Upsides and downsides to native-plant gardening

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Upsides and downsides to native-plant gardening

While I still appreciate native species and have even used native honeysuckle colors on my newly painted house (there’s no simply way to decorate than to work from nature: soft or vibrant, subtle or stunning color schemes are readily accessible). But since writing the paean below I have learned that they can be overwhelming, too. Not the way invasive species are overwhelming – where you watch them grow and fear for your life and house foundations. But once a native plant is really at home and happy you may find yourself pulling out a once treasured plant, like wild ginger, in an attempt to maintain space for something else you love, like the gorgeous magenta and cream striped ferns from Japan that I just discovered, still alive and even spreading very gradually, under a profusion of hostas and in the midst of the ginger. I no longer feel at all guilty about my plants from around the world – in fact, after visiting Innisfree Garden again and looking at Chinese garden photos, I’m thinking of planting a non-invasive bamboo.

Milkweed.JPGAugust 2006: This is an odd post to write from Beijing, but I took this photo some weeks ago and have been wanting to tell you about a wonderful result of planting native species: a great increase in insects, including butterflies of different types. And because we now have two types of milkweed, we have been enjoying visits from monarch butterflies. Double-click the photo

[currently missing] to see the two types more clearly. The pink flowers at middle and right are swamp milkweed, and the tall plant at left is what I think of as regular milkweed, with just off-white flowers.

They reseed themselves freely, as do the many other native and hardy species we’ve been planting, so weeding is important–and we have to learn to identify the tiny seedlings so we know what to keep. I was startled this year to find a purple morning glory coming back on its own. These plants–known as bindweed–can be invasive in warmer climates, but I had no idea the seeds would survive a New England winter.

Perhaps by the time I get home from China the pale yellow solidago, or goldenrod, will be blooming in the terrace bed. I’ve never seen so many tiny bees or flies or whatever they are as this plant attracts. This is all to the good: we need to create habitat for myriad small creatures, because they are part of a healthy local ecosystem. Ideally, you should find a local or regional nursery to get your native plants from. My favorite in our area is the Catskill Native Nursery. And for common plants, just collect seeds or small plants in the wild, from the roadside or a vacant lot. (It’s funny to find that plants we consider roadside weeds are grown for their beauty in other countries: English gardens often have goldenrod and sumac, and the bouquet a colleague left for me here at my Beijing hotel has goldenrod in it.)

I’m not a zealot though, as you can see from the photo: I love my hybrid lilies, too!


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