Why plant native plants? Seems like a simple question. We don’t get asked it a whole bunch by our customers, probably because we only sell plants native to VA and folks come here for that reason. It is a question worth asking and the answer isn’t as easy as the question….
So, why plant natives? Why plant at all? The reasons that we garden are many and they will not be listed here because that is beyond the scope of this little blog. I will mention that for us, with the possible exception of the vegetable garden, we plant because we see our property and former lawn as a small refuge for other animals and plants that used to be more common in the past before we humans began to take up so much space. Back before pavement was invented. Not caveman days, but maybe a couple of hundred years ago. You probably have a sense about what I am writing about.
We both have professional backgrounds in restoration ecology and have spent a good amount of time looking for ways to restore diversity to areas that had become ecologically simplified due to human activity. It seems clear enough to us that we are going to have to share our personal spaces with non-human life forms more and more if we want to keep the Earth as the kind of place that is human friendly. Best I can figure, it has been relatively human friendly for most of our recent evolution. Making big changes to it seems risky to me. For this simple reason we look at the place where we live and we ask “how can we make this place friendly to life in general?” When a place is friendly to life in general, then it is usually friendly to human beings. Perhaps I have strayed off topic a bit. I’ll reign it in.
Why native plants? Why not just pollinator plants? Pollinator plants are very important and should be a part of all gardens. If providing food for animals (primarily insects) is one of your goals, then planting a wide diversity of species that bloom continuously throughout the season is a very good plan. Continuous blooming is an important concept. Pollinators need to eat all season so they need plants that are in flower all season long. We can help with this. There certainly are some non-native plants that are very attractive to pollinators and as such are a good food source. So long as these plants stay put in the garden, it is easy to see how they can be a benefit. It is also true that non-native pollinator plants have limitations when it comes to native animals. These limitations are why we choose to focus only on native plants. There are a few non-natives in our garden, mostly from our earlier gardening days, and as long as they persist and stay local, we enjoy them.
Why native plants? Native plants evolved with native animals and are intimately linked with them. While it is true that most human dominated areas are very different from the places that they used to be, if we are trying to help restore a bit of what was here before many of the big changes, then we need to reintroduce the natives that were here before. Before what? I honestly don’t know for sure. For me this isn’t about before Jamestown settlement or after. I would say that I imagine a time before concrete domination, large agribusiness and widespread chemical use. Not a perfect time, not some fantasy, just a time when there was more wildlife around. Sure, some of it we didn’t really want that close to us or our kids. But we’ve become so good at getting rid of wildlife that maybe we’ve overdone it. Thus, the native plants. Native plants feed animals (mostly but not exclusively insects – which feed other things) during every stage of their life. Pollinator plants primarily feed adult insects, not their young. If we do not feed caterpillars and other young animals then, well, you know, there are fewer adults.
So plant native plants. Many different kinds so that something is always blooming. In clumps so it is easier for things to feed on them. Don’t worry too much about how “clean” it looks. Many critters need dead plants for homes and food so leaving dead stuff around for a little while is helpful. It is also true that the plants themselves need dead material to decompose on site as a food source…mulch is not exactly the same thing. You can have many different types of gardens under your care. Hopefully at least some of them can be wild!
That’s what I have to offer kinda late on a Sunday evening. Hope to see you here at the nursery soon.