Do native plants, and the wildlife that depend on them, have a place in our landscapes? More and more, professional designers are answering with a resounding “yes!” Setting aside the question of aesthetics for a moment, there’s a clear need for people to replace their resource-hogging lawns and may-as-well-be-plastic exotics with something that their local birds, butterflies and bees can use as food and habitat.
According to the US government, 41% of our land is being used for production agriculture (which is not beneficial to wildlife), and all but 5% of the remaining area of land is now a mix of urban, suburban, and industrial landscapes. We think of “nature” as existing somewhere out there, but the amount of area we leave for nature is shrinking rapidly due to our need for food and housing. If we care at all about preserving the species that share our world, we need to step up and help. Planting wildlife-supporting native plants is one of the simplest ways of doing that.
Of course, landscaping is something we do to express ourselves artistically and create a place where we enjoy spending time. Few designers like the idea of limiting their palette to only natives, and rightly so. An artist’s palette benefits from the addition of differing colors, textures, and styles of plant.
However, landscaping with natives brings a variety of benefits. Not only does it attract wildlife, which brings us a sense of awe and connection to our gardens, but planting our region’s natives is a way of celebrating the unique character of the places we each live. Have you ever visited a new location, and realized there was nothing at all to distinguish it from home? The same strip malls, chain stores, and Berberis-and-daylily planting schemes that bore us at home, followed us to our new location.
Planting natives is a way of creating a regionally-distinct identity, reminding yourself why you live where you do, and remembering what’s special about your exact place in the world. While nobody’s telling you to back away from the bulb catalogs, why not challenge yourself to learn more about your region’s plants, and start adding them to your palette as well? Let’s flip the lawn-dominated, no-character landscape paradigm on its head and begin planting landscapes with a little more meaning.
How are professional designers working with natives? Read this month’s Garden Designers Roundtable posts to get ideas and inspiration for your own landscape.