Sustainable gardeners everywhere are looking for native plants to incorporate into their gardens. Why? To help preserve our botanical heritage, to evoke a sense of place, because many of them are self-sustaining or nearly so, and because they’re so good at providing for wildlife. With natural habitats being lost to development at a rapid clip all over the world, our backyards, however small, are more important than ever as safe havens and food sources for our beloved critters. My garden is wildlife-habitat-certified and I’m working with other enviro-activists in my town to win the coveted certification as a Wildlife Habitat Community (we’re almost there and we’ll be the first community in Maryland to do it!)
For years now I’ve written in my town paper about the need to provide for wildlife and I’m always on the look-out for native plants that work well in my garden. Still, I take an inclusive approach to plants because there are so many great, sustainable ones from other parts of the world. Our highly disturbed, decidedly unnatural urban and suburban gardens offer challenges of all sorts that plants never knew in the wild — erosion and water pollution caused by overdevelopment come to mind. So landscape plants have all sorts of practical jobs to do, and gardeners need all the good choices they can get.
When my coaching clients ask for native plants I help them find the ones that have proven successful in sites similar to their gardens, often the ones listed below. But if you live in a different region, you might start with some general tips for finding the right ones: How to Choose Native Plants for Your Garden.
THE hottest controversy in the gardening world today is over the question: Should we plant ONLY natives in our gardens, or is it okay to also grow nonnatives? It gets heated, I tell ya! So for more on all that, check these links. (In natural areas the consensus is definitely in favor of native plants exclusively.)
Advocates of Growing Natives Exclusively
- National Wildlife Federation
- Some Native Plant Societies
- Writer Sara Stein
- U. Delaware professor and writer Doug Tallamy
- There’s been lots of talk about natives from all perspectives here on GardenRant.
- Native plant enthusiasts Rick Darke, Ken Druse and Colston Burrell.
- Nature Conservancy
- From Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum:
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
- Linda Chalker-Scott of Washington State University on “The Myth of Native Plant Superiority” [pdf]
- Michael Pollan’s 1994 piece in the New York Times “Against Nativism” will shock his fans. When asked recenlty if his position has changed, he instead reaffirmed it.
- Horticulturist Allan Armitage
Native-Plant Advocates for Truth in Advertising
With so much reporting about native plants these days being part fact and part hype, some advocates are suggesting we lower our expectations and get real about native plants.
- Native Plants are Easier. Yeah, right! says horticulturist Angela Treadwell-Palmer.
- In What Native-Plant Gardens Need, wildlife-gardening advocate David Schmetterling explains patiently that noooo, they’re not maintenance-free. And would the no-maintenance crowd please please stop making native-plant gardening look so bad?
- Rick Darke also speaks out about what he calls “abuse of native plants” – using them in the wrong places and expecting them to succeed.