Growing Pains: Native Plants | HubCitySPOKES

As much as I would love to have an All-American Gardener, I just can’t bring myself to get rid of my beloved daffodils, which aren’t native.

Do not mistake yourself; I deeply appreciate, both intellectually and emotionally, the beauty, sustainability, support of wildlife, and the crucial role of how native plants tie everything together. But I am a world gardener who savors foods from here (corn, pecans, strawberries, squash, blueberries), Europe (lettuce, wheat), Africa (okra, cowpeas, melons), South America (beans, potatoes, tomatoes), Australia (not much, apart from macadamia nuts) and Asia (peaches, apples, rice).

Oh, we make exceptions for those? What about the millions of acres of lawn grasses, groundcovers, azaleas and other native plants beloved by far?

To be frank, I grow a lot of plants, from here and elsewhere, that are considered weeds. Not all of them, because some escape from the garden to become seriously destructive for entire ecosystems; kudzu, Chinese tallow tree, privit and water hyacinth come to mind. And I come to how ornamental pears and imported wisteria are disturbing large tracts of native and commercial forests.

But it’s not just those seeding or running around. Countless other overplanted species from overseas (turfs, most shrubs) may not be able to get very far on their own, but are spread everywhere by horticulturists, landscapers and home gardeners, without providing much to wildlife in return.

And on top of that, four of my five worst garden weeds are native plants. Many natives are some of my favorite garden plants but require regular checking (goldenrod, I’m looking at you). At the risk of further angering conservationists who argue that only non-native plants can be “invasive”, I am baffled by the time and energy I waste pulling up plants of Virginia creeper, trumpet vine and oak and to spray poison ivy. All natives with wildlife benefits, but all unwanted plants that continue to invade and take over my garden from outside my fence.

Moreover, in these debates, we lose sight of how, when the Earth’s single land mass split into smaller continents, similar plants floated on them in different corners of the modern world. This is why Mississippi and parts of China have magnolias, dogwoods, pines, hydrangeas, ferns, beauty berries, maples, azaleas, shrubs, irises, honeysuckles, holly and virgin vines.

Indeed, I am planting a “Chinese Virginia Creeper” (Parthenocissus henryana) new to me, with its velvety dark green leaves, tinged with bronze and veined with silver. It’s prettier, and less intrusive than native.

Chinese Virginia Creeper

Either way, I totally agree that it is entirely possible to have a beautiful, all-indigenous, wildlife-friendly and eco-friendly garden. And in general, I will always favor, plant, promote and celebrate the benefits of suitable natives as smart choice landscape plants. In fact, email me for a list of free printable brochures and show how some excellent ones can be used in beautiful Mississippi gardens.

But I’m done being a hypocrite on the subject. I grow plants regardless of their country of origin and try to keep an eye out for those that are most likely to become real problems. Until I am convinced otherwise, I will not stop growing nandina, mimosa, spanish bellflowers, Mexican petunia, vinca and liriope. And even Saint Augustine and the azaleas, if I had to consider them for my court.

And because of that, even though I was twice past president of the Mississippi Native Plant Society, I became an outcast among some of my dear friends and peers who hate my position. So, out of respect for one of the fundamental principles of the company – not to promote invasive plants – I resigned from the group.

When the Chinese creeper is banned, only we outlaws will cultivate it.

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi “Gestalt Gardener” author, columnist and host on MPB Think Radio. Email your gardening questions to [email protected]

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