Why Do We Want Native Plants - The Simple Answer
To preserve and enjoy a part of the natural world in our own backyards
As the world gets more developed, we lose many species of plants, birds, insects and animals. Gardening with native plants is one way to help promote biodiversity and do good for the environment.
To Attract Butterflies, Birds and Bees
Many plants attract these helpful species, but natives provide the food and shelter that these pollinators are evolutionarily adapted to. Unfortunately, many foriegn plants aren't recognized by insects as food, and therefore are not effective for wildlife. Just like humans have certain 'cultural foods' that they love, so too do pollinators. Fruit-bearing trees and shrubs like hawthorn and huckleberry, nectar giving columbine, and seeds from camas and clarkia are all perfect foods for our native garden visitors.
To conserve water
Native species are adapted to the Vancouver climate - wet mild winters followed by heavy spring rains and dry summers without water for long periods of time. Once they have been established, native plants are generally tough enough to survive dry spells when the sprinkler ban is in effect. We discourage installing costly sprinkler systems and encourage an investment in low-maintenance native plants for this reason.
To have a beautiful garden without chemicals
Natives have grown naturally in the landscape for centuries, so they do not need additional costly inputs such as artificial chemical pesticides, herbicide or fertilizers. Allowing a diversity of species to grow will help establish a native ecosystem that will balance itself out with good bugs to control the bad, naturally. Your landscape becomes a healthier place to enjoy for all.
Why do I need a landscaper if I am just planting native plants?
"A garden of native plants is at least an attempt to understand what we've altered beyond recognition, and heal the rift between our culture and the culture of flora and fauna around us that have given rise to our evolution -- and given rise to our free will to do whatever we like. A garden focused on exotics is a continual affirmation that we know better, that the planet is here to serve only us, and that we can do no harm; this is a delusion endemic to our species." (Vogt, B.)
The benefits that native plants have over exotic, or cultivated ornamentals is that these plants form the basis of natural ecosystems. Many times, a native plant is a food source for other organisms in the environment. The leaves could be food for caterpillars, the trunks may be homes to songbirds, and the flowers may be used by pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds. Removal of one native plant could mean the loss of food, habitat and shelter for a wide number of species.
One common myth about native plants is that they are poor growers, but this in fact is not the case. Herbert Durand states,
"It is a common but mistaken impression that wild plants are inherently scraggly and unattractive in form. The fact is that if they are relieved of the intense competition that prevails in the wild and given room to develop in a congenial location, they quickly make luxurious growth, become compact and shapely and produce larger and better flowers in greater profusion." (Durand, 1923)
Plants from other exotic places didn't evolve with these natural relationships, so while you may not have any critter bites in your leaves, consider that the creatures here may group your exotic with the same ecological significance as a clay pot. Native plants differ in that they have a relationship with other organisms. And that really is what native plants are all about: communities living in harmony together. It may take more time to learn about the relationships, ecosystems and creatures that live in your local region, but that discovery is both challenging and exciting, humbling and rewarding.
Gardening with native plants goes hand in hand with gardening for wildlife. By planting native plants, you are helping the environment around you. Because who wants a garden asleep?
Durand, H. (1923). Taming the Wildings. G.P Putnam's Sons, New York and London.
Vogt, B. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://deepmiddle.blogspot.com/