Expert: When we bring in plants from other
cultures, we really upset the natural system. When I’m bringing in
exotics for a client,
like Mediterranean plants, for example, I treat them as exotics. I
them together, put them in containers, or have them as a display
garden. But they’re set apart, as specimens for show, not part of the garden.
Me: (Trying to salvage the conversation, I point to a photo in this person’s book of a very boxy, modernist home with three square terraces, and one native grass planted over and over.) I really like this. It’s very
sculptural, and it really seems to work with the house. It seems to say, “I meant to do
this,” not “I’ve just stopped mowing my lawn.” In certain kinds of
neighborhoods, I could see how this would be a good approach.
Expert: The reason you’re drawn to that is that it’s
very manipulated, very repetitive, very controlled. When you take a plant and
repeat it over and over, that’s called a monoculture. We’re invited to monoculture
because what we want to do as a species is we want to manipulate and control
our environment. That’s modernism—you take a box, repeat it, and repeat that
grid in the landscape. People say, oh, it has clean lines. You can see the shape and form of
the house. It’s all one color and shape. But that’s not nature. Nature is diverse. I’d want to see lots of diversity around that house to make up for that monoculture.
Sigh. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love our California natives, I’m all in favor of restoring and preserving wilderness areas, I plant natives in my own garden, and I’d like to see them used more in all those areas where tough, drought-tolerant plants are called for anyway–freeway medians, shopping center parking lots, those awful contractor-built subdivision gardens, and so on. But I have to say–this attitude irked me. I mean, of course we want to manipulate and control our environment. That’s what a garden is. A house is also a manipulation of our environment, but it sure does keep the rain off. And by this line of reasoning, shall we ban lettuce, fruit trees, and carrots from the garden? Those didn’t grow here in the redwood forest, either. Or do those go in my ‘Segregated Exotic Display Garden,’ perhaps behind bars?