If you've been following along with me for a while, you know that I'm a strong advocate for incorporating native plants into your landscape. However, I don't consider myself a strict native plant purist. I suppose you could say I land a little left of center. To visualize this on a scale, imagine those who exclusively embrace straight species natives on the far left, while those who prioritize aesthetics over ecological value are on the far right.
Being at either extreme of this scale can present challenges. Recently, Benjamin Vogt raised this issue on his Milk the Weed activist Facebook page, and I find myself in agreement with much of what he shared. As he wisely points out, "the entire world is a garden." In other words, human influence has touched almost every corner of the earth. While we strive to emulate natural communities, we can never fully restore them to their original state.
So, what exactly does all of this have to do with your home landscape?
It means that we must shift our perspective from viewing our gardens as static decorations to recognizing them as integral components of the broader ecosystem. Landscapes should help to replace the Ecosystem Services the land once held. If that's a new term for you, let me know and I will explain further in a future blog post!
Renowned ecologist Doug Tallamy recommends (based on early studies) that 70% of a landscape's biomass be native plants in order to maintain current levels of wildlife. That doesn't mean you need to rip out your favorite daylily or the rose passed down for generations in your family. Rather, it entails removing invasive species, reducing the size of our lawns, and considering predominantly native plants as new additions to your landscape.
To learn more about Tallamy's work, I recommend reading his books:
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So, this is where I deviate from the native plant purists [by purist, I mean those who insist that we only plant straight species natives]: Many of you are just at the beginning of understanding what a native plant is and their importance. Some of my clients have never thought about it at all. Telling a beginner or uninformed homeowner that you must only shop for plants at the one tiny native plant nursery over an hour away (if there even is one in your area) and you're absolutely not allowed to buy even a native cultivar is very confusing and off-putting. And sometimes even alienating. Realistically, the garden centers most people frequent don't even carry many straight species, although we should definitely keep asking for them. Furthermore, some purists are dismayed to discover that even the straight species natives available for purchase are often NOT open pollinated and grown from seed but produced from cuttings and other clonal methods. Their concern is that the clones and cultivars in your landscape will interbreed with the truly native species nearby, potentially polluting or weakening the gene pool.
But I feel, like Vogt, that this distinction is insignificant in a typical residential landscape. Unless you are adjacent to a genuinely natural or conservation area, whether your natives are straight species or cultivars, open pollinated or cloned, is largely irrelevant. We're doing our best to serve pollinators and other wildlife with what is currently accessible while also creating visually appealing and enjoyable landscapes for humans. Afterall, I think it's safe to say if the human doesn't like it, it's not going to be around for long.
So, keep your non-natives if they hold a special place in your heart (as long as they're not invasive; I can guide you on how to check). The plant that initially caught your eye and got you interested in gardening in the first place deserves to stay. For me, it was tulips—ecologically inconsequential. So what? They're beautiful and generate my neighbors interested in my garden. I eagerly anticipate their arrival after long, dreary winter months, so they hold personal value.
Going forward, let's garden responsibly, cramming in as many natives as we can, planting gardens that bring us joy and that we want to care for, and support as much wildlife as we can. Remember that while our own little patch of earth is integrated with a much bigger system, it is also a canvas for own personal expression.
If you need assistance defining the vision for your landscape, feel free to contact me to arrange a consultation. We'll thoroughly explore your preferences, needs, and garden style to create a landscape that's uniquely yours—and beneficial to the bees too.