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Welcoming Wild Visitors

 DSM Gardens

April 22, 2024

Header image by Kelly Norris.

The hand-painted sign, adorned with a skull and crossbones, threatened visitors not to pick the Trilliums.

I was a third grader living on an island outside of Montreal, enchanted with the native Trilliums that blanketed our woods every spring. I was also horrified by the visitors to our island who would wander among the trees, plucking the sweet flowers from their woodsy habitat. Hence the menacing sign, and the first time I felt passion for native plants.

Fast forward to 2024, my approach is more productive, but inspired by that experience. I have been an avid gardener for more than 30 years, lead Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) for Dotdash Meredith, and operate a small garden planning business that has a native/eco-friendly focus. This approach prioritizes the use of native plants and embraces a more natural style, which supports the full ecosystem by providing habitat and sustenance. Eco-friendly gardens feed the beloved monarchs, native and honey bees, and other beneficial insects. Additionally — up and down the food chain — those insects nourish a dwindling bird population and eradicate many other pests that are not so welcome in our gardens.

Eco-Friendly Gardens in Greater Des Moines

Characteristics of eco-friendly gardens include an emphasis on native plants, a variety of species that create biodiversity, avoidance of chemicals, and a natural style that welcomes wildlife. According to Doug Tallamy, prolific author and T.A. Baker Professor of Agriculture in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, “By starting new habitats, we’ll create new ecological networks together. Through these small actions by many people, our efforts will have an outsized impact; ensuring that our world will sustain the plant and animal populations which sustain us.”

Plantings in business, municipal and home spaces are the best way to rebuild this vital habitat and support the wildlife we treasure. I have been amazed and impressed by the wonderful examples of eco-friendly gardens in Downtown Des Moines (DSM) and across our region. Look no further than the grounds of the Krause Gateway Center, Cowles Commons, The Neal Smith Federal Building, and the new Federal Courthouse, which is home to more than 17,000 native plants. The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden recently installed the Founders Garden, which is representative of an Iowa Sand Prairie. Dotdash Meredith just planted an eco-friendly garden along 17th Street between Locust Street and Grand Avenue, which will add to the downtown habitat as it matures; and the Krause Gateway Center features many native species.

Traveling out of Downtown DSM, check out the spectacular gardens at the Blank Performing Arts Center in Indianola, the Tom and Ruth Harkin Center on the Drake University campus and extensive native plantings at Easter Lake Park. While calling on a gardening client in Waukee this spring, I was impressed with the massive prairie restoration right outside her back deck. It’s exciting to see this movement picking up steam. I can’t name all the examples across DSM but encourage readers to list your favorites in the comments.

We can contribute to this effort with our own plantings at home. Whether you have your own yard, a community garden plot, or a few pots on your deck, consider giving even a small portion of your property back to nature. I recently read an Instagram post from the Mount Cuba Center that beautifully described what we as individuals can do. It supports the concept of conservation by addition — adding native plants to your space as you can. Consider replacing dead or dying plants with native species or purchasing native plants if you need something new. You can also convert part or all of your lawn to a native garden, prairie planting or turf alternative. It will save time and money related to mowing, water and chemicals. Many communities have reimbursement programs for native plants, rain barrels, soil improvement and rain gardens.

Spring has sprung, and Earth Month is in full gear. Spend some time outside enjoying our local eco-friendly gardens and consider nurturing your own in the manner that works best for you. Every little bit counts!

The Greater Des Moines Partnership calendar of events is a one-stop resource for activities taking place throughout the region. Find networking information for Greater Des Moines (DSM) businesses, including Chamber luncheons, roundtables and ribbon cuttings. You can also find live music happening each week thanks to the “Live Music This Week in DSM” blog series.

Jenny McCoy

Jenny McCoy is the Co-Chair of the Downtown Development Board.