Earlier this week, I moseyed on over to The Arbor Gate to listen to one of my favorite speakers on the subject of all things gardening, Dr. David Creech. Dr. Creech does his major botanical work at Stephen F. Austin University and the Mast Arboretum in Nacogdoches. I always enjoy hearing him speak because I usually find myself in agreement with him and he seems eminently sensible in his approach to gardening. (Well, I would think that since I mostly agree with him, wouldn't I?)
Dr. Creech's ostensible topic on this date was "Gardens that Work! Gardens that Don't" but, in fact, he didn't really stick to the subject. His talk sort of wandered all over the landscape - so to speak - and it was all entertaining and useful.
One thing that he said in particular that stuck with me though was in regard to native plants. He is a past president of the Native Plant Society so he has an appreciation of those plants, but he stated that he is not a purist on the subject. He doesn't believe, in short, that our gardens have to be planted entirely in native plants in order to be authentic. He's come around more to a generalist point of view that takes into consideration each plant's characteristics and uses.
As always, the main thing to be considered in regard to any non-native plant is: Is it invasive? If it is a bully that tends to take over the neighborhood, then it is best not to use it. For example, if you've got an ugly eroded slope, don't plant kudzu on it to hold it in place. Find some other more environmentally-friendly solution.
As I was thinking about Dr. Creech's endorsement of using non-native as well as native plants in our gardens, I came across a posting in one of the blogs that I follow, Gardening Gone Wild, on the related subject of heirloom versus hybrid vegetables. The writer Noel Kingsbury's point was that we accept technological improvements in other parts of our lives, why shouldn't we accept it when it comes to hybridization? Especially if the hybrid represents a real improvement in the vegetable.
In recent years, the use of native plants and heirloom vegetables has been the hot thing in gardening and orthodoxy has pretty much accepted that they are always superior to plants that have been tampered with by the horticulturalists. Now the pendulum seems to be swinging back in the other direction and I am seeing and hearing more and more discussions that essentially make the point that we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Yes, native plants are acclimated to our area and to the wildlife of the area and they are often very beautiful in the garden, but there are many non-native, non-invasive plants that can serve specific purposes in our gardens and can make our lives as gardeners a little more interesting.
Yes, heirloom vegetables often have more and better taste than the hybrids - especially heirloom tomatoes - but not always. Some of those hybrids have great improvements and still maintain great taste. I'm thinking of some of the stringless green beans, in particular.
Perhaps it is best not to deny ourselves any options as gardeners. Why should we limit ourselves to only native plants or heirloom veggies when there is a whole wide world of other choices out there and some of them may actually work better for us?
I guess on this question you can mark me down on the side of the generalists instead of the purists. At least, it looks like I'll be in good company.