If you follow me on this blog's Facebook page you probably don't need to
read on, but I know lots of folks are blog-only readers. After a piece on Garden Rant
I decided to
clarify some points about native plant gardening. Tell me what you think about
1. I do not believe in 100% native plant gardens because I'm trying to
re-establish some pre-colonial virginity. That can never happen.
2. I see so few native plants in ANY landscape, commercial or residential, that
I know there's a crisis of imagination and connection to local environment.
3. I see so few native plants in local and big box nurseries that I know
4. Without native plants we don't know our home ground, we aren't nearly as
connected to place, and we won't see nearly the wildlife and support nearly the
same number. It's called co-evolution. A sulphur doesn't lay eggs on hosta.
Also, if you live in Arizona you can't have a cottage garden; if you want a cottage
garden move to the PNW or the Northeast.
5. We MUST get away from a purely aesthetic value judgement of gardens. Often,
we CAN have our cake and eat it too, but we need to accept and understand the
benefit of plants going dormant, of a "messy" winter garden, of
native grass lawns that don't green up in April, et cetera. Right now bee
larvae are resting in the hollow stems of my "unkempt" joe pye weed,
which also has birds perched atop it.
6. We need to stop gardening solely for ourselves and see the incredible,
beautiful, soul-magnifying existence that happens when we open up our gardens
to the rest of the local environment by using native plants. We believe in
giving to the needy and poor of our own species, and to other causes near our
hearts, why not the birds, insect pollinators, amphibians right out back in the
gardens we supposedly cherish so much? Again, if monarchs are on the brink,
what ELSE is on the brink? Planting an exotic plant is almost always a space
Out here in the Plains it's been proven that strips and buffers of prairie
around ag fields increases crop pollination and yield (not to mention cleans up
most ag chemical runoff). And insects feed how many song bird chicks? 100%? We
need to be gardening for insects as much if not more than ourselves. We talk
about veg gardening as this holistic, green, wonderful thing to do for the
planet -- but why don't we ever talk about ornamental gardening for insects and
larvae? We garden for butterflies (too often with butterfly bush), but we don't
garden with the plants they evolved with to eat.
But it's constraining to use plants native to your locale? Do you even know
which plants are native to where you live? That's constraining --
short-sighted, too. Let's talk about good garden design in general for a moment
-- or any art for that matter. It's the "constraint" that makes the
art / artifice that much more powerful (I say this as a poet and writer). It's
the coloring within the lines, and coloring in a new way, that makes the design
pop and sing and move and hit us deep. If you have a garden palette awash in a
plethora of plants you have visual chaos -- but even a prairie, so often seen
as chaotic, is governed by rules; those rules make the display that much more
emotionally impacting and able to teach us something about what's there. Native
plants aren't limiting or constraining -- your willingness to embrace any
exotic will, in the end, limit and constrain my health as ecosystems that have
worked for thousands of years collapse (insects!). This is why we have invasive
species lists. We know what we're doing. We do it anyway. Stop making excuses.
Learn your world. Stop looking at your navel.
Native plants go to the heart of our moral and ethical alert systems that
tell us when something is wrong or right -- but we work even harder to deny
those alert systems, ignore them, in favor of personal and immediate
gratification at the expense of the future. Our future. A more peaceful future
with no wars over clean water and fossil fuels, a future with less cancer and
birth defects and learning disorders caused my chemical elixirs in our food,
water, and air. Native plants are the top of a much larger iceberg and
represent more than aesthetic getaway value. And maybe that's the problem, too
-- talking about gardens as not just a sublime refuge from trouble but the
heart of trouble, a reflection of larger issues we CAN change, is
uncomfortable, and it should be. We don't want our gardens to be statements for
anything but personal pleasure. We don't want our gardens to be influenced by
the world out there. Our gardens are not insular little worlds, though,
especially in suburbia. Gardens and managed landscapes are not just for us, to
assume they are is racism toward other species. And even genocide. Case in
point -- corn and monarchs.
If you think I'm politicizing native plants then
that's because the apparent debate over using them reflects issues of race,
class, and even gender. Those who are poorest suffer the worst health and food
options -- even in our own country. And one could
say the poorest of the poor might be other species who have no defenders other
than idealistic humans. We get sad when black rhinos vanish and polar bears
drown looking for any ice drift to hunt from, but it's hard to look at the same
things going on out the back door. But we need to look. It's all connected.