Evil, Frivolous Gardener!!!

, Crrritic

This is the dominant native plant community in Southern California. It is beautiful, but it is not a garden.

I am ruining the world.

Because I like pretty plants.

Because I practice the dubious art of ornamental gardening.

Yes – I admit it. I have planted non-native exotic species in my garden. I have planted them in gardens of others. I am one of those thoughtless, arrogant gardeners who have a palette that includes plants other than those native to my immediate environs. So, obviously – I SUCK.

I’m wary of invasive plant species. I don’t use plants that are known to be invasive in my area. I’m careful when choosing plants and always consider the specific environmental conditions I am working with when making decisions about what to plant. But sometimes, in the real world, things are not as easy as reading a list and then NEVER using anything that is on said list. More often than not, things are more subtle and more complicated than the simple black and white of “good plant” vs “bad plant”.

There are those who fervently believe that using any plant that wasn’t here before European settlement is BAD. I am not one of those people. I think horticultural xenophobia is as narrow-minded as plain old garden-variety cultural xenophobia (haha – see what I did there? Word tricks!) The responsible use of well-adapted exotics in gardens is a craft that I have worked long and hard to hone, and being able to have a large palette of plants to choose from keeps me flexible and my gardens suitable to the lifestyles of my clients. I try to educate as much as I can, but in the end it is my job to design gardens that look fantastic during the seasons my clients are outside grilling, swimming, playing croquet – what have you. In my particular climate, native plants largely go dormant in the summer. How would you like a landscape that looks lush during winter rains while you are cuddled up inside by a roaring fire, and is brown and crispy when you want to be outside enjoying the blue skies, the fresh air, and a beautiful garden.

Also, what about growing food? To use native plants exclusively limits edible gardening to a degree that I find unacceptable.

I don’t believe in hard fast lines. Don’t get me wrong, I use many native plants in my landscapes, but to limit myself to an exclusively native palette would, for me, be a futile exercise. I just don’t believe that we can recreate a pre-colonization ecosystem. I believe that creating responsible gardens is about making a better world moving forward, rather than trying to recapture some romantic notion of what we think things were before we screwed it all up. Yeah, sure, we’ve screwed up plenty – but making gardens is not a destructive impulse, it is a creative one – one that speaks to hope for the future. We have the advantage of more knowledge about how to garden ethically and responsibly, so please let me use that knowledge and don’t limit me to the restrictive plant palette that fits a narrow idea of what is “correct”. I think anyone who wants to garden exclusively with natives should go right ahead, but don’t get in my way, thank you very much.

I’m not looking to turn back time, I’m looking forward to a world gardened organically, thoughtfully, beautifully, enthusiastically, with both arms opened wide to embrace every beautiful, suitable plant that tickles my fancy. Doesn’t that sound awesome?

I can’t WAIT!!! (BWA HA HA ha ha ha ha!!!)

*rubbing together evil exotic gardener hands, one eyebrow arched, with a knowing smirk on my lips*

Posted by

Ivette Soler
on November 27, 2013 at 1:07 am, in the category Everybody’s a Critic, It’s the Plants, Darling, Real Gardens.

Comment List

  • skr 01 / 04 / 2016

    I could rewrite that as, “not everyone can master the art of design so well that they can work solely in a palette of blue.” Yeah, even Picasso got tired of a limited palette. Just because someone rejects your arbitrary limits doesn’t mean they haven’t mastered the art of design.

  • Laura Bell 21 / 08 / 2016

    Wow. That’s beyond snark. That’s just plain petty. Step outside the box, man. Just because one wants to see a non-native camellia/fruit tree/whatever in his/her yard, it doesn’t mean one lacks vision or knowledge of design. It means they have different preferences or goals for their gardening. If it isn’t harming the ecology, leave it be.

  • Benjamin Vogt 24 / 10 / 2016

    The point of a native plant garden is not to return to some pre-colonial nostalgia orgy dream of native plants; I kinda get tired of that limited critique of native plants. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to do so because we’ve so screwed up our ecosystems. I do think we have MUCH to learn about native plants, especially when I walk through other gardens, local nurseries, and big box stores. And once you begin to learn about natives, you get hooked, start thinking about larger ecosystems and the larger issues beyond our tiny world of a backyard garden. I also think we need to learn to let go when it comes to aesthetics, and adjust a bit more to local climate — which most prominently means letting lawns go dormant, and using native grass lawns which don’t green up as fast in spring. Also — how do we know when e behaved exotic will jump the fence? Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. I don’t preach garden xenophobia, but we have a hell of a ways to go to even understanding native plants, knowing they exist, which ones to use, seeing them in stores, and thinking about gardening as something beyond just for ourselves (especially as pollinator numbers dwindle).

  • skr 06 / 11 / 2016

    oh please, all you do is preach garden xenophobia and moral outrage against anyone that disagrees with your plant nativism.

  • Benjamin Vogt 07 / 11 / 2016

    Skr — touche with a narrow-minded viewpoint! Someone has to stand up for the plant we’re destroying.

  • admin 14 / 11 / 2016

    I think it’s highly unlikely that say, a tulip or rose is going to rogue here. So I will plant them with impunity.

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