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CoastLine: Climate-friendly yards can evolve in stages, forgo raking leaves, and more gardening wisdom with Barbara J. Sullivan

Sure, you have a non-native invasive species, a beautiful plant, by the way, in a container on your back patio. There's no way it will wind up in a wild space, choking out native plants, depleting the local ecosystem, starving the pollinators. No way. Right? Wrong. Barbara J. Sullivan, who once was a traditional, English garden enthusiast, keeping things clipped, raked, and tucked, took her time accepting some of these ideas. She also implemented them in stages. As she explains, once you understand your private green space as part of an inseparable whole, you will never see it the same way again.

The planet is warming. We hear about this almost daily through national and international news stories and headlines:

China’s catastrophic summer shows its climate adaptation plans still have a long way to go, roars Vox. The Washington Post reports that climate change is fueling super hurricanes, and the World Economic Forum recently published an analysis of beaver habitats and why they might be helpful in mitigating the effects of climate change.

But many Americans still don’t think it’s a major issue. And even more Americans say they’re not convinced it’s caused by human activity. 538 offers polling that shows 36 percent of Democrats and just 5 percent of Republicans rank climate change as a top issue.

But wherever you fall on the belief spectrum, one local gardening expert is teaching us how to adapt for impacts in the southeastern United States. In her newest book, Climate Change Gardening For the South, Barbara J. Sullivan explores the impacts of climate change for individual gardeners. She offers ideas for altering private gardens so they survive the changing climate and ecosystem, while transforming them into oases for birds, pollinators, and other animals.

In her new book, she also challenges traditional gardening wisdom. On this edition of CoastLine, we explore some newer, more sustainable ideas about gardening, for example:

  • Approach sustainability in stages. When a non-native plant dies, replace it with a native plant. 
  • Consider shrinking the size of your lawn by using other types of native groundcover or adding more trees and shrubs.  
  • Plant more native trees.   
  • Forgo raking and disposing of fallen leaves as they can become habitat for good insects while feeding the ecosystem.  

Barbara Sullivan just might change your perception of what makes a successful garden. Whether a suburban yard, a strip in an urban setting, containers on a patio, or an open field, it’s possible to create a vibrantly healthy garden that is part of a larger climate change solution.

On Thursday, October 6, 2022, Barbara J. Sullivan will give a talk at The Bellamy Mansion about planet-friendly solutions for thriving gardens.  The talk will be followed by a book-signing.  The event begins at 6:30 PM and is free and open to the public.  $10 per person suggested donation.  


Climate Change Gardening for the South by 

Barbara J. Sullivan, UNC Press

Native Plant Finder: https://www.nwf.org/nativeplantfinder/

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

NC Cooperative Extension Brunswick County

NC Cooperative Extension New Hanover County

NC Cooperative Extension Pender County

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.