It isn't at all unusual for gardeners to have very different approaches or widely varying opinions, especially when it comes to the most controversial gardening issues. And, since using native plants is a relatively new approach to gardening, opinions on the subject are indeed wide-ranging.
One common disparity lies in the meaning of the term 'native plant' or, more specifically, what is truly native to a particular area. Take red osier dogwood, for example. It's native to northern New York and, by that account, many would agree that if I walk into my local box store garden center and select and purchase a red osier dogwood; when I plant that shrub in my yard, I'm planting a native shrub.
I disagree. Red osier dogwood is native to much of northern and western North America; from Alaska to Virginia to southern California. It is unlikely that a dogwood from Virginia or California will perform well in northern New York.
Of more significant importance is the fact that plants in different locales have adapted to different climates and different soils, as well as to the unique combination of plants, animals, insects and diseases of their home region. I'm of the belief that only by using plants that originated from the area or environment where I'm planting, and that were not introduced, can I rest assured that I've eliminated the possibility of crossing plants from other regions, or that may actually be hybrids, with wild, local natives, possibly compromising some of the adaptations the local, native plants have developed over time.
A similarly controversial topic involves whether or not we should be using ONLY native plants in our gardens and landscapes. Ask a gardener or horticulturalist this question and the answer you receive may be anything from an uncompromising "absolutely," to an equally firm, "definitely not."
Whatever your opinion, one thing is certain. The use of indigenous species in gardens and landscapes is growing. And with that in mind, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, along with Paul Smith's College, the PSC Visitors Information Center, the Adirondack Botanical Society, CCE Master Gardener Volunteers, and Franklin County 4H Youth, would like to invite the public to be part of the PSC VIC Community Native Plant Garden.
If you go ...
When: 10 a.m. June 16
Where: Paul Smith's College VIC
To register: Call Cornell Cooperative Extension at 518-483-7403 / email firstname.lastname@example.org
More information: Bring a bagged lunch and dress for the weather.
Please join us as we take a short hike in search of appropriate potential transplants, which we will dig up and place in the native plant garden, to be located at the front entrance of the VIC lodge. At that time we will observe the conditions under which several native plants are growing, and discuss how plants found growing together in the wild may mutually benefit each other and why we are selecting certain ones for our community garden project.
We encourage participants to ask questions about and take inspiration from the plants we see along the way, to take notes and record the names of favored plants, and maybe even make a few quick sketches. Once we have collected the plants we want, we will return to the garden site to design and plant.
We are seeking donations of native plants as well, including, but not limited to, blueberry, witch hobble (hobblebush), wild raisin, bunchberry, wintergreen, twin flower, foam flower, doll's eyes (white baneberry), trailing arbutus, wild geranium, blueflag iris, meadowsweet, smooth Solomon seal, New England aster and trout lily. Please bring donations with you on the morning of June 16.
The native plant garden will be an ongoing project. It will take time for the native flowers and plants that we select to become established. Some species will thrive. Others will prove unsuited to the site. Native seedling trees and shrubs will need time to mature. And, as they develop, some of the flowers and smaller plants that we use this year may have to be removed and replaced by more shade-tolerant species. In time, the plants will spread and propagate, hopefully creating arrangements that will work well in the garden space, attract pollinators, and require less maintenance.
A team of volunteers will recount the development of our little garden, recording observations of the site after planting, and taking photos over a period of several years.
One last thought. I'm sometimes challenged by the perception that a disorderly or chaotic appearance is necessary when using native plants in gardens and landscapes. The fact is, native plants are used just like any other ornamental garden plants. Physical arrangement of native plants for aesthetics will almost never impact their ecological value.