Boosting biodiversity: Q-C gardeners focus on native plants | Local News

Regina Haddock had been through an extremely stressful year.

The store housing the Quad-Cities’ Dress for Success program that she started and mentored for nearly 10 years was swamped by the 2019 Mississippi River flood, while at the same time she was trying to retire and transition the nonprofit business over to new leadership.

She was exhausted and sad.

Then she attended an Iowa State University Extension-Scott County workshop featuring Doug Tallamy. The entomologist from the University of Delaware offered a hopeful message about planting native plants in your yard to feed insects, including monarch butterflies, which hold together the web of life on earth.

Tallamy’s talk changed Haddock’s life, getting her involved in an upbeat activity at a down time. Now, she is on a mission to change other people’s lives — and help the Earth — by inspiring them to do what she did.

People who don’t know much about native plants can get pointers on Sunday, June 12, when Haddock’s garden will be one of three Davenport yards open for tours as part of the free, annual Garden Party sponsored by Grace Lutheran Church, Davenport.

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Organizer Ken Wellnitz said the planning group decided to focus on native plants this year because “I think there is increased interest,” including the formation of a Quad-City chapter of Wild Ones. The national nonprofit membership group promotes native plants and offers support to gardeners.

Haddock, a Wild Ones organizer, agrees.

“This is needed, and this will work,” she said of Tallamy’s idea that if enough people plant their yards with natives, they can create “a mosaic of habitat” that will help replace the habitats that are being destroyed for development, either agricultural, commercial or residential. “We can’t look to government” to do what’s needed, she said.

Visitors to her typical city lot on Arlington Avenue may be amazed at the number of individual planting beds she has created, and she has plans for more.

The boulevard next to the street, for example, is covered with corrugated board held down by pavers to kill the grass so Haddock can replace it with something creeping, such as wild strawberry.

In one of her side yards is a rain garden, designed and installed by Meyer Landscape and Design of Moline. A rain garden is basically a depression in the ground that will hold and infiltrate rainwater during storms, rather than letting it wash away. Haddock planted the area with a row of red osier dogwood, a native shrub, and various perennials that are labeled so visitors can learn the names of plants they might not be familiar with.

Construction of the rain garden — excavation, soil amendment and a gravel layer — cost about $6,000, but Haddock received $3,000 from the city of Davenport through its 50/50 cost-share rain garden program. Similar cost-share programs are available in other areas, including the city of Rock Island and the Scott County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Gardeners who love plants such as hostas and daylilies may wince to hear people like Haddock and Wellnitz talk about tearing them out, but both Haddock and Wellnitz advise that one doesn’t have to do this all at once; transitioning to natives can be a step-by-step process, and you can keep some of your non-native favorites.

“Every year, I plant a new patch,” Haddock said. “I don’t take stuff out until I have something better to put in its place.”

Another garden on the walk is that of Mary and Mark Davidsaver who provide an example of what’s possible with natives in a townhome setting with a homeowners association that can adopt guidelines on “weeds,” which would include milkweed, the native plant upon which monarch butterflies depend.

The “lightbulb” moment for Haddock about “weeds” came during the ISU Extension workshop when entomologist Tallamy explained that a lot of insects are specialists; that is, they eat only one kind of plant and if that plant is gone from the landscape, the insects will be too.

Sitting in the lecture, Haddock realized that was why she wasn’t seeing as many monarch butterflies as she had when she was a child, or why her windshield was no longer splattered with bugs after a drive in the country.

Native insects need native plants for food, and the more plant diversity, the more insect diversity.

Haddock has gotten so captivated by her new endeavor that she saves seeds to start new plants. She has more than a hundred tiny “starts” that she will give away (while supplies last) to visitors on the garden walk.

She also raises and releases monarch butterflies grown in mesh cages on her porch where they can pick up “daylight cues” to guide their development. Last year she released 300 butterflies and already this year she is collecting eggs from her milkweed leaves.

Next year, this could be you!

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