Landscape architect Drew Harrigan worked with the developers of Southern Stove Lofts at Hermitage Road and West Leigh Street to incorporate a mixture of native and drought-resistant plants, to conserve water and control erosion. Jay Paul photo
Drew Harrigan knew it was going to be a chore to dig up all the invasive ivy and non-native shrubs that had overtaken his backyard, but the work had to be done before he could start bayscaping work on his property.
Harrigan, a landscape architect and owner of Four Winds Design, started the work in 2004 when he moved into his Richmond home. "It took me about four months to dig up everything," he recalls. "It was quite a mess to clear."
Bayscaping, a form of natural landscaping, uses native plants to reduce the environmental footprint of homeowners in their communities. The concept was created in 1991 as a joint effort of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We wanted to come up with a conservation landscaping technique for homeowners," explains Chris French, the alliance's Virginia director. "We use the program in our Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts."
Bayscaping techniques stress the importance of native plants because they are better adapted to a local area and aren't as invasive or as susceptible to pests and diseases as exotic or non-native plants. "You want to replace what is different with what is natural and easy," says Laurie Hewitt of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The focus of this type of landscaping is on conserving, creating or preserving a diverse habitat that doesn't harm the environment. "People are just now realizing that what you do on the land will impact what happens to the water," says Summer Schultz, director of education programs at the Science Museum of Virginia, which created a "BayScapes Garden" on its front lawn this spring.
The goal is to help protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which runs from New York down to the James River. The metro-
Richmond area falls in the James River watershed. Points to the north of Richmond are in the York River watershed. Both flow into the bay.
Residential runoff that goes into the bay produces algae blooms that remove oxygen from the water and create dead zones. "Nothing can live there," says Hewitt. "It's a major problem, especially in July and August."
Native plants such as cattails help to reduce water runoff that eventually ends up in the Chesapeake Bay. "They also help improve the local water quality because they have a deeper root system, which allows water to filter into the soil more than it would if you just had turf grass," French says.
Homeowners can benefit from bayscaping in a number of ways. It cuts down on maintenance costs by lessening the expense of watering because plants have adapted to the local climate. It also reduces the need for pesticides and herbicides and provides a habitat for local wildlife. In addition, this landscaping method can help with poor drainage and erosion.
Hewitt suggests that homeowners begin with a few native plants here and there. "A lot of plants reseed so you can collect seed heads, label them and plant them in the garden next year," she says.
Many of the native plants grow back year after year. "You won't have to keep putting in tender annuals each year," Schultz says.
In his landscape designs, Harrigan takes into account various factors such as sun exposure, slope of the land, soil type and drainage patterns to keep storm water onsite rather than having it run into creeks and drainage areas. "You can create bed buffer systems for the lawn or driveway or any waterway you may have adjacent like a ditch or storm sewer," he says. "Buffers help filter out contaminants in the water and keep less water from running into the waterways."
Examples of native plants that can be used in bayscaping include butterfly weed, phlox, black-eyed susan, purple coneflowers that attract butterflies and honey bees, native honeysuckle that attracts hummingbirds and milkweed that supports Monarch butterflies. "It's the only plant they use for laying eggs," says Hewitt.
Native shrubs and trees include Virginia sweetspire, inkberry and hollies such as winterberry, yaupon and native American.
One of the easiest and most low-maintenance forms of bayscaping is planting a wildflower meadow. "You can just sow the seeds, and they will come up year after year," Schultz says.
Brownie Watkins lives on a finger of land that juts out into the water around Irvington in the Northern Neck. She was concerned about runoff because the landscape of her property includes steep banks. "I didn't want to create extra runoff," she explains. "We worked...to be sure that everything we planted was a native plant or a plant that was at least acclimated to the area so it would be hardy and not require much water."
Watkins also had gutters installed that feed into a storage tank under her deck. "We use that runoff to water the garden," she says, adding that her paths and walks are all permeable surfaces that allow water to saturate the ground instead of running off into the bay. She feels she made the right decision by using bayscaping techniques. "Everything looks pretty, and it's maturing nicely. It doesn't require a lot of attention from us."
The concept of bayscaping has picked up momentum since some nurseries have added sections for native plants. "The most visited page on our Web site is the page with native plant nursery listings," Hewitt says.
Harrigan is seeing the trend firsthand, he says. "More people are looking for this type of landscaping. Being environmentally conscious is a bigger part of societal thinking."
Want to have a look?
The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has four bayscaping demonstration sites in the Richmond metro area:
- The Science Museum of Virginia , 2500 W. Broad St., 864-1400
- Bandy Field Nature Park , off Three Chopt Road south of Patterson Avenue, adjacent to the University of Richmond
- Tredegar Educational Demonstration Garden across from the Tredegar Ironworks, 470 Tredegar St. along the James River in downtown Richmond
- A small project at Tricycle Gardens on Jefferson Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets in Church Hill
For more information on bayscaping, visit the following Web sites:
- Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay : www.acb-online.org/project.cfm?vid=85
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service : www.fws.gov
- National Fish and Wildlife Federation : www.nfwf.org