Pollinators can find everything they need in this super low-maintenance landscape.

By Lauren Dunec Hoang
September 16, 2020
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When his parents purchased a home in Carroll, Iowa, Austin Eischeid saw what many aspiring garden designers dream of: A blank canvas. “I drove home with a car full of plants the weekend they moved in,” says Eischeid, who was working toward a bachelor’s degree in horticulture in nearby Ames at the time. He arrived at their new place with a clear vision of a meadowlike landscape of grasses and flowering perennials. He got the idea after hearing horticulturist Roy Diblik lecture on the beauty of naturalistic gardens and their ability to attract pollinators. Practically speaking, Eischeid saw the approach as a way to give his parents a break from frequent pruning, watering, and mowing.

mother and son in garden
Austin Eischeid and his mother Belinda admire the different blooming perennials in the garden he designed.
| Credit: Carson Downing

So out went the front yard’s clipped lawn, along with shrubs and overgrown vines in the backyard. In their place, Eischeid arranged plants in drifts as they might grow in a prairie, a move he has learned during his time working with Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. Eischeid also put techniques from school into practice, such as tightly packing plants to prevent weeds.

person standing on garden path
Instead of a front lawn, a diverse mix of plants fill curved beds.
| Credit: Carson Downing

Eleven years in, the garden overflows with grasses and flowers and has become a retreat for Eischeid's parents. He himself now lives in Chicago, where he works as a garden designer, but his mom, Belinda, keeps him updated on how plants are filling in and which flowers the bees are visiting. “She sends me 40 to 50 pictures a week, no joke,” Eischeid says. “She calls the garden her entertainment.”

With the new design, the garden requires almost no care. "In 11 years, it has only been watered five times, when there have been droughts," Eischeid says. His parents skip the typical fall cleanup and let the perennials go to seed as food for birds and winter interest. In early spring, they mow perennial beds to the ground but leave the debris where it falls as compost to insulate the soil and fuel new plant growth.

fountain in center of garden
Providing a sense of order, clumps of 'Millenium' allium and 'Autumn Joy' sedum alternate around the central fountain in the backyard.
| Credit: Carson Downing

How to Create Your Own Natural Garden

You don't have to hire a professional landscape designer to make your own garden a little more pollinator-friendly. Eischeid has a few easy tips anyone can use to embrace a more natural style in their garden.

purple ‘jeana’ phlox
Butterflies flock to clusters of 'Jeana' phlox.
| Credit: Carson Downing

1. Plant Perennials

Eischeid suggests choosing five to seven varieties and planting several in a mass for waves of color and texture. Repeat combinations in different beds, such as clusters of alliums, coneflowers and penstemon next to moor grass.

foliage and flowers around driveway
Along the driveway, perennials step down in height from tall Culver's root to midsize sea lavender to low oregano.
| Credit: Carson Downing

2. Let Your Plants Grow Naturally

Part of the beauty of a garden is seeing it unfold through the seasons. Eischeid suggests skipping deadheading and instead watching perennials' life cycle: Filling in, flowering, and setting seeds.

potted ‘hawaii’ bromeliad
A potted 'Hawaii' bromeliad draws the eye to the back of the garden with a bright hit of color.
| Credit: Carson Downing

3. Design Stopping Points

If you're packing your garden with plants, Eischeid says it's important to create breathers in the form of containers, seats, or fountains. In his parents' backyard, he included three water features and five small seating areas.

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