Going Native: Landscaping with Local Plant Life

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What’s the big deal about using native plants in the garden? There used to be a time when everything that grew locally was immediately dismissed as an undesirable “weed.” But during the past decade, native plants have become fashionable. You might wonder why.

It’s a lot to do with supply and demand — that old economic controller that has been influencing civilization since the start. I remember realizing early in my landscape design career that using native plants was the easiest way to avoid temperamental flowers and create a low maintenance garden. Unfortunately, getting the plants was a serious problem. Very few growers were supplying them to the landscaping industry. Local natives were simply not romantic. They grew all over the place and didn’t sport the charisma of the imported foreigners.

As the green movement acquired momentum, suddenly people began to notice not all local flowers were dull. Some were downright beautiful. Time was precious in people’s busy lives and fussing over those imported primadonnas was becoming problematic. In the midst of a recession, gardeners began to consider how much it cost to maintain a garden. Additionally, people began to notice how well the stalwart natives were handling the increasing climate changes as the fancy delicates fainted away under demanding weather extremes.

Plant breeders took advantage of this change in attitude and began creating new cultivars that kept the best assets of local natives and extended the blooming periods or teased up their showiness. So, now there you have it: a whole new popular trend in gardening with an exciting new cast of staring plant characters.

Using native plants in landscape designs is easier than ever. The newly cultivated beauties can be slipped into any flowerbed without having to add a lot of soil amendments. Native trees frequently can be planted without staking, and wildflowers naturalize easily into any design. There are performers for any climate — wet or dry, cool or hot.

In short, native plants are finally getting their chance to be front and center in the garden. Here are some tips to keep in mind while planting them:

  • Use them as you would any other plant.
  • Larger plants look best in the back or screening views you don’t want to see.
  • The most colorful or those with unusual shapes make good focal points.
  • Small spreaders are fine for ground-covers.

Just remember to use native plants! They will make your garden easy to care for, offer food for native birds and butterflies, and make your landscape beautiful even when extreme weather decimates your neighbors’ gardens. And you can even mix them in with some of your favorite imported plants that need similar care to create a wealth of design effects.

Photo credits: Jane Gates

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