Part 2 of my summary of Thomas Rainer’s talk about designing with native plants at the Lahr Native Plant Symposium. Part 1, covering design, is here.
Thomas’s myths about native plants:
1. That native plants are drought-tolerant, requiring less supplemental watering, a notion Thomas calls total ‘hogwash”. Au contraire. In our region (the Mid-Atlantic), the most poplar native plants are actually from the wetter habitats, so they’re decidedly NOT drought-tolerant, for good reason. (An example of this would be planting Itea along highways. Native-plant advocate Rick Darke calls this type of placement “native plant abuse”).
2. That natives are weedy or messy. Well, they don’t have to be. Read that design link above, or just notice how gorgeous Prairie Dropseed and Baptisia look at Chanticleer Garden (below).
3. They natives MUST be naturalistically arranged. The ultra-modern and anything-but-naturalistic array of horsetail in Andrea Cochran’s design pictured here is an example to ponder.
4. That they shouldn’t be planted in large masses. But why not? There’s great drama in monocultures, and masses DO happen in nature. (Thomas showed us some photos taken in the wild as proof.)
5. That native plants are not as vigorous as exotics, that they’re wimpy – a myth that exists concurrently with its opposite, number 1. And this one is sadly true IF the natives are planted in the wrong spots, when the soil has been changed by development, for example. On the East Coast poor performance frequently results when woodland ephemerals are chosen for sunny, developed sites, where plants like Hibiscus and switchgrass should be used.
Proof that native plants perform well when they’re sited correctly are found in the wild, where native plants are seen thriving in even such brutal sites as granite rock out-croppings. And at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center they’re finding that native grasses are outperforming succulents on green roofs.
That’s all from Thomas. Now I can’t resist offering a fresh example of the misinformation about native plants that pervades the media today, even from people perceived as experts. This newspaper article by a writer for a botanical garden contains the following quote with no qualifiers. It perfectly illustrates the origins of Myth No. 1.
Native plants require less work, less money, less chemicals and less water to maintain because they have adapted to the region’s soil and climate.