Landscape Design and Native Plants
Native plants…for the past few years in plant circles there’s been a lot of buzz about the plants that are native to a region. Many have been under-promoted, unappreciated and under-used, and there’s been a strong movement to bring them into the cultivated landscape. But are natives in fact better suited to our soils and climates, and more resistant to pests, than are the more popular and commonly offered exotics (plants that have their origins in other parts of the world)? To some extent this can be true. For example, many broadleaf evergreen rhododendrons that suffer in sunny, exposed sites here are better suited to the rainy, more temperate Pacific Northwest, and our native Swamp Azalea is more acclimated to the Northeast. But the Swamp Azalea doesn’t care for hot, dry sites any more than do its Asian cousins. Siting plants correctly really takes precedence in determining if they will thrive.
But there are other good reasons to consider adding native plants to your landscape. Plants provide food and shelter for butterflies and birds. Some might argue that thus, for plantings attracting winged creatures, natives have a built-in advantage over the imported garden species because our wildlife has co-evolved with the flora here. For example, our native milkweed leaves are not only the preferred food for the Monarch Butterfly caterpillar, without it they cannot survive. Also, because many farms and fields have been turned into residential areas, food and shelter resources for wildlife have been shrinking; why not establish plantings that help preserve what once was here?
Here at Birch Mountain, we like to combine natives with exotic ornamentals in our landscape design. Many exotic (read: not native) plants that are well suited to home landscapes here hail from Korea, Japan, and temperate parts of China that enjoy a similar set of seasonal weather, temperature highs and lows, and soil conditions, so they are hardy and fit in well if sited correctly. Some non-natives can also be considered good sources of food (nectar, fruit or berries, leaves) or shelter for wildlife. From a design viewpoint, using both natives and non-natives also gives us a much larger palette of plants, each having unique colors, textures, forms, and features.
The first priority for design here at Birch Mountain is to create a beautiful and enjoyable landscape for you. In planting design, we make a pretty picture but we also take into account a plant’s preferences for light, moisture, and soil type, and are mindful of its eventual height and width. We want your landscape to remain healthy and beautiful as time passes. And we like to invite winged guests! A garden is a collection of living things. Unlike the hardscape, it is in a state of constant change, and part of the fun of being outdoors can be two-fold: watching the changes time brings as your landscape plantings mature, and enjoying observing your garden’s wild co-inhabitants as they partake of the edible landscape, whether native or exotic.