Mixed Results on ReWilding: Robert Walzer

Below are reflections on the first season of ReWilding by Robert Walzer, bon vivant, traveler, news editor on Wall Street Journal foreign desk, and sometimes writer on music and culture. Robert’s enthusiastic and serendipitious approach to ReWilding, trying new species in his backyard, has definitely yielded mixed results! Is it too soon for Robert to declare failure? Are plants in the wrong spot? Or are Native Plants being over-promoted with too high expectations? Read on, and decide for yourselves …

It all began with my hate for my lawn. That weed-infested mess looked awful, yet I refused to bow to the tyranny of chemicals and fertilizers. So when I heard about Port Washington’s ReWilding group I tentatively decided to join them, liking the sound of their mission, and thinking they might have a solution to my lawn conundrum. I attended a couple of meetings with some enthusiasm, and a dose of skepticism, ordered plants and volunteered to help fetch the group’s orders from a nursery.

As summer ends, my verdict: Mixed.

Early on, I ditched my lawn dreams, opting to plant zoysia grass plugs (another experiment with mixed success. It didn’t work on the shady parts). I focused instead on planting native perennials on my raised, 200-square foot, backyard bed, lured by the promise of a wild garden with flowers, butterflies and bees that needed little maintenance. I didn’t have much experience, so when the plant list went around I just picked a random eight or so species of different shapes and sizes that looked attractive.

Some plants died or barely grew, especially the tiny ones like the Moss Phlox. Others, like the Swamp Milkweed and the Echinacea, grew tall and strong but never blossomed. In fact, barely a flower blossomed the whole summer. Some were somewhat attractive with nice leaves, like the Wild Indigo but still no flower. Others, like the Blazingstar and the Iris Versicolor, just languished.

I suspect the limited amount of direct light I have is a culprit. That problem, caused mainly by a now huge pine tree in my neighbor’s yard that he refuses to cut, has also plagued my vegetables on the same bed. Also I suspect a moderately late planting didn’t help.

I hope next year these same plants will come back stronger and better. And I’m considering buying some species with lower light requirements.

When it comes to gardening, hope springs eternal.

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