When I first started working with plants professionally I was mostly interested in vegetables, that soon gave way to medicinal herbs and then finally to natives. My passion for natives is now eight years strong. I’ve built a business around working with them and spend a lot of my spare time learning about them.
Somehow the allure of natives hasn’t quite hit the mainstream, while it feels like it's growing, it’s often something I have to explain and even defend at times. So understanding its root in my personal story and identifying how its lasting importance to me has expanded with a sense of urgency at times feels necessary.
My method for spreading the good gospel of native plants, while evolving, is to design landscapes with a high percentage if not complete of natives and do so in an alluring way that feels like something we are familiar with, both in the historical sense of garden design and in a deep unconscious connection we have as humans to the beauty and wonder of our surrounding environments.
I think one road block for people when it comes to appreciating the value of a native garden can be found in the deepening distance we have created between us and the natural world. That feeling of other, out there, the divide between our man made manicured safety net (lawn) and the expansive and literal forest of unknown has only increased with time.
With the divide growing, and habitat loss increasing due to a number of factors (development, waste, invasive species, climate change, and more) one option that feels realistic is to bring the natural, habitat supporting environment to us.
As a landscape designer I am not here to condemn our continued push of development into the “wild” (I’ll save that for another space), and I’m not here to suggest that we give up our modern lives and “go back to the land”, I simply want to recommend an alternative to our current predicament* that feels like something we can all accomplish. I call it Residential Restoration, and it is simple. Instead of planting gardens full of exotics, plant them with what has evolved to thrive and support habitat in your local environment. Use your garden, your backyard, your front lawn, as an opportunity to bring some restored balance to the earth. Take advantage of the context, a small scrap of earth where you get to decide what lives and dies and make the choice to invite back in what came before you.
With native plants at your doorstep there is an immediate point of connection to the greater ecology of the place you call home. Beyond your small plot of land that connect extends to the watershed you rely on for so many human needs. Planting natives makes a small impact that expands infinitely as neighbor’s are inspired and take your lead and birds, insects, mammals and reptiles rejoice. When you become familiar with native plants that you chose and care for and see throughout the seasons and their individual life cycles, you have the added bonus of being able to identify more vegetation on your next hike and this gets exciting because you may now want to go on those hikes more often to see what is in bloom, how landscape is regenerating after fire, or even to monitor what is changing.
I describe these potential acts because they are exactly what has happened to me. Getting to know native plants by planting them wherever I call home (even if that home is only temporary) has increased my desire to want to know them more, enjoy them, protect them and most certainly celebrate them. It’s deepened my connection to a world that is free and ours to enjoy as long as we continue to protect it. And it’s helped alleviate the stress I experience in our fast paced world by slowing things down, as I take the time to explore and seek out a new species, so I can actually enjoy all the diverse beauty on this planet. For that I am forever grateful to native plants and the journey they have taken me on.
*Predicament: A planet, our home, who’s natural world is becoming smaller, less diverse, more fragile and less livable.