For too many years, I resisted learning about native plants because I associated that topic with grumpy, finger-wagging experts and uninteresting science. I longed for colorful, ornamental plants, and I didn’t want anyone to tell me I couldn’t have them.
It turns out, I had it all wrong.
I began to understand what I’d been missing when I visited the garden of a friend from church. She’s a bird watcher and a bird lover, and sitting on her patio while she named the birds whose trills and melodies we could hear as we sipped our tea was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
“Why are there so many birds in your garden?” I asked.
“Because I made this garden for them,” she answered.
That day I could only dimly perceive what she meant, but as she walked me around her suburban yard, and later as I read some of the books she recommended, I realized that native plants don’t place a burden or a limit on our gardening practice, rather, they offer an invitation.
I had been so sure that the study of native plants would force me to identify some of the plants I loved as “bad,” that I had never really learned just how good a native plant can be. Native plants are our opportunity to restore habitats lost to development or other changes in the environment. Native plants allow us to feed insects, which means we are also feeding birds.
To fill our yards with native plants, is to enact a project of return and restoration. It is a way of reclaiming wonders that have been lost. And, assuming it isn’t a greedy invader, there’s no reason why we can’t plant natives and an ornamental exotic or two (or more!). Like so many complex subjects, this doesn’t have to be an either / or equation.
Give me peonies.
And give me the beautiful, spring flowering fringe tree chionanthus virginicus.