Local gardener wants people to plant native

Nathan Steele

A local gardener is encouraging people to use native plants in their garden design this spring. Susan Pang and her husband bought property near Hot Springs in 2017 and in Custer last year. Right now, they’re in the process of removing invasive species from their property and replacing them with native plants, a process they also undertook with their property in St. Louis, Mo.
Pang had been involved with Wild Ones in St. Louis, and when she and her husband bought property in South Dakota, she wanted to begin a “seedling” chapter for the Black Hills, the first ever in South Dakota. “Wild Ones: Native Plants, Natural Landscapes” promotes environmentally-sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity through the preservation, restoration and establishment of native plant communities. Pang became a Master Gardener in 2010, and after that became a Master Naturalist.
To become a “Chartered Chapter,” the seedling needs to have officers selected, 10 paid members and a meeting calendar for 12 months with four confirmed plans. Pang says that a few people have already expressed interest, but once enough people join, Pang has a vision for a lively native-plant loving communality.
“It’s just a way for like-minded people to get together,” said Pang. Once signed up, she said members can expect monthly meetings, hearing from guest speakers, and to be a part of a network of people, almost like a support group, said Pang.
“If you have a plant that’s not doing well, you have a bunch of plant friends to talk to,” said Pang.
She would also like to see the chapter grow to have plant fairs and sales, host seed exchanges, have a booth at the farmer’s market and to develop a native wildflower garden somewhere in town.
Pang says that anyone that’s interested in nature, even animals and geology, can get involved.
“You don’t have to know a thing about plants. No special experience is required,” said Pang.
Pang also enjoys talking with people about enviromental issues because it is non-political, she said.
“If you believe in God and that this Earth is God’s creation, then what more is there to say?” said Pang.
The process of learning more about native plants and incorporating them into her properties has “really just opened my eyes,” said Pang.
She uses an analogy of dog breeds to explain her approach to landscaping and gardening. A traditional lawn is one Pang would compare to a poodle, needing constant grooming. Non-native plants might require frequent waterings and be more difficult to establish because they come from a different place and are naturally adapted to other climates.
“Lawns come from Europe. They never were American. It’s not natural to here,” said Pang. She explained that traditional European grass lawns were adapted to European climates where they get lots of rain, cooler temperatures and people had livestock to graze them. In the Americas, however, different climate conditions and plant life don’t easily allow for the same approach to landscaping.
Because Pang uses native plants that are already adapted and used to this climate, they require less watering, if any, and are  usually more easy to establish. She also never mows or cuts the plants she has. This kind of garden “works for you” said Pang, much like a work dog might work for its owner.
“God did a good job. You don’t need to do much,” said Pang.
At her St. Louis home, Pang planted a “rain garden” which strategically collected rain and directed it to her native plant species. This way she never needs to water her garden.
“It doesn’t matter how much it rains, and it’s fine,” said Pang.
Native plants are also more recognizable and attractive to local birds and pollinators like butterflies and bees. Wild Ones especially encourages the planting of native milkweed species, a tall and showy type of flower, which is the only kind of plant that hosts monarch butterflies. Since 1990, monarch butterfly populations have plummeted by a total surpassing 900 million, according to the Nature Conservancy.
“There’s a lot of plants  that have adapted to this climate and have a relationship with other animals. There’s a whole food web,” said Pang. “If we take all their supply of milkweed away, there won’t be any monarchs.”
Those interested in Wild Ones can contact Pang by email at sownative@gmail.com for more information. She asks that “Wild Ones” be in the subject line.

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