Tony Avent’s Infamous Rant about Nativism


Now remember when I offered up some Henry Mitchell quotes and called them "Great Moment in Garden Writing"?  Well, Tony’s moments are far from great but they’re fun moments, interesting moments, never-boring moments in garden writing, and that’s plenty for me.  But Tony, real men use editors.  Really, in the 16 years since you first published the article about natives if nobody’s ever volunteered to smooth the rough patches, I’ll volunteer myself.  Like "It’s ashamed that many of these sites could not be preserved."  And in the 4th paragraph I bet you don’t really mean the native plant enthusiasts "decry the elimination of lawns."  Perhaps you meant propose?  Tony, I still love you; I just want to edit you.  An update on the subject would be nice, too, but now I’m just getting pushy.

CrapeBefore leaving Tony’s list of articles, explore them yourself for a good time but I’ll recommend one more, on the timely subject of crapemyrtles.  The author this time isn’t Tony but an academic horticulturist and surprisingly good writer.  I say that after spending months reading academic hort writers on websites of Cooperative Extension Services and finding it generally tough slogging.  But for great content and style check out Greg Grant’s rant about the wrongful pruning of these poor plants, aptly called "Stop the Crape Murder."


  1. From Tony’s article “Despite the confusion over native plants, radical and vocal groups (especially in the midwest) have lobbied for and passed laws making it illegal to grow any plants that were not growing in the state, or in some cases within a 50 mile radius, prior to the 1800’s.” Thankfully, I know of no such laws in Indiana! We do have some laws about invasive weeds, but that’s about it.

    Regarding the crape myrtle, we can’t grow that here, but we have simliar knuckleheads who top shade trees, which ruins them forever, and causes some of the same problems!

  2. No non-natives allowed in the midwest? I guess they have to stop growing corn, soy, and wheat and let the whole world go hungry. That is just one aspect of how stupid the whole anti-exotics hysteria is.

  3. Great articles. I really enjoyed Tony Avent’s plant lists (although I agree, editorial help is needed!) and I can’t wait to try some New York ironweed (all you have to do is say ‘purple flowers’ and I say ‘where can I get some?’).

    I’d like to point out, though, that the late Sara Stein was horribly misrepresented by Michael Pollan (He Who Planted a Norway Maple) — in Noah’s Garden she was at pains to say pretty much the same things as Tony Avent, especially in regard to native plants that were aggressive and imported species that were ‘good neighbors.’ Her emphasis was more on re-creating a habitat that was a slice in time than on strict observance of ‘native’ and ‘exotic’ species (which is pretty much impossible and silly too).

    I’ve also been reading Eric Grissell’s “Insects and Gardens” and I like the point that he makes — we can’t really re-create a ‘natural’ landscape with a garden, but we can come up with a reasonable facsimile that incorporates plenty of biodiversity and is pleasing to the gardener too.

    I’ve been growing Tithonia grandiflora, Mexican sunflower, for two summers now from seed. I’m absolutely certain this is not a Maine native, but of all the plants in my garden, it attracts bees, monarch butterflies, and just yesterday there were two hummingbirds dancing around the flowers. After it’s killed by frost, finches will eat the seeds from the remaining flowerheads.

    So far it has been an excellent neighbor to the other plants; it doesn’t crowd anything and even though I left the stalks and seedheads standing through last winter there have been no volunteers in the yard.

    It would really be a shame to exclude this from the garden on the basis of ‘non-native’ status.

  4. Yet another ‘Amen’ to your modestly
    made point about ungrammatical
    garden writing. I love Tony’s
    writing, look forward to all his new articles, and have read most of his old ones more than once
    They DO bring out the Grammar Nazi
    in me, though.

    It’s no big deal, I know–he is
    a horticulturalist and nurseryman first and foremost, and in those
    roles he has no peer. Still, one does wince…

    What bugs me much more about so
    much garden writing today is the
    tendency to equate hysterical
    hyperbole and gushing, over-the-top exuberance with conviction and good journalism. Many gardening friends love Dan Hinckley’s writing. To me,
    he sounds as though he goes through
    the thesaurus on his computer when
    he’s describing plants and his
    personal reactions to them,
    skimming off the most intensive,
    ecstatic, life-altering adjectives
    for every little dandelion.
    It’s a minority opinion, I know,
    but this writing leaves me with ecstacy fatigue pretty quickly.

    (Hinckley’s not alone in this;
    it’s fairly universal. And it
    especially leaps out from books
    with otherwise high production values, like those of Timber Press.
    Maybe it’s in the contract–that
    the publisher is prohibited from
    watering down the purple prose of
    its celeb garden writers?)

    Just realized that I’m fond of
    garden literature criticism–more,

  5. I’ve linked Greg Grant to Cass Turnbull (Plant Amnesty) in Seattle. She’s been doing the kind of anti-tree topping/anti-butchery
    advocacy he’s calling for here.
    She has some wonderful(eg horrible)
    photo examples of pruning butchery on her site.

    It’s great seeing this get talked
    about a bit, though I attribute
    most of it (the urge to hack) to
    sheer perversity. What they really
    want is plastic trees. Or fibre-
    glass. are you listening, Walmart?

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