Urban Native Gardens

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What is It?

  • Urban Native Gardens refers to the use of plants, including trees, shrubs, ground cover, and grasses which are indigenous to particular areas for use in urban gardens. Its intent is to blend property into the natural setting of the area and to bring native insects and other wildlife back to the city.
  • Also known as: natural landscaping, native and urban gardens.

Why is it Important?

Native plants:

  • require no fertilization
  • are lower maintenance
  • help reduce erosion
  • absorb rainfall water - keeps water on site and not in storm sewers
  • are more tolerant of tough conditions such as drought and poor soil
  • are better adapted to local climactic conditions
  • better able to resist the effects of native insects and diseases
  • help reduce use of fossil fuels (due to lower maintenance - no mowing)
  • instill an understanding of our natural world - its cycles, changes and history
  • provide an opportunity to work with instead of against nature
  • blend better in with natural surroundings
  • help increase wildlife, such as birds, butterflies and pollinating insects
  • preserve the natural history of the area
  • reduces annual costs (no fertilizer, rare watering, no plant replacement)

When to Use It?

  • First, spend some time examining your site. Look at available sunlight, determine soil type (e.g. sand, loam, clay) and existing moisture levels. Choose plants accordingly.
  • Determine the space your plants will require (height and width) and see if there is a fit in your garden area.
  • Many urban settings will require a more 'well-behaved' group of plants due to space limitations - consider this when making choices.
  • After examining the points above, it's easy to see which plants are sustainable by observing how they grow. If they struggle, there is a good chance they need another location. Follow the mantra: right plant in the right place.
  • Some native plants form symbiotic relationships with microbes in their native soils. These plants may struggle in an urban environment even though everything else they need to grow is present.
  • This method is not sustainable if people are not available to follow the progress of the plants, or if the ground itself is compromised based on past use.

Green Garage Use of Urban Native Gardens

Sustainability Goals
  • Our goal is to develop garden areas around the perimeter of the building (parking lot, front, back and alley) that contain at least 90% native species. (We are referring to plants that are native to Southeast Michigan).
Strategy and Conceptual Design
  • Our overall strategy is "Right plant in the right place."
    • Begin with examination of sites to be developed, particularly with regards to sunlight.
    • Factors considered in plant selection
      • native/non-native
      • sun requirements
      • moisture needs
      • plant height and width
      • season of bloom
      • color
      • manageability
      • soil pH
      • type of soil
      • urban tolerance
      • climate and micro-climate
      • salt tolerance
    • develop plant lists on Google Docs form
    • take pictures of plant selections and place on artist's sketch of building's exterior
    • search for sources of plant material
  • Plant Selections

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Proposed Materials / Suppliers



Development Story

The Urban Native Gardens - Development Story page contains many images and videos documenting the process used at the Green Garage to design, build and operate our native garden system.

Related Internal Links


  • Natural Landscaping Wikipedia entry
  • Landscaping With Native Plants in Michigan by Lynn M. Steiner