3 Sustainable Plant Choices for the Family Garden

Sustainable Plant Choices: Beautiful, Edible & Pollinators

There are many plants, edibles and ornamentals, that are beautiful to look at, tasty to eat, and beneficial for pollinating insects. The perfect trifecta for your gardens. When I design a garden I always think, “how can I maximize its positive environmental impacts?” I have 1000’s of possible plants to use swirling through my head during the landscape design process. But more times then not I come back to using the same five or so trees, five or so shrubs, and ten or so perennial species. Why? Because they have the “big 3” attributes I mentioned above…

The Big “3”

We all know the value of food, we need it to sustain life. Beauty…some people will tell you it is as important to them as food. But pollinators…what does it have to do with me? Most people know that bees are important pollinators. But many species of butterflies, moths, birds, bats, flies, and wasps are also pollinators. Without them many plants and animals in the world could not exist. Almost 90% of the flowering plants worldwide require an insect or animal to distribute the pollen in order to set seed and fruit.

Spend time with your children this fall evaluating your gardens for their “big 3” characteristics. If a plant has does not have any of the characteristics, do you want to keep it? Maybe this fall will be the time to dig up all your invasive plants and divide the plants, or purchase plants that have the characteristics.

Here is my list of plants I commonly use that have the “Big 3”

  1. Trees: fruit trees, nut trees, serviceberry, sugar maple, arborvitae, dogwoods
  2. Shrubs: blueberry, currents, elderberry, rugosa rose, aronia
  3. Perennials: coneflower, daylilies, bee balm, catmint, edible herbs, wintergreen, ornamental vegetables


Jim McSweeney

Jim is a certified arborist, certified horticulturist, licensed pesticide applicator (needed for the application of organic pesticides in MA) & a professional landscape designer with over 15 years experience. He is also the owner of Hilltown Tree & Garden LLC. Jim is on the faculty at the New England Wildflower Society, teaching courses on a diverse range of topics. He lives and works in Zone 5 (Chesterfield, MA) with his family. Once a month here on Hilltown Families you will find timely gardening tips, from a pro in the field, that can be easily used by both avid and novice gardeners, specific to Western MA.

[Photo credit: (cc) George Bott]

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