(Drew Saunders, Sept. 4, 2017)
Novi, MI -What kinds of plants are native to Michigan, and does that matter in landscaping? Landscape architect Drew Lathin, who has a demonstration garden at his Novi home, takes pride in educating people about the distinction. He recently held an open house to show off his collection of native plants.
“I get questions – ‘Is hosta native?’ – and I usually say yes, to China,” Lathin said.
This is the sixth year that Lathin has run his own landscaping company, which only deals in plants native to Michigan.
There have been plenty of non-native species, including plants intentionally brought over for agriculture like apples and decorative ones like tulips, both brought to the United States from Europe.
And there are also invasive species like Japanese Stiltgrass, Garlic Mustard, Giant Hogweed and the 40 plus species of plants the State of Michigan lists on its invasive species database.
“In general people from the Midwest don’t know what a native plant is. They’ve never seen one,” Lathin said.
Standing in Lathin’s yard, he pointed out the bees to the Oakland County Times. The native plants were swarming with bees and other bugs. While the few non-native plants he had planted next to them, only occasionally had one bug on them.
Nodding Onion is a native true onion with purple flowers that comes out of its tall green trunk in a burst at the top, then droops down like Charlie Brown when he’s sad. It’s edible.
Another example is Cardinal Flower, a wetlands plant. It is a tall, red flower, which the hummingbirds swarmed around.
And there is an obvious reason Novi’s local hummingbirds and insects are in Lathin’s garden. Native bees evolved in stride with native plants. So, when they can find native plants, they are perfect for pollination; and by extension of course, the insects get more nutrition overall. It’s “beautiful to people, beautiful to wildlife,” Lathin said.
By providing natural habitat for the birds and the bees it produces a noticeably different look from the traditional green grass and flower lined yards that make up much of suburban Michigan. But different doesn’t mean not beautiful.
“This plant is Bigleaf Aster. You look at one flower and you go ‘This is really not much to write home about,’” Lathin explained, acknowledging that it’s not all that big or striking. “But when you pack the plants together and you get a drift like this, there’s a much different effect.”
“This is a different aesthetic, but it’s very formally designed,” Lathin added.
To create a native plant landscape, Lathin uses much less bush mulch than other companies, and packs the plants closer together.
Lathin works for local governments on specific city beautification projects, as well as residents and businesses. His company, Creating Sustainable Landscapes, is aptly named.
In most cases, Lathin will be asked just to add certain patches of plants in people’s yards, and then might be asked to add bits and pieces later. Unless the residence is brand new, Lathin usually isn’t asked to redo an entire garden in native plants.
“Not even my yard is all native,” Lathin said, pointing to the turf grass, hostas and boxwoods that are vastly outnumbered by native plants. “If you don’t count lawn, I’m probably about 90 percent native. If you include lawn, I’m about 70 percent native!”
Like any other landscaper, summers are Lathin’s peak time. He and his determined crew can be found at creatingsustainablelandscapes.com.