As Native Gardens heads into its second week on the Wilson stage, it has me thinking a lot about neighborly controversy. Part of the reason the contention between the Butleys and Del Valles is so ridiculous is because they actually agree on a lot of things. First off, no one is denying that the Del Valles’ yard could stand a good raking. Secondly, and more importantly, both families agree that native gardening is all good and admirable…but the conflict really arises from the fact that they, originating from such opposite corners of the country, likely do not have the same idea of what a native garden is even supposed to look like.
As it happens, native gardening is one of those things that depends largely on the place one is native to. The United States are a pretty vast spectrum, and our climate zones are all over the map (yes, I’ve even got climate puns). We’ve got mountains and temperate forests, plains and grasslands, swamps and wetlands, even deserts. And the plants that grow in these radically different environments are also pretty radically different. Go figure.
Tania, our original champion for native gardens, is from New Mexico…a beautiful region of the country that is half ski resorts and half dune buggies. The north of the state near Taos is made up of peaks and high desert parks, part of the same mountain stretch as southern Colorado. The south of New Mexico is more dry and arid, more like…well, the old Mexico. The state is home to a variety of hardy, heat-loving native plants:
- True Mountain Mahogany — the leaves & fruit sustain deer and livestock during wintertime.
- Saskatoon Berry — attracts pollinators and birds. Also tastes like apples and is good for baking & jams.
- Desert Marigolds — the seeds feed birds.
Tania’s husband Pablo is actually not even from the U.S. originally—he’s a native of Chile, which, while vastly dissimilar from the U.S. in climate, is really about as geographically diverse as we are in and of itself. Chile splits into three different climate zones: barren and desert-y in the north, full of plains and temperate evergreen mountains in the center, and densely forested in the sub-tropical south. Some common beneficial native growers in the southern regions of Chile are:
- Pehuén, or Chilean Pine — prized by natives for its beauty & its fruit, intermingled with a dense, fertile undergrowth of shrubs, ferns, & berries
- Aloes — fire-resistant & drought-tolerant, they also attract wildlife; hummingbirds feed on the nectar produced in tubular blossoms. Bees & other insects are also attracted to the pollen.
But Frank and Virginia Butley are both natives of the Northeast—about as opposite as it gets. As we who inhabit Western NY (where Virginia is from) and often experience lake-effect know, the weather up here can be pretty unpredictable. Climatologically they call us “humid continental.” A wildly misleading label, I agree, but basically it means we get all four seasons. Some beneficial plants we’ve got up here in the Northeast:
- Ironwood — supply valuable seed for wintering birds, as well as support many caterpillar species
- Alternate leaf dogwood — support pollinators & has copious berries
- Shrubs & Ground cover
- Sweet pepperbush, Buttonbush — target for nectaring butterflies
- Viburnum — supports hundreds of species of caterpillars; produces fruits & nuts for wintering animals
- Wild ginger, Bloodroot, Foamflower — support native bee populations
- Carolina lupine, or False Lupine — a favorite among pollinators
- Swamp milkweed — attracts monarch butterflies
- Eastern Bluestar — loved by migrating butterflies
- Wild anemone, Yellow Lady’s Slipper orchid, Merrybells, Virgin’s Bower, Culver’s root, Trillium…all beautiful native blooms.
It’s no wonder these people have such different ideas of what a native garden is supposed to look like—their own “native” plants look exotic to everyone else!
Catch Native Gardens on Geva’s Wilson stage through April 21st!
For more info on native alternatives in the northeast, check out these pages.