Native Design

DesignSTL|May/June 2020

Native Design
SUE AND ANDY LEAHY’S GARDEN IS A MAGNET FOR POLLINATORS AND PEOPLE ALIKE.
KIM HILL

It may be hard to believe, as you eye the following three pages, resplendent as they are with life and beauty, that Sue Leahy wasn’t much of a gardener until she got hooked on native plants 12 years ago. ¶ But today, her yard—both front and back—is home to nearly 200 species of plants, nearly all of them native to the Midwest. An advocate for sustainable gardening, Sue serves on the board of Wild Ones St. Louis, a nonprofit that seeks to restore and establish native plant communities. She is also passionate about education. That made her decision to open her garden to hundreds of visitors during the 2019 Sustainable Backyard Tour easy. ¶ Sue is drawn to natives for many reasons, she says, including their extensive root systems, which hold soil and slow water runoff, and their ability to attract birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to her yard. ¶ That wildlife is what transformed Sue from an uninformed sometime gardener into an evangelist for natives: “I like the wildlife the plants have brought to the backyard—the birds, butterflies, and bees are what I’m all about. I’m not doing this because I like to garden.” ¶ Last summer, at Design STL’s request, Sue welcomed photographer Greg Rannells to her Brentwood home. He captured the life cycle of the garden in three phases, from high summer to early fall. ¶ “I enjoy the plants, don’t get me wrong, but the plants are the means to the end,” says Sue. “I’m trying to do my little part to improve the overall health of the planet, because God knows it needs help.”

WHAT’S JUMPING IN JULY?

In the Leahy garden, it all started with a stream pond and waterfall. After their installation, in 2007, toads began appearing in the springtime, singing and laying their eggs. Sue enjoyed watching the tadpoles and decided that she wanted to attract more wildlife. So she and her husband, Andy Leahy, planted a butterfly garden, although there was no real master plan for the backyard. Then she attended a lecture by entomologist Doug Tallamy on the importance of natives in biodiversity. During his talk, Sue turned to her husband and whispered, “We’re not done.”

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May/June 2020