Saturday, January 10, 2015

Poll -- Why Can't We Have 100% Native Plant Gardens?

This is a genuine research question as I work on a book; it's not me baiting anyone. I'd love to hear your genuine reasons, those you've heard as well as those you believe, in why native plant gardens aren't practical, possible, or desired. Or whatever. I want to hear it all!


sweetbay said...

There are non-native plants that I love too much not to have in my gardens, such as bearded iris and a few roses. They also provide wildlife value.

Jean Campbell said...

Unless one is a constant weeder (no pun intended) the wind will blow in seeds and birds will bring seeds, too. I am thinking of large-scale gardens without a large staff here.

John Hannah said...

I think native plant gardens are incredible. We don't have enough of them with enough diversity to give the AWE inspiring factor needed to cultivate the desire to do it. It's way easier!

mr_subjunctive said...

Obviously we can have 100% native plant gardens.[1] I suspect most of the answers you'll get are along the lines of sweetbay's: people have emotional attachments to plants because of how they look, or who first introduced them to you, or because [non-native plant] was the first thing that grew really well for them, or whatever, and feelings trump logic.[2]

That the native plant evangelists seem singularly unwilling (unable?) to understand this has been baffling me for a few years now. To get people to grow more natives, you need to give them positive and specific emotional connections to natives, not tell them they're horrible human beings and responsible for destroying the planet if they plant some non-natives. 'Cause if the choice is between 1) having a slightly larger lawn, 2) having a non-native or mixed garden but getting shamed for it by purists, or 3) having a native garden where I don't actually like or care about any of the plants, I'm likely to just go with the bigger lawn and spend my time playing video games, doing needlepoint, lifting weights, or whatever less emotionally-fraught things people do for hobbies besides gardening.


[1] (The correct question is, may we have 100% native plant gardens?)
[2] (Or because the non-natives are being grown for food. Which is also emotional, but different.)

Benjamin Vogt said...

Thanks all! Keep them coming!

Mr S. -- here are my emotional connections via numbers

Diana Studer said...

for my third garden, I'm moving towards mostly indigenous/native.
I 'can't' go to 100% because my husband is attached to the inherited commonorgarden trees and shrubs.
But step by step, plant by plant I will tip the balance from commonorgarden like our neighbours, to MY indigenous.

I am deeply grateful for public gardens like the Biodiversity Garden in Green Point which is popular and appealing - turning the tide a little.

ellyabillion said...

My garden is a mix of native and plants adapted for my area (the mountain west). I have a few rose bushes inherited from the previous owner. They do well with little care, so it seems wasteful to rip them out just because they aren't native.

Doing a 100% native garden would honestly reqire more work to acquire plants. Most local nurseries sell the traditional plants and they don't typically indicate which plants are natives. The average beginning gardener would have to make a real effort to determine what is native to their area and how to acquire those plants, which is no small feat. Plus, if people want a vegetable garden or a cutting garden for flower arrangements, forget it.

It's going to require nonjudgmental education efforts and a change in gardening culture to make native gardens the norm. A real plus is native plants require way less maintenance then many of the fussier traditional plants.

Chingona said...

Are there compelling reasons why small-lot, >.25 acre private gardens ought to be one-hundred percent "native"?

Do you ever feel that there's a class issue you're not addressing here?

Anonymous said...

Here are the reasons why 100% native plant gardens are not the norm:

1. We live in a society that has become a "Lawn Cult". It's become the norm to have NOTHING in one's yard, but MOWED grass. This cult promotes a sterile lawn as a symbol of great achievement. Native plants gardens fall far outside this new norm.

2. IGNORANCE: Most of the general public is blindingly ignorant of native vs. non-native plants. What they select for their yards is whatever Lowes or Walmart offers. Certainly if these stores offered native plants, more people would buy them.

3. MENTALITY: Most home owners equate a normal yard as a lawn and perhaps one obligatory tree. The minority of us see lawns as wastelands and seek to grow native plants as habitat. The bigger picture here is mankind's widening DISCONNECTION from the natural world.

For me growing native plants provides a bridge to the natural world and Iowa's vanished prairies that I can't get from a Walmart Hosta. I also feel the duty to preserve these native plants for future generations and to help native pollinators, birds, etc. ALL of these "quaint" notions are completely foreign to most of the mass consumerism "lawn cult" general public.

Donna said...

Life is short. I have black cherry and oak, 6 varieties of golden rod and native roses. Still want the early flowers of Cornus mas for the bees and daffodils. Love finding new natives to add but unwilling to live without cheery marigolds and dahlias. I work with people to reduce lawns and find joy and delight in nature. Purists can do what they want but applying their goals to other folks defeats the purpose by causing defensiveness.

Anonymous said...

How in the world can people be convinced to plant only native plants when it is difficult for them to garden organically, not alone find native plants!

Donna said...

I think it is because we can't let go of plants we have grown to love. But if they are doing harm, I launch them. And I also think Benjamin that we need to show folks how to plant and maintain a native garden that has a wide diversity of plants. Once they see how easy it is (or how it is just as much work or less sometimes than a traditional garden), they are more likely to utilize natives...I still believe it is about educating people as to the how and why of native plants.

RetUPSer said...

Of course it's possible to have a 100% native garden. In fact in many ways it's easier and cheaper to go native. However for me, I seldom make liife choices based solely on ease or cost. To me gardening is an art form. Limiting the plants you use to create a garden would be much like painting a picture using only primary colors! An argument can always be made that resources "wasted" on art harm the community on the whole. There's truth in the sentiment that the " lawn culture" currently popular in America's neighborhoods has created monochromatic landscapes which cause harm to the environment. If everyone where to plant only natives, the environment would benefit but neigborhoods would still be monochromatic. I believe there is a middle ground.

Patricia Hill said...

I moved to my restored Sears bungalow in fall of 1997. It had been the worse house on the block, but was meticulously restored to its former glory. the yard had been full of overgrown weed rees and everything was pulled and sod laid down. I wanted a 100% native prairie and savanna gardens. I am a Landscape/Garden Designer and there were 2 native plant nurseries nearby. I designed and planted one garden each season, with lawn being used primarily for paths, and as you mention, negative space. I have color and interest from the 1st ephemerals in late March until the last colorful leaves of Autumn--there is not one day when there is not interest in my gardens. You can subscribe to my Blog at to read more about it.

bonsaiherb said...

One reason being it is unprofitable for the wholesale nurseries to risk their livelihood growing 'Native Plants.' In CO. their may be one or two. In CA many more, but they need to cater to retail customers as the box stores and even Nurseries don't know a rats ass about Native plants.
Went down to L.A. and visited one of the largest. It had no native plant section and the employees couldn't even answer a few basic questions such as where is your Fremontia, the Ceanothus, shrub Manzanita or Matiliya poppy. Not even talking about native ground-covers!
It made me cry. My Santa Cruz nursery in the 70' and 80's featured them and the employees knew what they were doing. No longer its all tailored to the box store market.

Unknown said...

A simplified question without simple answers. The quick is that we can if we choose to, but not without a lot more effort than most people I know are willing to invest. For those of us who are, it is not as simple as going to your local garden supply store to purchase plants. Our experience has been that it is difficult finding many of the perennials that are native to our location. We have found one location that specializes in native plants, and it is 1-1/2 hours from our home, and even they only have a limited variety and supply. What is especially difficult to find are a wide variety of native grasses, what I consider to be the backbone of a native garden. Unable to locate all of the potted grasses we would like to have, we have searched on-line for seeds and they are not available in small quantities. The good news is that each year there appears to be an increased selection locally, provided we are willing to drive to numerous locations to search their stock.

I think your question also begs for a definition of "Native". A purist would only use plants native to their specific location. I am not a purist, and I will use native plants from outside my area provided that the areas they come from have similar climate and geographical constraints. I think you have done the same. I think back to an article you wrote regarding your Canadian Choke Cherry, which is not to my knowledge native to Nebraska.

I think Mr. Subjunctive has a point about "native plant evangelists". I feel the same revulsion when I read how BAD honey bees are. While I garden in a way to attract as many native insects as I am able, I am also a bee keeper. If you want more people to plant native plants, lead by example and show people the benefits (with kindness).

Anonymous said...

Other than the personal preferences stated above (I must read those more, but work calls), these stand out after my 26 years in landscape archtiecture:

1) supplier stranglehold (nurseries make too many poor, non-native options can tell much by where and how natives are showcased, and by responses to such criticism)

2) local codes requiring plants of a certain installed size, sadly lacking in many places' natives to meet such requirements (see also #1)

3) bad site planning via many architects and engineers (also dictated by some city codes), esp. in infill development. Such bad planning limits planting areas to non-natives: the few available species of narrow lollipop trees, often higher water-use, and compact tight shrubs...a disregard for plant diversity, including natives. Natives and sustainability end up getting lip-service or green-washing more than use.

4) some designs require growth forms not found in certain locale's natives, or at least those available...low groundcovers seem the domain of Mediterranean and a few other climes (see also #1)

I won't bore you with more; those are the main issues I deal with.

Jenna said...

I live in an HOA (uggh) which has rules that say "the front yard will be sodded". No other landscape guidelines other than that shows how intense of a love people in my neighborhood have with lawns. My neighbors seem to think that any plant that one could hurt themselves (ex. tall prairie grass once it's been cut to the ground and you can't walk on in bare feet) are a 'danger to children'. Ridiculous. They only want their children to learn about plants in textbooks.

Iona K said...

An interesting question and many good comments. There are a few reasons I don't have an all-native garden.

I am trying to create a garden in a town backyard in southern New England. When I moved in a few years ago there was no garden, just 3 large (sadly non native) trees and a weedy patch of grass. It is very dry shade, full of tree roots, broken glass and junk; batteries, lumps of coal, old toys… I think that unless I planted this with wall to wall Japanese knotweed or other invasive species anything I put in is an improvement, both for me and for wildlife. The native species, particularly ones that benefit pollinators, that are suited to my conditions AND available to buy locally are pretty limited. I love looking at prairie style gardens like yours, but most of those plants would not flourish here.

So conditions are a factor. Money is another. I am gradually planting more and more beds, making the lawn/grassy weedy patch smaller and smaller. I have limited funds for buying new plants, so if a friend divides their hostas or ferns or dicentra or irises, I’m sure as hell going to accept them! (This way of getting new plants may result in a bit of a mish mash style, but so be it.)

Another reason is emotional. Other commenters have mentioned that we plant things we are attached to, that memory plays a large part. I love many wildflowers, have fond childhood memories of them. But they are the flowers of Scotland, not the US. Also the exotics from gardens I knew growing up; the azaleas and camellias that grow so well in the Scottish climate. I know I can’t grow all these favorite plants, but they tug at my heart in a way that US natives do not.

Having said all that, I have planted quite a few natives and will add more. I am giving increasing consideration to them because of blogs and articles written by you and other gardeners. But when it comes down to it, I garden for my own pleasure and my little patch will always have beautiful exotics in it. After all, even dandelions have been here in America a lot longer than I have…
Sorry about the ramble! I love reading your blog Benjamin; it always gives food for thought.

Aggie said...

Because I love Zinnias and Cosmos and French roses and petunias and Sedum as much as I love my Rudbeckia, Echinaccea and Coreopsis etc.

And you know what? So do the butterflies and the bees. And the prettier and more colorful my front garden is, the more it attracts attention from passersby who may be inspired.

I fail to see how sowing some colorful annuals takes away from the good work of the native perennials.

Anonymous said...

I live in an area where the native plants should be tall grasses. But tall grasses attract ticks more than anything else. It goes without saying, this is a very unattractive feature for me.

Anonymous said...

Am I too late to comment?

Researching native plants has brought me to this blog. I have a new home and feel that planting native plants is a simple thing that I can do for the environmemt.

I'm quite happy with how the new gardens are looking and very disapponted/frustrated with the lawn the builder has left me with.

I'm currently in the throws of an emotional battle with myself: do I keep tearing up my lawn to replace it with native garden beds (this is what I want to do) or do I conform to the rigorous lawn maintenance schedule that the rest of my "english garden" neighbourhood is so very proud of...