Cant Have Enough

Ill just come out and say something to alienate lots of folks: I believe our landscapes should be planted with mostly native trees, shrubs, flowers, sedges, and grasses. And by mostly I mean 80%, 90%, 100%. I know, I know. But Im the kind of guy who sees a cause and knows that to even get halfway, you have to push for all of the way. And yet folks still arent sure what native means or where it is. Nurseries often have a sparse collection; independents have more, big boxes have practically none. All have cultivars and hybrids not the straight species plants. Heres a list of resources.

Ok, so, I believe we should have at least 50% straight species native plants. Trees, shrubs, flowers, sedges, and grasses that, before westward expansion, were prevalent in your town (its like the current food movement most of what we eat didnt even exist 100 years ago, the same could be said for plants). All of this is not because I have any belief that we can or should return to some pre-settlement perfection; no, its about the insects who evolved in ecosystems alongside plants, both adapted to one another from flower to leaf, both symbiotic, all the beginning and end of the food web from bee colony to human dinner table.

ST

I love monarchs, someone will tell me, eyes brightening as we both ogle a photograph. I ask them if they have milkweed. Oh no, should I? I have lilac and butterfly bush, and see them on there. Do you have baptisia? Willow? Elm? Oak? Do you have side oats grama grass? Viburnum? Birds foot violet? Zizia? Bluestem? If you dont, I bet you see just 1/20th of the butterflies (and their larva) that you should, not to mention other pollinators you never knew existed.

Gardening with natives is about giving up certain levels of ownership to your landscape. Life isnt a battle royale with nature. Gardening with natives is about sharing, about living with the world and not in it; with the world and not against it; with the world and not apart from it. Bridging the gap. Its about taking a leap of faith that you are this planets faith given momentary form, bound to its rhythms, and when you struggle to remake or ignore those rhythms everything seems intangibly off kilter we suffer higher food prices, eroding shorelines, dirty water and air, new bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Dfly

My wife told me a story she saw on Facebook where someone was concerned about the masses of bees at their blooming crabapple tree. Their kids often climb the tree and might get stung. Should they spray the tree, they asked? Remove it? Someone suggested a dousing of chili powder spray. Finally, someone talked about colony collapse, pesticides, habitat destruction. I have put my head into bloom after bloom for six years now, literally had bees and wasps landing an inch from my nose and ears, and have not been stung. I have, though, been transfixed, overjoyed, unburdened, and generally at peace. Come to my table, I think, come share this great purpose and hope. Theres more divinity in a bumblebee pushing open a baptisia bloom and pulsing its body than there is in a hymnal or stained glass window.

Bee

This is my plea, and a sort of pledge I want you to take with me if you are new here or want to do something massive with minimal effort: plant one milkweed. Tell your neighbor about milkweed and the decline of insects. Tell your child. Plant an aster, a mountain mint, a joe pye weed, palm sedge, oaks. Plant one native something that helps insects. Put the plant out front with a spotlight, maybe one of those flashing arrow signs you can rent. Have the sign read: This is a native plant, adapted, low maintenance, of benefit to dwindling wildlife, and Im in love with it. Feel free to change the signs wording. Somewhat.

© 2013, Benjamin Vogt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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About Benjamin Vogt

Benjamin Vogt has a 2,000 foot garden on a 10,000 foot lot in Nebraska (zone 5). Roughly 80% of his plants are native to either the Midwest or Great Plains. He is the author of Sleep, Creep, Leap: The First Three Years of a Nebraska Garden (essays), Monarch Butterflies: The Last Migration, and a new poetry collection, AFTERIMAGE (SFA Press, 2012). Benjamin’s poetry, essays, and photographs have appeared in several publications, including Crab Orchard Review, ISLE, Orion, Prairie Fire, Sou’wester, The Sun, and Verse Daily. He has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and an M.F.A. from The Ohio State University. Benjamin is on the board of Wachiska Audubon, a regional prairie conservation group, and is a Great Plains Native Plant garden consultant at Monarch Gardens. He blogs / rants about writing and gardening at The Deep Middle. You can also find him on Facebook, and if you insist, Twitter.

Comments

  1. Cora Howlett says:

    Finally, I get to read articles written by like-minded people. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and knowledge. I live in a community where most people think I am crazy for planting natives or just have no idea of what I am trying to do. When I see all the bees, butterflies, and birds I know Im on the right track. THANK YOU!

    Reply
    • Benjamin Vogt says:

      Youve come to the right place, now help us spread the good word. :) People always want butterflies and birds, but dont know about or think about co-evolution, caterpillar hosts, etc.
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Earth Day Blues, Or Greens

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  2. Rick Meader says:

    Benjamin,

    Of course, Im in the choir, but I absolutely agree with you, and appreciate your approachable style. People dont have to sacrifice color and beauty by planting natives, and they will add to their beauty by attracting and supporting native butterflies, birds, bees, frogs, etc. Douglas Tallamy has it exactly right, and so do you. Keep it up!

    Thanks.

    Rick

    Reply
    • Benjamin Vogt says:

      There is always a native alternative, isnt there? I talk to people who give up planting in tough spots, toss in some daylilies or something, and Im like Hey man! There are tons of natives that would thrive there, precisely because theyre adapted to this locale! Does it start at the nurseries? I think so. We need a campaign there but then if people stopped buying junk that fails, theyd not come back and spend more money on more stuff that fails.
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Earth Day Blues, Or Greens

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  3. Leslie Umstetter says:

    I love your story and passion! I have always been a naturlist type gardener but after reading Douglas Tallemys book Bringing Nature Home, I am on a mission to do better as a homeowner and gardener well as educate all that I can. We can support our wildlife one yard at a time.

    When native tree seedlings pop up on my property, I see them as a gift from nature. I leave them where they are and start pruning them (for my own aesthics) or move them to a better location. The plan for me is to show people how they can work in the landscape and bring in nature and how adults and children can take the time to stop and notice what is around them.

    I love the sign idea and will absolutely do that.

    Reply
    • Benjamin Vogt says:

      If you do the sign PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE email the pic. Are we talking the big flashy one? :) If I ever have kids Im taking them into the garden and chaining them to a coneflower.
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Earth Day Blues, Or Greens

      Reply
      • Leslie Umstetter says:

        I will email you a picture of my soon to be make sign! I have a Wildlife Federation sign that I have posted on a small meadow that I made on my property; mainly as an explaintion for the neighbors :) .

        I have shown my children and grandchildren caterpillars on my fennel plants and not to hurt them. Kids are so amazed at nature if we just point them in the right direction. I am propagaing purple Liatrus currently.

        Reply
        • Benjamin Vogt says:

          Check out this monarch magnet, then: http://deepmiddle.blogspot.com/2012/06/nebraska-wildflowers-day-4-liatris.html
          Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Earth Day Blues, Or Greens

          Reply
  4. Dorothy Jachim says:

    Your article reminded me of a personal encounter. I was trying to neaten my native habitat garden in the Fall (Dont lecture me on leaving that work until Spring I KNOW!, I KNOW!). I left the hyssop until last because it was still blooming. When I got around to trimming back the hyssop, I noticed that my cheeks were being gently brushed by the several bees. Right away I realized that they were trying to tell me that they were not finished visiting the hyssop and would I please stop what I was doing. I did. They were not an angry mob, just giving me a nudge.

    Reply
    • Benjamin Vogt says:

      Thats actually really cool! Love it!
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Earth Day Blues, Or Greens

      Reply
  5. Cynthia, aka Gaia gardener says:

    This is a magnificent and poetical post! Well said!
    Cynthia, aka Gaia gardener recently posted..Learn From My Mistakes: Crown Vetch

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  6. Deborah Dale says:

    Thank you Benjamin! Even we of the choir need reaffirmation sometimes, especially when being battled by those who should know better (ie City officials). I do have a variety of signs in my native garden to identify that it has a higher purpose than conformity. The life invited by the plants becomes its own billboard. While adults continue to challenge my growings on, their children are learning how much more interesting and valuable a native landscape can be. Some find their first caterpillars here and I hope will take that wonderment into their own gardens and to their family. Native gardens are about living with the real world, not the plasticized version sold to society by lawn care companies. Now to have the peopled world understand that
    Deborah Dale recently posted..Green Evolution Site Gallery

    Reply
    • Benjamin Vogt says:

      Yeah, its about the kids. And not just once or twice, but daily. Id love to see every grade school have a nature component that happens a few times a week science projects, writing projects, art projects.
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Earth Day Blues, Or Greens

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  7. Heather/xericstyle says:

    I loved this article Benjamin, and I could not agree more. The point that hit home for me was not being in a battle with nature. it is so easy to work with nature and plant nativesso much easier to take care of themand they are so much happier. How could anyone even want to work against that? But they do. So bizarre. Not me. High five to you!

    Reply
    • Benjamin Vogt says:

      Its those Scotts and Lowes commercials that are sending me over the edge. Hard-edged music, flame throwers, pulsing beat, sweaty / angry/ exhausted people. I garden ONE DAY in my garden every year, and the rest of the year I ENJOY it. People never believe me.
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Earth Day Blues, Or Greens

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  8. Kathy Settevendemie says:

    Yeah! Thanks so much for your post Benjamin. While Im one of those 100% native folks, sometimes it gets discouraging to feel like you are saying the same thing over and over and over and you never really know if you are having any impact. Thanks for the encouragement and reassurance! I needed it today!

    Reply
  9. Susan J. Tweit says:

    Love this post, Benjamin! Thank you. Im a sagebrush/grassland person myself, and if I had to live without any sagebrush and blue grama in sight, not to mention wholeleaf indian paintbrush, biscuitroot, sidebells penstomon and the other wildflowers, Id be unhappy indeed. And I live on a renovated industrial property right in town. My neighbors are used to my revived sagebrush-grassland yard, and some even like it. :)
    Susan J. Tweit recently posted..Loving-my-own-earth Days

    Reply
    • Benjamin Vogt says:

      You are a living advertisement, and a living negotiator. :)
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Earth Day Blues, Or Greens

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  10. Carole says:

    This is beautiful. It needs to be said again, and again, and again.
    I love living with the world.
    ct

    Reply
  11. Tony McGuigan says:

    Yes, almost all natives. Why not be idealistic and proactive?!
    Tony McGuigan recently posted..20130413 Citrus Caterpillar Corner

    Reply
    • Benjamin Vogt says:

      Amen to that. Especially sense Im not idealistic in other areas of life.
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Earth Day Blues, Or Greens

      Reply
  12. Carole Sevilla Brown says:

    What a great way to counter all of those Scotts Miracle Gro commercials that are all over my tv right now! Those make me cranky. But I love your message of Just add ONE native plant. Once folks add one, its pretty easy to get them to add more, especially if they see Monarchs or Hummingbirds at that first plant. I call them my Gateway wildlife, LOL
    Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Ultimate Guides to a Spectacular Wildlife Garden

    Reply
    • Benjamin Vogt says:

      Gateway drug, thats what I say. :)
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Earth Day Blues, Or Greens

      Reply
  13. Kathy Vilim says:

    Gardening with natives is about giving up certain levels of ownership to your landscape. Life isn’t a battle royale with nature. Gardening with natives is about sharing,.. So true and close to a quote of my own We borrow this land for a time, but never do we truly own it. Nice post, Ben!
    Kathy Vilim recently posted..Desert Wildflowers of Joshua Tree

    Reply
    • Benjamin Vogt says:

      Cant believe all the positive responses to my off-the-cuff post!
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Earth Day Blues, Or Greens

      Reply
  14. Diana Studer says:

    another choir member. Ive been watching my Thai (obviously not indigenous) basil supporting 3 humungous caterpillars. Deaths head hawk-moths. Getting bigger and biggerer each day.
    Diana Studer recently posted..From Kirstenbosch to Scarborough

    Reply
  15. Andi says:

    Thank you for the inspiring words, especially the day before our local native plant sale!
    Andi recently posted..The Parable of the Betony

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  16. Jan Doble says:

    Love this, Benjamin! You said itand so very well :)

    Reply
    • Benjamin Vogt says:

      Thanks Jan! Knew youd like it. :)
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Silphium by Aldo Leopold

      Reply
  17. Jesse Elwert Peters says:

    Youre on fire Ben.
    Thank you for this incredible post!!
    This morning I tried to explain to one of my clients why Id prefer to plant Clethra over Boxwood at his house and he just couldnt hear me. (But this Boxwood was grown in Canada?) I sent him your posthope it gets read.

    Reply
    • Benjamin Vogt says:

      Burn the prairie, I say! Its what it needs to survive. Maybe its time for a series of photos from my neighborhood and what to do differently.
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Silphium by Aldo Leopold

      Reply
  18. Donna@Gardens Eye View says:

    I will get organized one of these days and when the neighborhood garage sale is going on I will be selling for a dollar, native plant volunteers from my garden. Big signs and allI agree if you want to get to 50% advocate for 100% and then start with 1. Natives are so fascinating and addictingso much more than ornamentals.
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Silent Spring

    Reply

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