Tag Archives: native plants

Going Native, but Maybe Not All the Way

Meadow in Summer, at the edge of the woodland

The garden style I’ve always preferred is informal, a little on the wild side, where there’s not a lot of fussiness and certain plants are allowed to self sow and naturalize. Managing such a garden requires a knowledgeable caretaker, someone who can check growth on plants that are too exuberant, and know which varieties play well together. It is a style of gardening that is now in vogue, especially when it is composed of native plants.

This winter, I attended numerous virtual lectures and symposia that discussed how to create and manage native plant landscapes. It’s most encouraging that this native plant style is now being employed in many commercial and urban landscapes, as it provides a wildlife habitat along with visual aesthetics. The cardinal rules for success: Understand your site and soil composition, monitor the landscape the first year to insure that plants establish, weed out unwanted invaders, and practice ecologically sensitive pest management.

Popular “native” plant ensemble: Echinacea, Vernonia, Amsonia, Schizachyrium

There is one question that many proponents of planting natives have trouble with…defining which plants can be truly considered native. Are these plants native to your county,  or your geographic region (i.e. southern New England), or can we include the whole country (and the US is a big one)? There are so many gorgeous native plants (think Amsonia, Aruncus, Phlox, etc.) that hail from the Ozark region, an area that includes parts of  Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Illinois. Southern New England and the Ozark Mountains share similar hardiness zones and so many Ozark natives are happily growing in our gardens. But let’s be honest…the Ozark’s are 1400 miles away, from us, anyway.  So, how should we define the range limit of what can be considered a native plant?

A corner of our garden with native and "foreign" species". We lost the variegated Cornus alternifolia, a native, but the Clethra barbinervis, native to Japan, has thrived and provides nectar for our honeybees.

A corner of our garden with native and “foreign” species”. We lost the variegated Cornus alternifolia, a native, but the Clethra barbinervis, native to Japan, has thrived and provides nectar for our honeybees.

At Avant Gardens, we have always grown selections of ornamental native plants. We also have and will continue to grow ornamental hardy plants native to faraway places: Japan, China, Croatia, England, Spain to name a few. They bring us joy and add to our gardens immensely. I hesitate to  be religious about the native plant movement because I do not what to exclude Elkhorn Cedar and Hinoki Cypress, Japanese Dogwood and Tree Clethra, Hellebores and Perennial Geraniums. And before I hear a lecture,  I fully understand the need to eradicate invasive non native plants!

a form of “native” Hydrangea arborescens: ‘Haas Halo’

I think that we can find a compromise on choosing both native and non native plants for our properties. The suggested goal is to devote 70% of your property to plantings specific to your region to create a native habitat. Now, this percentage assumes that you live on a large enough parcel, but some city dwellers’ homes might take up 70% or more of their lot size. For argument’s sake, let’s allow that  if one’s property is generous in size, with a house footprint of 10%, one can still allot a large space to locally native plants and still be able to find home for some treasured foreigners.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this subject. Please share.