Gardening at the cottage

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Gardening is a much simpler affair at the cottage. You want to keep your cottage property as natural as possible to preserve the nature around you. Leave the grass at home You haven't come to the cottage to mow the lawn so why not let the natural plants take over? If you do put in grass make sure there is a buffer between the lawn and your shoreline to prevent the grass from choking out the native species. Stop mowing the lawn and let things go a bit wild. You're on vacation. Build up the shoreline Most cottage waterfronts have been stripped of the native shrubs, trees, grasses and other plants that act as a buffer and stop erosion. Replanting these native species is one of the best things you can do for your lake. Most of these plants are low maintenance so once planted you can sit back and enjoy the view. Stop being a neat freak Resist the urge to clean up. Unless they pose a hazard to people, leave the dead trees standing. They'll soon turn into a hotel for birds, mammals and insects. If you're lucky a woodpecker may take up residency. When the dead tree does fall, leave it on the ground to decay and become a food source or habitat for small woodland creatures like chipmunks. Driftwood or fallen trees at the shoreline should also be left alone since they provide feeding grounds and spawning areas for fish, frogs, salamanders and other aquatic animals. They also prevent erosion of the shoreline. Go casual The cottage garden is much more informal so relax with your layout. Choose groupings that imitate natural patterns and then plant for diversity. Since you don't want to spend your entire cottage vacation watering or weeding try to choose plants with requirements that closely match the conditions of your site. Drought resistant plants are the best choice, especially if you are at the cottage only on weekends. You can also plant everything close together as this reduces watering and weeding. When possible choose heritage seeds for the appropriate plants. You want to avoid introducing any invasive species so always check before planting. Canadians can find a listing of native flowers, shrubs and trees on the Evergreen Native Plant Database. This volunteer project also offers planting tips and other resources. Almost every U.S. state has a native plant site that offers suggestions on what to plant and what to avoid. Build a corridor Fill in those low-traffic areas with native shrubs and grasses. Plant flowers to attract the butterflies and birds into your area. Bushes with edible berries will attract birds so are a good choice. Once you have some thick foliage you can create a wildlife corridor for animals and birds to use and cross over to the water's edge. Then you'll really be able to sit and watch nature at its best. Shelagh McNally is the editor of Green Living Online and an avid gardener.