Natural Garden Myths

there are no velociraptors


As human encroachment into wilder areas brings us into more contact with other species, and as climate change helps some populations to increase and foster new diseases, ticks are a valid concern. That being said, several studies show that ticks prefer woodland and woodland edge habitat — prairies and meadows are too sunny and dry. Other studies show that a tall lawn is poor tick habitat while a lack of plant and animal diversity leads to an increase in tick-borne disease spread — so we actually need more plants and more habitat, not less, to create a safer environment. Of course, the over arching theme is that climate change will increase tick populations and disease. The benefits of contact with nature are innumerable both physically and emotionally, so as with anything, there are best practices to employ. Spraying down clothing and performing tick checks after coming inside are some of the actions to take no matter where we venture outdoors. Also, a good idea is designing your space to have wider walking paths so you are less likely to brush against foliage where ticks are questing.


Rats prefer human waste, so don’t toss cheeseburgers into your garden. You will have mice and perhaps voles, but they are part of the ecosystem; and as we restore wildness predators will return and revive healthier levels of trophic cascade. The more monoculture lawns and “cleaned up” areas we have, the less balance we have. The solution to “pests” (a problematic term based on human privilege and colonization) is more habitat, not less. And if you want to talk snakes, most are beneficial predators of rodents; if you have snake species you need to be aware of, research and learn their life cycles and habitat desires so you can plan your landscape accordingly (either supporting them or dissuading them — but knowledge is power and can often make us feel safer). Here in our neck of the suburban prairie, we just have garter snakes — and we’re grateful for them.

Stings + Allergies

Most common natural garden myths come from totally valid concerns, and we’re glad to help address them. Many folks are concerned that an abundance of flowers will attract bees that will mercilessly sting us. Did you know that most of our 3,500+ native bee species are solitary, meaning they have no hive to defend and thus aren’t easily agitated? Bees are hesitant to sting — they don’t want to and would rather keep foraging. Bumble bees will even lift their middle leg to let you know you’re too close — just never grab a bee. Also, it’s only the female bees that can sting, and some of them don’t even have stingers, just ovipositors (to lay eggs) that have a sharp barb they might use if you reach out and grab them. As for plant allergies, most flowers have sticky, heavy pollen — like goldenrod — that is not wind born, so to get an allergic reaction you’d need to rub your face in the flower. Hayfever is caused by ragweed species, for example, not goldenrod species.


If you live in a region prone to wildfires, you should absolutely foster a fire-wise landscape around your structures. Even in regions not prone to wildfires, it’s wise to create buffers between a wilder meadow and a structure, especially a wooden one; so think fire breaks made from lawn, or mowed meadow, or mulched pathways, or gravel sitting areas. The good thing is, unless you smoke in your garden, a wilder landscape filled with perennials grass and herbaceous perennials won’t burn for long or as hot or fester like a tree trunk — there’s just not as much biomass. In suburbia we have a lot of natural firebreaks, from a neighbor’s lawn to sidewalks, streets, and driveways. If you burn brush piles on your property be firewise — don’t burn on windy days and have an extinguishing source nearby (water, spades, flappers, skidsteer) along with some helpers.


There’s far more to unpack here than a short paragraph will allow, but the idea that a natural garden is messy is wrapped up in cultural norms and social pressures; one of those pressures is to fit in, not be seen as rocking the boat, etc. But the more examples we have of natural landscapes, the more they will be accepted — and replicated. But we can do a lot to help bridge the gap: employing cues to care, keeping garden beds shorter, selecting plants based on sociability, employing matrix design, repeating drifts and masses of seasonal flower species — all of which this website explores in depth through webinars, classes, pocket guides, and articles. And if your aesthetic is more formal, there are plenty of native plants out there that will work for you based on shape, size, and sociability.

No Work

Sorry, you can’t just plant and forget. Obviously, there are plant selection and design strategies you should take to ease the management intensity, but it’s still a garden and it still requires tending. We like to believe that a natural gardening IS less work than a lawn, for the simple fact if you’ve done your homework you don’t have to water every week, mow every week, fertilize, etc. Natural gardens are not low maintenance, but they are low management and often require less hand holding over the long term. Further, native plants are not drought tolerant — please stop sharing those blanket memes (and root depth has little to nothing to do with drought tolerance). Any plant, including exotic species, need to be fitted to the site conditions and plant community they are among. Native plants are not magical beans. Put a dry-loving plant in a dry site condition, don’t put a moisture-loving plant in sand on a hill in full sun just because the tag says “native” on it.

Fall Clean Up

Natural gardens are meant to remain standing throughout winter — in fact, they are healthier for it. Plants left standing reduce stormwater runoff and gather insulating snow. Plants left standing provide winter shelter for hibernating bumble bee queens, or caterpillars, or mourning cloak butterflies, or frogs and toads. Plus, brown is a color, too — enjoy the many hues of tans and rusts along with chocolates and the gothic hues of black seed pods and the cream umbels of aster seed heads.

Pines & Walnuts

Yes you can plant under pine trees and pine needles will not acidify the soil (well, they might a little bit at the soil surface.) There’s also a belief that black walnut trees prevent most plants from growing underneath them, which is also not true; we’ve planted all kinds of woodland species of perennial, sedge, and ephemeral under walnuts and pines with no issues whatsoever. Of course, as always, it’s a good idea to do a soil test and match plants to the site conditions and to one another.

No Play Space

“Kids need lawn” is a common mantra, as if the only place kids can exist outside is in a flat monoculture. Lawn is perfect for soccer, football, croquet, and Jarts (now illegal), but not so perfect for energizing wonder, wanderlust, creativity, or empathy for other species. Kids need lawn for a minority of activities, but kids need diverse nature for pursuing art, science, and self exploration, not to mention contact with beneficial microbes that can help reduce the development of allergies. While many lawns are maintained with dangerous fertilizer and herbicide treatments, a wilder space with plants suited to the site conditions won’t require such inputs, all while those plants help clean the air, soil, and groundwater making the landscape (and beyond) truly safer and healthier for kids.

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Front yard meadow bed full of diverse native plant flowers and grasses in the foreground, contrasting with the background of suburban monoculture lawns and hard concrete surfaces like streets, sidewalks, and driveways. We can do better for the health and resilience in the places we call home.