This month on Garden Designers Roundtable we’re exploring the topic of Designing with Native Plants, an issue that is near and dear to my heart. But, truth be told, one that I also find a bit baffling…why are we singling out native plants as in need of special design help? They’re just plants, aren’t they?
When it comes to including native plants in a designed landscape, I have three simple words to say - JUST DO IT!
Right Native Plant, Right Place
Native plants are just plants. They are not fool-proof or no-maintenance. They’re not all weedy-didn’t-I-just-see-that-growing-on-the-side-of-the-road plants. Native plants can be as lush, beautiful and colorful as non-native plants.
When using native plants in your garden you still need to consider your garden’s site conditions – sun, soil, water, wind, etc. – just like you would before planting any other plant. You can’t just plant any native plant in any garden condition and expect it to survive just because it happens to be native to your area.
It’s still a plant and you, the gardener, must meet its basic needs in order for it to live.
Designing with Native Plants
One important thing to keep in mind is that using native plants in your garden doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.
Native plants play well with non-native plants and, personally, I believe both should have a place in a residential garden.
While there’s no magic ratio of native to non-native plants that will work for every gardener, the Planting Pyramid is a good place to start to figure out what might be best for your garden.
Whether you’re planting native or non-native plants, you still need to keep in mind some of the basic principles of garden design. Garden design concepts such as color, unity, movement, focal points, and texture, to name just a few, are the same regardless of whether or not you’re designing with native plants. Repeat after me…native plants are simply plants.
PR for Native Plants
Native plants seem to suffer from a general lack of good PR. I’ll be the first to admit that some native plants are difficult to incorporate into a typical residential landscape. And yes, some of them can indeed be found growing on the side of the road.
And let’s face it, sometimes native plant enthusiasts aren’t exactly helping the cause and showing how easy it is to find a place for native plants in your garden.
On a recent visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Demonstration Garden at the Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College, I was greeted by an exuberant mass of 5′ tall late summer-blooming perennials separated by winding paths of grass. I thought it was lovely but could also see why Jane or Joe Gardener, who is thinking about adding some native plants to their home garden, might be overwhelmed by the idea of planting some of these native perennials.
Native Plants for New England Gardens
Incorporating native plants into your garden is easy. Remember, they’re just plants after all. If you’re not sure which plants are native to your region, check out sites like Plant Native or your local native plant society.
Here’s a look at a few native plants that will be right at home in gardens in Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island or any of the other New England states.
More Ideas on Designing with Native Plants
For more tips and ideas for incorporating native plants into your designed garden, check out these posts from my fellow members of the Garden Designers Roundtable: