The 16th century painting by Albrecht Duhrer above depicts Adam and Eve. Little known fact: They were in the middle of an argument about whether that tree is a native plant. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
GOD FIRST MADE A GARDEN. Shortly thereafter, gardeners began arguing about what to put in it.
Adam (hand-picking dead leaves off the lawn): “If we get rid of that tree, I won’t have to invent the rake.”
Eve: “Don’t be silly, dear. That tree is native. Besides, it’s habitat for a very nice snake.”
Shortly after that, the pair were evicted from the Garden. Legend blames the snake, but I believe God was just tired of listening to them fight.
Left: God was just tired of listening to them fight. Detail from a painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, courtesy the Wikimedia Commons.
In recent years there has been a proliferation of books on “naturalistic,” "wildlife," “wildflower,” "ecological" (or “green” or “beneficial”), “wild,” and, yes, even native-plant gardening. Given that most of these books mention native plants and that they often promote their use, a proponent of native plants might actually be justified in taking hope. Is it possible, just possible that native plants are going to gain the respect they deserve in American gardening?
Well, in the immortal words of somebody or other, don’t bet the farm. If history is any clue, there is little reason to believe that native plants will ever find a secure niche in the Anglo-American garden. Proponents have been arguing in favor of native plants in the garden for at least 100 years; just look around to see how far we’ve come.
That being said, there may be reason for hope. As long as the farm is not on the table, I personally am hopeful for native plants in the garden. Unfortunately, the reason is that the outlook for native plants outside of the garden is now so wretchedly poor. I will be exploring what I mean by this during the next few weeks.
I hope you'll join me for an opinionated history of Anglo-American gardening and its relationship to native plants.