November 15, 2010
Re:  Your President’s Message, Sept. 15, 2010, Horticulture Review.

Having switched from traditional landscaping to a deep interest in naturalization and how to best plant native species, I was somewhat amused by your idea that the deep-seated reason for people like me to choose native plants is rooted somehow in historic Christianity.  While your idea that there is a connection to some obscure Christian ideal is interesting, I fail to see how it has an ounce of relevance.

I am totally aware that there are many incorrect myths about native plants, especially the ones that say that natives are stronger and less vulnerable at all times. They are stronger in their own micro-climate type, or soil type, but weaker if planted without taking into consideration special requirements, i.e. sugar maple, versus Norway maple. With regard to infestation by bugs, quite often they are host species for local insects and therefore may be more vulnerable if you are struggling for a perfect specimen plant. However, it is just such vulnerability which also makes them extremely important in the local landscape and therefore should be encouraged in landscape plantings.  

I would say the reason to plant native plants, other than the tremendous variety and beauty, would be rooted in the following idea: The base of all life starts in the soil with the billions and billions of microscopic bacteria, fungi, etc., making the earth work by breaking down dead material, nourishing plants and working to keep plants healthy. This is the base of the huge pyramid of life on earth. Above that are the macroscopic creatures like worms and nematodes. Then there is the vital range of insects, then the higher ranges of life up to man.  

Native plants work with these lower levels of the pyramid, and in turn feed the fish, birds, mammals and eventually us.  

To change or eliminate their habitat is to take huge segments out of the pyramid, which other creatures, up higher on the scale of life, rely upon.

Native plants, planted correctly and maintained with sensitivity, keep the genetic material alive and available, not only for ourselves to selfishly enjoy for its esthetic value, but actually serving a purpose in so many unseen and unappreciated ways.

Moreover, unless you open your mind to the diversity of native species, you miss an amazing opportunity for plants that are extremely useful in the landscape for a multitude of reasons. There are amazing plants such as Aronia melanocarpa, Diervilla, buttonbush, spicebush and many of the small shrub willows that are as beautiful as any hybrids, but are never found in nurseries.

In areas that are prone to erosion, or wet, or dry, wild or tame, there are wonderful native plants that have great beauty and strength. I think nurseries are really missing some fantastic opportunities when they concentrate on the same old, same old, or they look for the newest, biggest, brightest hybrid from some other country.   

To go back to the idea of religion, if you are trying to link the choice to go to native varieties over hybrids, I would not have picked an element of Christianity as the driving force. Rather, I would suggest the choice is much closer to the current interest in aboriginal spirituality — but that is another topic again.

In closing, I would urge you to seriously give thought to native species because to study their needs and place in our country’s land is to begin to understand how soil-up horticulture really works. Landscaping downtown residences is one thing, but transposing those same ideals to the country, where millions of us also live, is perhaps being a little selfish. It fulfils the wants and needs of humans, but perhaps excludes the needs of the rest of the enormous and vital pyramid of life.

All the best from the other side of the coin,
Barbara Karthein, Landscape Designer
Port Perry, Ont.