The Native Melting Pot of Plants, What Goes?

Me and My Fast Moving Fingers

I left a comment on a blog the other day that generated a long, but gentlemanly response to follow. My comment was pretty vague, yet one sentence stood out. I suggested that we leave meadows where they belong and not bring them into urban neighborhoods. Also, I implied that we think about our design choices and make informative choices based on the character of a neighborhood. I proposed that what a front yard meadow may be is just a well designed facsimile. And my reasoning is based on the ability of an urban front yard to be a working ecosystem and habitat.

The images to follow are from my front bed through 2011, which if you remember from a previous post, is a holding bed at this point until the Concolor can be removed. And an update on that. The nurseryman and farm owner I always talk about is coming to dig it up for resale. He was impressed with how shapely I kept it, so it gets a new home instead of being an indoor Christmas tree. Plus, there are meadow images from the farm.

On with the Meadow Story

The question becomes, are we really talking about the same thing? It was a post essentially imagining a front meadow rather than a front lawn. My observation – is it really a meadow we are talking about or a carefully selected group of common perennials and ornamental grasses just substituting for turf grass? By the images shown and books cited on the blog, I have a meadow in my front yard, even though I would never characterize it as such.

There was a beautiful yard shown filled with Allium and iris for instance, very similar to my own front planting, and it was noted as a meadow. I certainly would not question that beauty in my neighborhood, but it did not read meadow to me. Again, my opinion.

Meadow in a Can

Another point the author made was that I may be used to meadows in a can as bad examples. But, as a designer, commercial meadows planted have very specific combination of both annual and perennial seeds and are pretty expensive to purchase. Most mixes include self-sowing species and annuals to kick-start the meadow. They come in burlap or heavy brown paper bags not cans.

Where we spec these meadows is often in open areas to avoid planting turf grass or around intentionally excavated drainage basins and ponds. The mix changes the deeper you plant into the catchment. These gardens come up the following year in all their beautiful flowering glory with gorgeous Spring and Fall showings.

I never thought to photograph them at the commercial sites, but I will next time I am in the area to show you these pretty turf grass replacements. Why they are planted is as much for the function and economics of the upkeep (less mowing) as the visual and environmental concerns of the designer and owner. Environmental and functional also includes erosion control. There is also a slope on these drainage ponds.

This sloped area was planted with wildflowers many years ago and now it has regenerated into what the area dictates. Notice in the images, the meadows are surrounded by, or neighbor next to forested areas.

The natural meadows include a variety of pretty indigenous wildflowers and grasses. The mixes include plants like New England Aster, baby’s breath, Black-eyed Susan, Purple Coneflower, Shasta Daisies, foxgloves, corn poppies, Gaillardia, wallflowers, penstemons, evening primrose, among many other pretty flowers. My garden has seven of these planted. But what is different, is I planted plants, not seed and the flowers did not have to out compete to reach maturity.

But, when doing commercial jobs with lots of acreage, the meadows look like they belong there even though they are serving a very functional, economic and aesthetic purpose.

My ‘Meadow’

In my garden, I have asters, bee balm, Leucanthemum, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, lavender, iris, penstemon, Veronica, grasses, Salvia and much more for my front ‘meadow-like’ beds.

Above is the garden in late spring, and below from late August. The beds start off with bulbs and bloom all the way to the first snowfall.

Image from Today

Few of my selections are native to New York in the varieties I have planted, and in my opinion, meadows consist of naturally occurring indigenous plant species. In fact, the dominant plants of meadows are native, rather than the cultivated. They are often interspersed with very common species found in neighboring habitats.

Farm Meadows are Where It’s At!

On the farm, the meadows get interspersed with cultivated varieties of perennials which self-seed by bird or air. The black-eyed Susan were not planted in the above image. This is way out on the farm, not near the potted perennial plants waiting to go to job sites.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ in my garden

Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ So many Carex on the USDA Plants NYS list, but not this one. Also in my garden.

And to further the point, one grass is not the same as another to caterpillars. The caterpillars prefer the native farm flowers and grasses, and that is one reason why we have hybrids.

Miscanthus sinensis

My Zebra grass is unlikely a food source, since I never saw a caterpillar on it.  Scabiosa, dandelions, Asclepias, Achillea, nettles, clovers, vetches plantains, docks, knapweed, thistles, vetches, and the list continues for plants the insects adore.

Safe to Assume?

You can go to USDA Plants Database and look for your state to check for natives in your area. Here is the list for New York. The list includes those desired for gardens also, but check the varieties. I am guessing there are databases in your countries too if you are not a US resident.

Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’

People everywhere assume if you grow, say a Monarda, that it will automatically be a native if some originally were growing in your locale.  That is an important factor too. When you select a plant in the database, make sure to get the distribution map and pinpoint it more precisely. Monarda covers NYS so not much of a problem.

Petite Wonder, the little guy bottom left, with Petite Delight Monarda.

But there is Monarda didyma ‘Petite Wonder’ and ‘Petite Delight’ in my garden. Both have a warning for Unauthorized Propagation Prohibited. Do you think this nine-inch tall Monarda is a native? Well read on.

As much of ‘ turn your grass into native plants’ insanity that is out there with proponents from both sides exceedingly verbal, I never wanted to jump on the band wagon and get in the middle of this argument. I do have personal and professional opinion on this subject and they are not always in agreement.

Easy Peezy?

My work involves, at times, bidding State Park jobs that require native plantings and I have lists of native plants from which to choose. No problem, easy peezy, the choice is made by NYS. And many of the choices for the park, you would not want in your front landscape. They would just not be suitable.

But when a client insists on natives only, this is where it becomes foggy, because, I am not sure there is a definitive answer on what is actually a native species indigenous to our area. It is hard enough trying to fulfill State planting requirements, let alone those for someone’s front yard. I do not design small jobs normally, so it is unlikely I would be called for an urban front yard, but again, how do you differentiate what is actually native?

Is a Native Really a Native?

To me this debate seems more a matter of someone’s opinion than anything else. It just might be the insect’s opinion that really matters, because a sterile variety of a plant does not contribute to the ecosystem. Many more plants are being developed to be sterile for consumer’s convenience.

Image from Today

What so many books out there call native plants, you may not find on lists put out by each state. The genus and species might be correct, but through hybridization, the plant becomes unacceptable. So where does that leave the homeowner going to Home Depot or any other big box store for plants? Even most nurseries are not versed enough in native planting.

These are in my side yard, but clearly visible from the front.

They will give you asters, Echinacea and bee balm, but look at the tag and see if there is a variety behind the genus and species and what that might be if you are a diehard practitioner. And do you need to be a diehard practitioner, really?

Big Brother and the Plant Police

The Federal Native Plant Committee, (whoever the heck they are, well, actually I do know), states that, “a native plant species is one that occurs naturally in a particular region, state, ecosystem, and habitat without direct or indirect human actions.” Now this is a pretty definitive definition. And one with no leeway, as using native plants helps to restore a previously fragmented ecosystem.  A very good thing because, they provide for a place for birds and wildlife. This is why people want them. And who are these people and do they all want the same thing?

Who are These People

Environmentalists grow native plants for the health of the environment, ecologists use them because they are concerned with keeping the natural order of habitats and balancing ecosystems, horticulturists see natives as having commercial and landscape promise and possibility, and gardeners grow native plants because it makes them feel worthy about their contribution to all of the above.

There really is a surprising lack of consensus as to what a native plant is as I stated already. Many plants naturalize here and have made themselves so at home that we almost view them as native. Pollinators love them and depend on them, like Queen Anne’s Lace, ox-eye daisy and Japanese honeysuckle.

Native Plants, The Insanity of It All – A Little Story

Native plant enthusiasts try to preserve native plants in any way possible, or so you would think. But, many are only interested in preserving the habitat where the plants are growing and this has an economic gain associated.  If the plant is outside the habitat, tough cookies for that plant.

Some time ago I read an article where an arbitrary Department of Transportation was denounced by some native plant groups for not planting enough native plants along the roadsides. It happens in every state I am sure.

The arbitrary DOT in turn decided to save the seed from Echinacea laevigata, collected from the roadside because it was federally endangered. They proposed to grow the seed and plant the plants along road sides and highways. Seems like a plan right? The DOT was told that since the plants could not be grown outside their specialized habitat, this would not be a possible use of the plants. Oh really?

Not deterred and deciding to continue with the project, the DOT grew hundreds of plants to put back into the native landscape. But with all the groups that had special interest in this project, they were met with powerful opposition and told that “they would contaminate the natural gene pool of the native Echinacea laevigata if they planted the propagated plants back into the wild.” The moral here is that you have to anticipate your adversary. And believe it or not, there was an adversary just waiting to pounce. And it was one of economics.

The money that ecological plant groups apply for is federal and state grant money. It is appropriated for the counting and study of the native endangered plant populations. So here lies the rub. Since the money is to count the endangered plants, and if more plants are put back into the native landscape, this means they are no longer endangered and funding is stopped.  A catch 22 it seems and a conflict of interest. So these native groups, wanting more natives, do not really want more natives planted if it affects their funding. Yet, they were the ones complaining that the DOT did not plant enough natives,  meaning natives not in their studies. So when I said insanity surrounding native planting, I think you get my point.

So in short, keep a plant endangered means you get to keep the native habitat preserved, or if the plants are no longer endangered, then there is no means to preserve the native habitats where the plants grow. See the logic? If environmentalists grow only native plants, then only native environments are the place in which they grow, and nowhere else. This is the conundrum for all groups interested in seeing endangered plants flourish and become un-endangered.  So back to what is considered native. Do we have a clue yet?

The Feds are Watching

And a number of federal laws have been created to prevent endangered plants from being propagated and distributed. See a problem here on getting them off the endangered list. Remember the Petite Wonder? Well that is covered by another government agency, The Plant Variety Protection Office, protecting a patented variety of the plant. In New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation has the law listed on their site.

So how does all this affect the home owner? Can a home owner get true native plants? Well the answer is no if you plan on making new ones. Yes, if you are willing to purchase them from specialized nursery sources. There are places to get them like I said to fulfill a plant list for a job, but are many of these really what the home owner is willing to install in their front yard? If you are not confused yet, I am amazed. I wanted to show a plant list for a State job, but I am not legally allowed to do that by my profession. I could make one up but then it is not the actual job specification and one could argue I am not being true to the spirit of the argument. Conundrums everywhere.

Eco Wacko?

All this because I did not want to get involved, yet had to mention keeping meadows actually in the meadow. Does that make me one of these eco wackos, or just a sensible designer differentiating what is a meadow and what is a well designed and livable facsimile?

I have so much more I could say on this subject, because like so many, do have strong feelings on the subject. I am for native restorations. I am for native planting where it makes good sense to do so, but I am not for creating these isolated little patches of pseudo meadows in an urban front yard. Would I ever throw out these seed mixes in my front yard, no. So call them what they are, nicely designed gardens, suitable for attracting wildlife, using meadow like plants, but hybridized for plant size and growing patterns suitable to your design.

Wildlife often travel in corridors, they do not hopscotch along from city block to city block. My yard is brimming with wild critters, but they are not finding a habitat, they are finding a pit stop.

Lucky for them, I live right next to the Niagara Gorge, their habitat. At the end of the month wrap up, you will see all of the plants in action, like the ones above. Doing what I intended, attracting the critters. So if that is the criteria that is used to define a meadow, I guess I have one.

The Answer is No Answer

In summary, I am still as unsure about natives as most people. I talked this over with a horticulturist and Cornell agent and we both concluded, there is no definitive answer to the native plant issue, other than what the States designate as such. And as for the meadows, he agreed, but then he is not a designer, just a guy who loves nature, fields and meadows.

And please see the post Lexicons of Sustainability if you did not already. This is a group of informed individuals really making a difference, and all with words.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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36 Responses to The Native Melting Pot of Plants, What Goes?

  1. b-a-g says:

    Donna – I’m not sure that I can write a comment worthy of this post. I didn’t realise gardening was so controversial ! I mow my back lawn about once a month. At different times of the year it is covered in daises, buttercups or yellow flowers like small dandelions. I am not trying to emulate a meadow, it just happened by itself, probably because I don’t use weed-killers. I have thought about throwing a packet of wildflower seeds over it to introduce different colours but I haven’t yet. If I had a front lawn, I would probably feel under pressure to mow it more regularly.

    • You got my point. There is so much information out there and no real consensus. As per your meadow, you are growing what is growing in the farm’s meadow, therefore it is a small meadow. What is growing is because you let it revert. It is the urban folks thinking they can live a country life by tossing a few seeds that humor me. If you look at it for what it is then that is great. The wildflowers are a plus to any garden, urban or otherwise. But categorizing it as something like a complex meadow ecosystem, it is not. And this is really the short version of my point.

      When I am at the farm, it is much harder to shot the butterflies than at home. At home, they only have feet to move, but on the farm, they fly off to the next acre in a minute. I have read of people boasting of having habitats and ecosystems only found in the actual habit it was meant for. In their 3 foot by 4 foot space none the less. On the post I left the comment, I noted that in Buffalo, more gardens than just about anywhere have no grass in their front yards. And I never heard one talking about ‘their meadow’. I am not sure where this mentality started, thinking we can bring rural into urban and equate the two. A chicken in the city, a farm does not make. It is just a chicken in the city. It was explained to me on that post why urban lots are meadows, but I still do not really agree.

  2. This is indeed a very complicated issue. Indeedy. Personally, I agree that you can’t do meadows in suburban gardens. I think it would serve gardeners well to move away from wanting ‘meadows’ and turn their eyes towards a more naturalized planting style as promoted by the new perennial movement where forbs and grasses co-mingle to create something that looks “wild.”Suburban properties are simply too small to ever successfully succeed with a meadow and lend themselves much more readily to a garden room approach.

    • I did not even touch on suburbia Susan, but you are so right. It is a matter if perception. The new movement heads in the right direction classifying it more accurately and also encouraging people to replace overly structured landscapes having loads of turf grass with something far more environmentally congruent. Just not a meadow. I called them meadow facsimiles, but that is not even right because the natural meadows can not be replicated. More like faux facsimiles. An oxymoron.

  3. Fascinating post Donna, particularly the way you unpack the vested interests around the “go native” movement. To me it is all about context and motivation. In my current small garden I want to encourage as many insects – and therefore birds – as I can, particularly pollinators. So planting lots of things good for these makes sense, but in such a small space the aesthetics have to work for me too, so for me that means no “meadow”. Equally, I wouldn’t dream of having lawn – waste of space to me, and so much work for so little return. Creating wildlife corridors of natives that help preserve native plants and provide good food sources for native wildlife is a great thing to do, and using roadsides, field margins etc seems to make sense, but a small patch of ground outside one house, surrounded by concrete and grass and other non-culture or monoculture isn’t going to achieve the same thing, so why not plant for beauty, ease of maintenance and yes, a feeding station. But if I ever get the chance, I would love to develop a “proper” meadow, and the margins of a more designed garden. Yes for wildlife, yes for our own natives, but at least as much for the sheer beauty and romance. So much to think about.

    • Your garden is very much like mine I am guessing. So small, but planted heavily for the sake of the insects and birds. I have mine surrounded with boxwood though for some semblance of order for the neighborhood. My garden when the perennials were just being put in got attention from a neighbor saying I would be attracting rodents. Well, I had my first rabbit in it this year, so she was not that far off. My front bed does need some lawn, or the neighbors might really have a say. The other thing too is, houses are so close that driveways must have a clear sight line when backing out, so I can not go much higher than I already did. When I was in Costa Rica, I was working with landscape architects designing wildlife corridors in the mountains, so the animals would avoid roads and people. We designed bridges over the roads for them on established trails. I designed an Interpretive Center and our corridors came though this area so the animals could be observed. What a great project this was.

      • Mountain wildlife corridors in Costa Rica – how wonderful. Makes our toad bridges and badger tunnels seem a little tame in comparison, but no less valuable. Why on earth would perennials attract rodents?! Other than rabbits in search of a good meal of course. The fronts of our houses tend to have very little space for planting, it is all tarmaced for cars, and where there is space it tends to be filled with scraggy plants and even scraggier lawn. I guess I am fortunate in that I could do whatever I wanted out front and never get any comments. Not to my face anyway 😉

  4. Lynn Rogers says:

    Hey, Donna,
    Is Concolor the species or cultivar name of an evergreen, Abies concolor? Not on the same page.
    Thanks.
    Lynn

    • Yes, Lynn, it is an Abies Concolor. It is 10 feet tall and I have been pruning it for five years to keep it smaller than what it would be normally. I always called it my Concolor shrub. I work with the grower and can have a new tree any time, so he thought I was crazy to cut it down for a Christmas tree. He mentioned that I can have any tree I want for Christmas, why take down such a fine looking tree. I told him I never removed it from the basket, so it had to go one way or another. This was perfect for the guys to dig up.

  5. Donna says:

    Donna so much to think about and ponder. As you say there are no answers. I live in a suburban area but really it is not typical which is why I did plant a meadow. We have wild areas behind us and the land was somewhat stripped for housing. So learning about what is native to my area, native to NY, nativars, exotics can make your head swim. The meadow butts up against a forever wild area with meadow, wetlands, shrubs and some woods left that is not to be touched. Some who have were fined by the state Dept of Environmental Conservation. I think the lean toward natives is good. As you and Janet point out it has to make sense for your garden, neighborhood etc. For my garden and neighborhood it works and looks gorgeous. I continue to find my way with all this. In a true sense you would categorize my meadow as probably a facsimile but a lovely one that brings back childhood memories of meadows I remember in N Indiana. Mostly seeded with lovely wildflowers found throughout the area. Enjoy your lovely meadow. 🙂

    • You can tell by my plant list in my yard, it was designed to bring in critters. And the funny thing about the full planting compared to neighbors having full lawns, our neighborhood at one time had the whole center island planted with small trees, shrubs and perennials. There was no grass. It must have been wonderful and full of bees and butterflies. Your meadow is in back and that is sensible especially backing up to preserved land. Janet and I are not restricting planting, but including well behaved ‘natives’. I add the quotes because some of my plants like the carex are not on the list, although there must be 30 different varieties of carex listed, just not this one. My Tradescantia is on the list and I am ready to give it the heave ho. It is not well behaved.

  6. Oh boy! It all sounds very complicated to me. I’m with you on the meadows in a suburban front yard – we can replicate but without the space to let things grow as they will, it can never be a true meadow. But what is wrong with trying to emulate a meadow using meadow-like plants in your own garden?
    I’d love to offer some wise words but I’m really out of my depth on this subject. I’m just a wanna-be gardener trying to make my garden a happy place.
    PS: I Love your front garden. And I did enjoy this post as it gave me lots of food for thought!

    • It does sound complicated. Imagine being the DOT and what they went through trying to do right by planting natives. That makes your head spin. If one has the space, meadows are great. My only objection is urban front yards and calling it a meadow. Most front yards around here are measured in square feet. Some homes do not even have enough space for a row of flowers.

  7. Wow…very informative! I too disagree with the idea of creating a meadow in an urban landscape. This however has been a topic of conversation in my area. It is always good to hear several sides to the argument and you laid them out very well. As for helping the environment….composting, rain gardens, and doing away with harmful chemicals and fertilizers is a basic start for us all. Thank you for the post. Educating is the only way change can begin! Nicole

    • As long as the topic discusses what the planting actually is then it has a better chance of success. Many times labeling it a meadow scares off many converts thinking their yards will be weeds. Also, it does take work to establish a meadow. Weeds set in that have to be pulled and many are not easily distinguished from the desired wildflowers.

  8. Who knew gardening could be politically correct/incorrect. For Pete’s sake, can’t we just dig in the dirt and enjoy it without labeling it or worrying whether we are offending the meadow lovers or the lawn lovers or the native-only lovers or the just plain ol’ garden lovers 🙂 A federal law to prevent the propagation or distribution of endangered plants? Does that make rational sense to anyone??? That is one sad commentary. Just my opinion.

    • So, so true Toni. The labeling is the main problem. And saying you are true to it is almost laughable. The native people are usually diehards, but they often put in hybrids because of the manageability of the plants. Kinda hypocritical to me because they taut as being so true to the native planting. The eco freaks won’t even let in a plant that does not belong. even if it is harmless. And if the studied plant is outside the study zone, it can not be counted, or worse, protected. The no-lawn people are just so opinionated. They are the first to berate those with the manicured, park like properties. I design many of these too. So this really bugs me because all they can see is large expanses of grass, not the fifteen foot deep perennial beds and wildflower meadows surrounding the 10 to 20 acre properties. I am working with one right now that has a half mile long driveway, lined the whole way with a field stone walls, a large pond, and acres of planted wildflowers. But they have turf grass too. And I bet they are more environmentally conscious than many. Their gardens are all designed to attract wildlife and repel some too. Big deer problem here. I am with you, let others do what they want in their gardens without all the preaching and labeling. I did a post about a garden that had hundreds of yellow rubber ducks in it, and as weird as it was, the lady loved her garden. I guess there are Rubber Duck police out there too.

  9. You make a lot of interesting points to this complex issue. In fact I just ordered a book about “Urban and Suburban Meadows” because I wanted to read more on this subject. Your post will also bring another perspective to this topic. Personally I think of a meadow as naturally occurring with native plants in a large space and find it odd to think of a “meadow” in someone’s front garden…that would just be a landscape style with native plantings. I am amazed that even gardening has become so political. When I garden I want to get away from politics because it is already seeping into so many other aspects of our lives. Ugh!

    • I have not read the book, but am sure there will be many beautiful examples. Also, they will be wonderfully designed. I have often thought of taking images out of context to simulate something like this. I will have to get a copy of the book and see if it looks beyond the one property and takes into consideration that which influence it or that which it influences upon. As an architect, we were taught to have all our projects work on a larger scale. Not just for its own site, but that which is around it. How it affects the neighborhood, and how it is used in a larger scale. My only problem is the characterization really. Why is this type of design not called something else? Because there is a romantic notion to a meadow. Calling it native planting and people see weeds. Even as Susan suggested, the perennial movement sounds much more accurate, but less of a fanciful notion. But some read meadows as native and then it is a hard sell in urban and suburban communities.

  10. One says:

    Firstly, I really love your photos of ‘meadows’ and especially that bee!

    Views change from time to time. Sometimes coffee is said to be good, sometimes it is bad for health. Sometimes we are asked to eat egg white and avoid egg yolk and at other times, we are told that they should be eaten together. I don’t listen to all these ‘authorities’ anymore. I don’t think there is a need to impose one another on our believes. Otherwise all our gardens would look boringly identical.

    Currently I have an abundance of cosmos plants, all self seeded. Is that considered a meadow?

    • When you have such polar issues being played against one another, you will always have authorities coming forward. But what a good listener will gather, is that there is usually points to be made for both sides. When one side emphatically pushes a point and so does the other, the listener can turn off listening and not find the good in either. Meadows are complicated and include many species of plants, so a cosmo field is not really a meadow, but a pretty sight. I will not change my belief that meadows should be found on tiny city lots. Abandon city lots are the closest. I can photograph them and have done so and you would have no clue I am not out in the country. But the catch here is the cropping and framing I do for the shot. This take the ‘meadow’ out of context. Surrounded by masonry and concrete, an isolated lot, a meadow does not make.

      By categorizing it as a meadow, takes away all the beautiful and changing processes that meadows go through. The life meadows support in all stages, is not going to be had in the city on a small scale.

  11. How ridiculous that this has to be such a political issue. My garden has a “meadow meets cottage garden” style but would never be considered a true meadow. I do grow true natives that I order from very specialized nurseries but when it comes to finding plants that will thrive in the challenging areas of my garden (dry, compacted clay soil), I look for plants that are native to the southeast or hybrids that will survive/thrive in those conditions. My problem areas weren’t created by nature, but my stupid, careless builders and the idiot who built my patio, dumped the excavated clay into beds, covered it with a bit of compost, and then lied about how they had been constructed.

    • I have broached the developer issue before. Almost exactly the points you stated. I have worked on a job that I was there as a Project Manager for a home construction, then the landscaping after. This usually does not happen as different professionals will do each portion of the project. And the result was the builder getting caught burying his building material waste. We were lucky to have caught it because this usually happens after hours. At least one piece of land was saved from the very slow to degrade waste.

  12. Donna, I have a large area of my suburban property planted in what I call my “meadow”. Everything is a straight species, indigenous to our area, and self sowing profusely to fill the garden in. However, I did plant all the original plants, and it is definitely not the aster/goldenrod etc. natural meadow you might find in fields in my area (although there are large swatches of asters and goldenrods). This type of planing, though not a meadow, is far superior for native fauna than the typical suburban landscape. I know the issue is complicated, but I think focusing on the complications just supports the lawn care and the parts of the nursery industry that would like the whole native (and invasive) plant issue to go away so they can do what they want. Resources are definitely tipped towards the non-native movement who can afford to raise issue after issue to obscure thet fact that many of their favorite practices are not sustainable. It is all so complicated. Carolyn

    • Carolyn, I do not believe it is a matter of support for any one group. You will always have that in both camps and also at the extreme fringe too, where support equals the winning approach and looks to be espoused by the loudest members. Native planting is here to stay out of necessity for some part, and I know of no groups challenging to abandon it in any way. Nor do I believe it is trend as alluded to in a previous comment. When in graduate school in the early nineties, all our landscape courses had natives at the most important consideration and premise. And it has sustained many iterations of design. I do not believe my post supports land care companies although it may be in my best interest professionally to do so. My pesticide, herbicide and mostly grass free garden certainly does not. But there is nothing wrong with turf grass. It also has some very good qualities that get overlooked. It is how it is used that is questionable. You are right about resources being directed to the strongest lobbyists. After all, look at how much product is petroleum base. The post was trying to show the complicated issues caused by regulation and misrepresentation. Ironically, the government laws cited are the ones that are supposed to look out for the welfare of native plants. But other departments having good intention also complicate the action that results. To be truly sustainable, people could not live remotely close to the way they do in this day and age of computers, air conditioning, vehicles, air travel, the way our grocery product are acquired, and on and on. But, having good sustainable practices help tremendously, especially if more and more practice them. That is why I liked the Lexicon Project. They show what we can do without having to change our lives dramatically. Some things just will not go away.

  13. Greg says:

    I suppose its all about definition.

  14. dona says:

    What a complicated issue for my poor English…
    I just can say I loved your choices.

    • I actually thought of you when I was writing this post. I know it would be difficult for foreign readers like yourself because not only would the English be difficult in a long post, but the concept too of planting meadows in cities.

  15. debsgarden says:

    Great, thought provoking post! I am reminded of an article I read in a local newspaper about a woman who had a native ‘meadow’ in her front yard. Her neighbors, all with mown lawns, protested, and local officials threatened her with fines and possible jail time if she didn’t clean up her yard. It is a complicated issue. Context is very important. Perhaps if she acknowledged the suburban setting and neatened the edges, put some nice brick paths in, and among the natives planted a few knock-out flowering plants that her neighbors recognized, she would be receiving yard-of-the-month award instead!

    • It is what I have done because of the flack I would take from neighbors. The boxwood keep it tidy, or will when the front ones get a little larger, and I have roses planted too which seems to tame the wildness a bit. This year I just left all the perennials go with no maintenance. That was so they would get established and fill in. The boxwood went untrimmed too. Next year it will be neater. Our neighborhood had planting of this type about 80 years ago in the center median. I would love that look but the neighbors worry for the kids having the median full, so it will never be like it was so long ago. Funny how times change.

  16. Laurrie says:

    I am reading Charles Mann’s book ‘1493’ and it is clear from the first chapter that the issue of natives v. introduced plants (and bugs and bacteria and viruses) has been with us since the day after Columbus landed in the new world. Intentionally introduced or accidentally dispersed, all of the globe’s flora and fauna is mingled now. It’s been going on for 518 years. And we are trying to define / manage / control / stop it now? Meadows in the front yard are a design and aesthetic issue, but not a native plant correctness issue. Great thought provoking post!

    • I so agree about the mixing of plants for so long. When the question is posed how long is it for a native to be considered native, I have read between 100 and 1000 years. Where do numbers like that come from? Also in the definition by the Federal Native Plant Committee, (click the link and see the members), are they kidding saying a plant can have no human intervention? I just can not fathom the strictness as being possible. My opinion, but how can that be determined?

  17. Les says:

    Well, you just didn’t dip a toe in the pool of controversy, you dove in head first, with your clothes on. Thank you for disecting this issue. I have never been a natives only person, but prefer to mix things that are climate appropriate. If I was designing a garden for native wildlife, than that would guide my choices. I recently incurred the wrath of the Virginia Turf Grass Council by writing a letter to the editor of the local paper encouraging people to decrease resource intensive turf in favor of beds with native trees, shrubs and perennials. We are having an issue with red tide around here, most of it due to excess nitrogen in the river. I hope to be composing my response to them soon.

    • I have been bugged by this issue for so long. I look beyond all the hype and try to find some kind of essence of the issue. And it gets muddled the more you look. I can not see the logic in this categorization of garden types or the native planting issue when it is some front city yard. Sure, nice gardens, but not meadows. Call it something else. As per natives, use the lists that the states put out, then I will agree a yard is done with natives, or at least, so stated by an authority. You can see my garden is pretty much as you described with some native and many not, little grass, and many drought tolerant plants, so I try to do my part. Did you see my post on A Different Kind of Green Garden? https://gardenwalkgardentalk.com/2011/08/21/a-different-kind-of-green-garden/ I can not image the red tide problem. I thought the green was bad.

  18. gardenerat60 says:

    I am overwhelmed. So much to know about this topic, and you have a mine of information, and took time to share it? Wonderful!
    My only observation is, your job seems to be the most pleasant one!

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