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Following the natural lay of the land, the landscaping at both the Native Plant Collection and Caroline Black Garden provides examples of how to stray, in an environmentally responsible way, from the straight and narrow path. For instance, new variations of Connecticut's state flower, the shade-tolerant mountain laurel, are featured in borders leading to the pond. A wide hedge in the Caroline Black Garden contains a collection of evergreen and deciduous hollies.
To preserve the Arboretum's native character, the grounds staff maintains the plants rather than weeding and whacking them into oblivion. Natural ground covers include native ferns and moss—both smart alternatives to turf. (Fern beds, in fact, were common borders in the early 20th century.) And here's a tip for homeowners: rather than reseed sun-starved patches of grass with a shade-tolerant variety, try coaxing blue-flowered periwinkle to grow beneath your trees, where it will provide a shiny evergreen blanket. After the first year, periwinkle should form a dense mat with no fertilizer, watering or mowing required.
"We are increasingly manipulating everything—all parts of the environment, even the so-called 'wild spaces,'" Dreyer explains. "It's time to realize that everything is connected: Your yard a part of the neighborhood and of the nearby woodlands. It all needs to be part of a single, living system."
It would take a lot of work—and more than 70 years—to create a garden as diverse and intriguing as Connecticut College's Arboretum, but every site has its own character and potential for genius. If we all dream a little and act locally, we can in our own small ways work to save the planet—and be certain our yards still reflect us.