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There’s no more surefire way to get everybody all riled up on this site than to talk about native plants—whether or not to use them, how much to use them, who is too obsessed with them, who isn’t obsessed enough, where they work best, and where they work worst. I’ve read many an impassioned comment on these; too often, such comments are riddled with straw men arguments.

Is there a need? Aside from a very few fanatics—and in spite of Doug Tallamy’s arguments for natives, I do not consider him a fanatic in the least—most proponents of natives I know encourage their use. They do not enforce their use, nor can they. Unless certain plants—like ivy in the Pacific Northwest—are banned, or you live in some kind of HOA hell, you can pretty much plant what you want. Nobody is making you plant natives; nobody is making you plant anything.

But, in spite of all the hot air, I find so much satisfaction in my native plants. There’s the Collinsonia canadensis (at top), with its tiny but interesting blooms. Known commonly as horsebalm, this, like many of my natives, provides late summer interest and statuesque foliage. My Eupatorium varieties are starting to bloom now, as well, including the tangentially related blue mistflower.

I’m very pleased by the Clematis virginiana (above), which doesn’t seem to suffer from wilt, like the Sweet Autumn variety, and climbs undaunted through trumpet vine (not a native everyone likes).

This is the time of year, when the lilies are ending and the roses just coming out of pause, that I appreciate natives the most. They’re not spectacular, flower-wise, for the most part, but they add lush foliage at a time when the garden is beginning to harden, and their aggressive tendencies help them survive in my shade- and root-laden urban wilderness.

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on August 5, 2014 at 7:30 am, in the category It’s the Plants, Darling, Ministry of Controversy.


  1. I completely agree with you, Elizabeth. There’s room for both, as well as an appropriate place for both, in our gardens. What sets me off are the native adherents who are completely rigid about it – natives good, non-natives bad, no ifs, ands or buts about it. No gray areas. Natives or nothing. That doctrine, in my opinion, would make our gardens into pretty dull places to be.

  2. Vincent, come on now… The term “native Nazi” didn’t come out of a kind warm place. There is overwhelming dialog on the part of nativists that insists that all of us that plant non-natives are Satan’s spawn. I hear it all the time. You hear it, everybody hears it.
    In this very forum I was accused of committing “ecocide” for advocating the planting of non-natives.
    The cranks, as is often the case, have taken over the conversation.

  3. Perhaps Vincent lives in a place where the native plant movement is not so extreme. Or perhaps he is not on the receiving end of the abuse dished out by native plant advocates because he agrees with them.

  4. A couple of years ago the city of Seattle attempted to create a new “green code” that would have mandated 75% natives in any new or replaced landscape. It was so shockingly arbitrary (and so poorly written) that they were forced to withdraw it. Western Washington is a unique place–many natives are understory plants and others are enormous trees. The forest is a beautiful place, but expecting to recreate it to that extent amid streets and buildings was misguided.

  5. I am a proponent of natives…and adaptives…because, quite frankly, it is somewhat impractical to think that a garden or landscape (unless never touched) could be anything other than a mix. Have you ever tried to spec plants for a native only garden…it is really difficult. The availability is just not there. But if a plant has been proven to be hardy, water-wise, and noninvasive (an adaptive) then put those puppies in! As with all things…extremes are dangerous! My 2-cents! ~Julie

  6. Not to throw a wrench into the works, but apparently Christopher C of Outside Clyde has spent major energies trying to eradicate invasive and tenacious Clematic virginiana from his North Carolina garden. I hope you have less trouble with it in your colder region.

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