GardenRant posts this week have gone there – questioning the rarely questioned conventional wisdom these days about native-plant superiority and those bad “exotics.” Today I’m adding to the discussion the latest from the most famous native-plant advocate of them all – Dr. Doug Tallamy of the University of Delaware’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology. He spoke this week at a “Green Matters” symposium near me.
I’d heard Tallamy speaker before and once again, he was terrific, even fighting a cold. He makes his case in an approachable, inviting way that doesn’t blame gardeners! He does blame people who use their acreage to grow nothing but useless turf – blame that I support wholeheartedly.
Central to our recent discussion, Tallamy went on to describe the traditional criteria we homeowners have used in choosing plants for our gardens and yards – aesthetics, including finding the right focal point and anchors for garden design, and maybe some plants that create privacy.
Did he tell the audience we’re BAD, unethical, selfish people for caring about “decorative value,” as some native-plant purists do? Thank goodness, no. He simply urged us to ADD ecological criteria like restoring soil, protecting watersheds and of course, supporting food webs when choosing garden plants. (Notice: not JUST feeding his beloved insects but the whole range of eco-services that plants – from anywhere – typically provide.)
This slide is an aerial view of Tallamy’s own home landscape, which he happily noted even includes a bit of lawn. Unlike so many of his most vocal supporters, he’s no purist.
I count myself among Tallamy’s many fans for his inclusive and – let’s be honest – realistic message, which I believe results in many more plants being planted and much more benefit to the environment than the natives-only approach ever could.
It also helps the medicine go down that Tallamy seems like a genuinely nice person, not intent on shaming us gardeners.
Moving on, the image above, the inside of a pithy perennial stem, really makes the case for leaving stems up through the winter. On the right are some pithy-stemmed perennials in the winter garden.
Finally, I have a question I’d love to have had the chance to ask of Tallamy – about ground-nesting bees, which he encourages people to leave some bare ground for, or at least ground that’s easily dug up.
I used to have a garden large enough to set aside space for ground nests, somewhere I’d never have to tend up-close. But now, tending a small garden, there’s no way I want to encourage ground nests. Though Tallamy told us not to worry, saying the ground-nesters won’t sting, like yellow jackets do, I’ve been attacked by swarms of ground-nesters, by bumblebees and some others I couldn’t identify. Not only is it scary and painful for the gardener; it can result in the ground nests being destroyed by the (sad, guilty-feeling) gardener. So what’s the answer?
Big picture, let’s keep reading Tallamy but also look at the results from other researchers in fields outside entomology and ecology (how about horticulture?) that point to conclusions contrary to his. I say the more research the better, especially when results are assessed with an open mind.