dozen Black-Capped Chickadees sing their teasing songs high above crimson blooms of fire pinks, and a glistening spider web stretches from an unfurling fern to the trunk of a towering tree. Fourteen years ago, the Clarks began integrating wildflowers and native plants into the spaces around their existing exotics - ultimately creating a rich, robust, nature-friendly backyard.
"We started planting natives to attract wildlife," Dee Clark says. "Today, it's a constant source of pleasure for us. We have drifts of blue-eyed Mary, spreads of wild phlox, and several other native plants - all blending seamlessly into the more formal features of our landscape design."
Like the Clarks, many Chattanooga homeowners are trading in their perfectly manicured lawns and flower beds for a much wilder approach. Wildscaping, the practice of landscaping with wildflowers and native plants, is sweeping across the nation like an invasive weed. Landscapers and home gardeners are planting patches of purple coneflowers and showy black-eyed Susans alongside beds of prim and proper lilies and roses. Feathery native ferns and wild columbine plants are softening shadowy areas of yards where shade-loving hostas once presided.
The term native plant refers to species that grow naturally within a geographic region. These plants thrive without any assistance from humans and do well in the most unsavory settings - flourishing in remote countrysides and magically multiplying along highway medians.
"Other than their inherent beauty, there are many benefits to integrating natives into your landscape design," says Clark, who has been involved in the Hamilton County Master Gardener Program for 15 years. "Some are unbelievably drought resistant, like butterfly weed. It grows well in and around Chattanooga and offers brilliant splashes of orange color to flowerbeds and borders."
According to Clark, natives are also more disease resistant than most exotic nursery plants, and if planted correctly, they are low-to-no-maintenance.
"Wildflowers and natives also attract and feed bees, birds, butterflies, and other important pollinators," she says.
The warm, sunny weather and long growing season of Southeastern Tennessee offers perfect conditions for many varieties of wildflowers and native plants. Clark particularly recommends purple coneflower, black-eyed Susans, native ferns, coral honeysuckle, Jacob's ladder, columbine and asters for local landscapes.
"They flourish here if planted in their ideal soil, pH, moisture and light conditions," she explains. "Sun lovers must have sun, and shade lovers must have shade. Nothing will kill a native quicker than planting it in the wrong place."
The Clarks purchased many of their natives at the Spring Wildflower Festival & Native Plant Sale at Reflection Riding, a magnificent 300-acre arboretum, botanical garden, and historic site a mere 10 minutes from downtown Chattanooga. This year's spring plant sale is April 8, 9, and 10.
"We will have hundreds of native trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers for sale in different size containers - oak leaf hydrangea, Virginia sweetspire, Carolina jasmine, blazing stars, spiderwort, foam flower, blue wild indigo, and so many more," says Paola Craddock, curator of the Reflection Riding arboretum.
"And plenty of volunteers will be on-hand to help novice wildscapers identify native plants that will work well in specific landscapes and locations."
Aside from the plant sale, Reflection Riding is also offering a wildflower workshop for beginners and several wildflower and nature walks. "Our mission is to encourage people to grow natives in their own outdoor spaces," adds Craddock. "It's really not hard, and the rewards are beautiful - season after season."