Monday, August 8, 2011

Taming the natives - or at least our views about them

I read another wonderful post on Thomas Rainer's blog, Grounded Design, today. The post, entitled "Native Plants and the Wild Look" is written in Mr. Rainer's consistently eloquent style and makes some great points about the use of native plants in a landscape.

I've long thought that many gardeners give native plants a "bad name" because they think that natives should be allowed to grow unkempt and untamed. I feel that this is going to discourage gardeners with an eye for a more structured landscape from even considering native plants.

Rainer addresses some of these issues in his post, but as usual, presents them in a writing style that is so engaging that I find myself appreciating the words as much as the wisdom.

Here are some excerpts, but I encourage you to visit Rainer's blog to read the whole post

Excerpts from Native Plants and the Wild Look, by Thomas Rainer  

I have a conflicted relationship with wildness. 

When I think about the sea of lawns and generic plantings that dominate our built landscapes, when I reflect on how quickly our native woodlands are disappearing, I yearn for more wildness. In many ways, our landscapes are too tidy. Our shrubs are too clipped, our lawns too manicured, our planted spaces too restrained. Despite recent progress with more sustainable gardens, the McLandscape is still the dominant form in our country…. 

While I praise wildness on the one hand, I am concerned that it has become the de rigueur of native gardens these days. It is as if a native garden, by definition, must be wild and sprawling. To create a native garden is not only a statement against exotic plants, but it is a statement against traditional garden forms altogether. Almost all of the sustainable landscape techniques, including rain gardens, bioswales, and green roofs—have adopted a wild aesthetic…. 

My second problem with the wild look is my fear that we’re turning the public away from using native plants. When native plants are associated with a wild, chaotic landscape, we narrow their potential adoption in built landscapes. Yes, I do think the American public needs to adopt an aesthetic that permits a bit of wildness, spontaneity, and heck—even a bit of sloppiness. But the way to do that is not to replace our front lawns with a tall grass prairie. We do that by creating native gardens that fit into traditional or contemporary garden forms.

 It's a great post, on a great blog. Check it out!

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