Designing home landscapes that are both biodiverse and beautiful

Choosing plants and designs that are inspired by nature helps home gardeners achieve goals for smart, biodiverse and sustainable landscapes. Learn more at the 2015 West Michigan Home and Garden Show, March 5-8.

Smart Gardening display at the West Michigan Home and Garden Show.
Smart Gardening display at the West Michigan Home and Garden Show.

Trendy buzz words enter every day American conversations no matter what the topic. The same is true when discussing the finer points of gardening, landscapes or even nature. Just 10 years ago conversations and lectures about horticulture and garden design would focus on line, texture, symmetry and color. Today’s gardener delights in bigger words such as biodiversity, ecology and sustainability. For Michigan State University Extension, these concepts all lead toward intentionally gardening “smarter” by implementing research-tested practices and ideas.

Horticulturist and author Rick Darke has been studying how lessons learned from nature can be blended into our home landscape and garden design. Doing this, he says, will actually fulfill our family needs for outdoor living spaces yet be in harmony with habitat for birds, insects and wildlife around us.

Darke suggests we begin by looking at our landscapes as a whole. We are programmed to visualize our homes flanked by sparse and tidy shrubbery and tightly clipped lawns and are less comfortable seeing a natural, untamed habitat. Americans have long ago trimmed out the entire “middle” layer of native landscapes and repopulated with plants and turf that we can manipulate and control. Yet it is that middle layer that nurtures the birds, bees and butterflies that today’s gardener is looking for. The various plant types and structures form the foundation for an ecosystem that will support wild things.

So how do we design a “Smart Garden” that fulfills both our needs as well as nature around us? The first step is to gain a firm understanding of how our actions positively or negatively impact our surroundings. Choosing plants that are widely adaptable to our sites and providing support for healthy ecosystems are also a smart design practice. The Smart Gardener learns to adopt simple techniques such as raising the mowing height which can lead to monumental gains in reducing pesticide and water use.

Rebecca Finneran at smart gardening displayMSU Extension horticulture educators and horticulturist Rick Darke will be sharing Smart Gardening advice during the West Michigan Home and Garden Show, March 5-8, 2015, at the DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 303 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.

You can sit in on a free lecture or interact with MSU Extension Master Gardeners in their Smart Gardening display during this weekend event. (Scheduled Smart Gardening presentations listed below). Get free tip sheets on topics from lawn care, soil and soil testing, to landscaping with native plants, watering and other environmentally-friendly practices to make gardening easier.

New to 2015 are five free tip sheets on vegetable gardening:

Attend any of the following gardening seminars presented by MSU Extension faculty and staff for free.

Thursday, March 5 seminars
5:30-6 p.m. – Smart Container Gardening (Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension)
7-7:30 p.m. – Smart Vegetable Gardening (Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension)

Friday, March 6 seminars
1:30-2 p.m. – Pest Smart: Know the New and Unusual Pests in the Garden and Landscape (Bob Bricault, MSU Extension)
4-4:30 p.m. – Building Smart Soils with Composting (Rebecca Krans, MSU Extension)
7-8 p.m. – The Living Landscape, Designs for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden (Rich Darke, horticulturalist, landscape design consultant, author, photographer)

Saturday, March 7 seminars
2:30-3 p.m. – Smart Soils: Using the MSU Soil Test Self-Mailer to Fine-tune Your Soils (Hal Hudson, MSU Extension)
4:30-5 p.m. – Smart Water Management Using Drip Irrigation in the Garden and Landscape (Hal Hudson, MSU Extension)
5:30-6:30 p.m. – The Living Landscape, Designs for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden (Rich Darke, horticulturalist, landscape design consultant, author, photographer)

Sunday, March 8 seminars
1:30-2 p.m. – Smart Lawns with Minimal Pesticide Use (Hal Hudson, MSU Extension)

For more information on a wide variety of smart gardening topics, visit the Gardening in Michigan website at or contact MSU’s toll-free garden hotline at 1-888-678-3464. You can also visit us at the Novi Cottage and Lakefront Living Show Feb. 26-March 1 in Novi, Michigan; the West Michigan Home and Garden Show March 5-8 in Grand Rapids, Michigan; the Lansing Home and Garden Show March 19-22 in Lansing, Michigan; and the Garden Extravaganza Gardening Conference April 11 in Marquette, Michigan.

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