E-Letter, Uncategorized, Weeding Gnome

Natives are Easier. Yeah, Right!

Plants Nouveau - Mexico GnomeToday, I’m going to introduce you to one of my great loves, The Native Plants in the Landscape Conference, but first, I must rant.

You know you want it…

If I hear one more horticultural lecture touting native plants as easy solutions to all your gardening woes, I think I’ll slit my wrist.

Come on folks. Who are you kidding?

There is no such thing as an easy, foolproof plant – unless it’s a weed. They are easy, they’ll grow anywhere AND they need no water or fertilizer.


What more could you ask for in a plant? They even grow in cracks and out the sides of old buildings in cities where nothing will grow. Can you say Tree of Heaven (Alianthus altissima)?

I’m here to tell you exactly what the native plant pushers don’t want you to hear. Native plants are not usually easier and they require no less care than any other ornamental. Some are even more difficult to grow.

Gasp…I can hear the mad emails flying in from readers.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a true native plant lover and advocate, but I hate to see people mislead by false statements. It is true that exotics (non-natives) will get insects in spots where natives will not because they have inherently resistant genes, but what these pushers don’t tell you is there are just as many non-native pests in today’s gardens. Native plants, no matter how resistant they are to our bugs, are not genetically resistant to bugs from Europe and Asia.

Ever heard of the Asian Longhorn Beetle?

It attacked millions of native (yes, native) ash (Fraxinus sp.) trees in the Mid-West and it’s now working on some new Mid-Atlantic haunts. This is a prime example of native plants being wiped out by foreign pests.

Native plant pushers should be telling you to plant native plants to enhance biodiversity and to feed the good bugs. That’s right, I said FEED the bugs. Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens says it best.

“Planting natives is a grassroots approach to conservation.” says Tallamy. He also says, “Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow.”

Tallamy, a University of Delaware Entomology professor, believes that biodiversity can be managed just as we manage our water resources, clean air, and energy. He says families and kids can play a big role in the development process by planting more native plants at home.

Doug stresses we must provide the two things all species need: food and shelter. “Fortunately, unlike most of our water or energy supplies, biodiversity is a renewable resource that is relatively easy to increase,” he says.

Plants Nouveau - monarch on milkweedDoug’s fascinating research proves natives are essential. Without native plants in every backyard, commercial property and wild area, there will be no native birds and insects in the future. They’ll have nothing to eat. This is a case where bugs and birds eating plants is a good thing.

A list of native plants and the amount of species they support is available on Doug Tallamy’s website.

Why aren’t the native plant pushers teaching this?

Instead they teach that native plants will get no insect damage, need no watering or fertilizer. That’s complete hogwash!

They WILL get insect damage. We want the insect damage.

You can’t have Monarch butterflies unless there are common milkweeds (Asclepias syriaca) for them to eat. There would be no Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies without white turtlehead (Chelone glabra).

Plants Nouveu - checkerspot caterpillarsShould I go on?

Did you know Bluejays feed on blue spruce (Picea pungens) pinecones (the seeds within them)?

There are so many fascinating, life-dependent, plant-insect relationships – I could go on and on. Read his book. You’ll be amazed!

In most cases, native plants don’t need less water and they still need food.

If you were to live in a place where there were virgin woods and virgin land, this might be the case, but there are not many places left in the US where we have such pristine conditions.

If you live in a development – chances are they brought in topsoil from off-site to fill in around your foundation when it was built. Chances are, they also took any native soils away when they excavated.

It’s rare to find virgin, native soils on any property inhabited by humans; therefore, you’d be planting plants that want virgin, native soil in crappy construction soil that has been processed and has no trace of “native” left in its makeup.

Teaching people about natives is terrific. I support anyone who tries. I teach and lecture all the time on native plants.


Teaching naive homeowners, and in most cases, virgin gardeners that natives are easy is wrong. It’s so wrong, that they will surely fail and never plant natives again. Natives need lots of love, just like most other ornamental plants. I stopped practicing landscape design because I was so tired of people asking for plants that needed no care – I couldn’t take it anymore. Even yews and junipers need care – you have to trim them, right?

There’s no such thing as no care! I hate to break it to you all. I apologize for possibly preaching to the choir, but I needed to get this out.

Plants Nouveau - Native Plants in the Landscape ConferenceThat said – come learn why we need native plants to survive and everything you ever wanted to know about choosing them, designing with them, conservation efforts and teaching about them at The Native Plants in The Landscape Conference, held each June on the campus of Millersville University near historic Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We’ll be celebrating the conference’s 20th anniversary this year.

This is the conference everyone talks about!

This is a one of a kind conference. The conference was started by my wonderful friend FM Mooberry. FM is a tireless advocate for landscaping with natives. She started the native plant program at the Brandywine River Museum. She has taught many the benefit of planting with natives and her progeny, this conference, will teach 400 people a year how to embrace native plants.

Attending the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference will recharge you and have you dreaming of ways to incorporate natives into every space and garden you see. From composting to basic plant identification: landscape design and ecological restoration, there’s something for everyone.

This is my baby. I have been involved with this conference in since 1992. I took over as director in 2003 and this will be my seventh year as director. I love it and I volunteer a lot of my time to make this conference happen.

Plants Nouveau - Native Plants in the Landscape ConferenceThe Native Plants in the Landscape conference is orchestrated by volunteers who donate a lot of love and time to make this one of the best educational values offered. We all do it for the love of educating. The three-day event held on the campus of Millersville University blossoms into one massive native plant community full of networking and learning opportunities year after year.

Attendees come from near and far (as far away as OR and CA) to attend this conference each year. This is no local event. The speakers are amazing, the food and housing are really great considering it’s a college campus and we have one heck of a great bluegrass band that entertains us each year.

Headlining this year is William (Bill) Cullina, Director of Horticulture at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. Bill’s first lecture, called Raveling and Unraveling the Web of Life, will open your eyes to the concept that land has a life span and how this life span can bring some perspective to terms like “extinction” and “native”.

We also have Neil Diboll from Prairie Nursery, Roy Diblik from Northwind Perennials and Richard Bir, former NC State professor coming to speak on all things native. There are talks on stewartias, woodland wildflowers, ferns and green roofs. Designers will learn how to shake up foundation plantings with natives and how to design with mosses. Beginners will love the plant ID classes and nursery professionals will learn lots about the good and bad of invasive plants and insects.

There’s even a lecture on short native plants by our favorite vertically challenged friend. The first person (who is not this person) who guesses the name of this speaker can have an Echinacea ‘Marmalade’ for their garden.

There truly is something for everyone at this conference! The native plant and book sale that surpass any garden center I’ve ever visited. Locals come to shop even if they aren’t attending the conference. You can too!

Please consider attending this awesome event and pass this along to anyone you think might be interested in learning about native plants. Professional designers, educators, nursery professionals and novices will learn plenty.

Come learn the real truth and beauty of using natives. I guarantee you will not be disappointed!

Download the 2010 Conference Brochure and Program here. You can also visit our website to get complete information and to register on-line: www.millersvillenativeplants.org

Online registration opens 3/16/10

Next week I’ll be hunting for tropicals and more (hehe – as if I have room) agaves in Mexico. Stay tuned.

Happy Weeding!


Angela Treadwell Palmer
President, Plants Nouveau

P.S. Get Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens today, right here!

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