Armitage's Native Plants for North American Gardensby Allan M. Armitage, A. M. Armitage
This comprehensive and lavishly illustrated volume is perfect for anyone interested in learning about and gardening with North American native plants. One of the world's foremost horticulturists, Allan Armitage describes more than 630 species and cultivars of perennials, biennials, and annuals, bringing to each plant a wealth of practical knowledge and the full… See more details below
This comprehensive and lavishly illustrated volume is perfect for anyone interested in learning about and gardening with North American native plants. One of the world's foremost horticulturists, Allan Armitage describes more than 630 species and cultivars of perennials, biennials, and annuals, bringing to each plant a wealth of practical knowledge and the full weight of his experience and expertise.
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Read an Excerpt
On writing another native plant book: I walked to the library and drove to local bookstores to find books about native plants. From field guides to publications about the simple love of wildflowers, well-written and well-illustrated books were plentiful. Most were written by outdoor enthusiasts with far more knowledge than I, and most were written with a trail and backpack in mind, to satisfy the inquiring mind and help us better appreciate nature.
Now that is all well and good, and I too enjoy the thrill of walking a mountain path and coming across a colony of galax or blue cohosh. Makes me feel a little like Meriwether Lewis even though I recently breakfasted at Bob Evans. My problem is this: when I see such magnificent populations, I want them in my garden. I can't help it. It may be a genetic flaw, but that's the way it is. While I do enjoy hiking to those lovely drifts in the mountains, I would rather hike to my garden bench, mug of coffee in hand, and see such colonies beneath my beloved oaks.
This book is not written for extreme native plant enthusiasts. In fact, I suspect the right wing of the "Native Party" will not particularly like this book. Those purists are the ones who believe that all exotics are bad, and that all natives are good. Rather, it is written for my daughters, Laura and Heather, and their friends and gardening buddies, who would love to try some native plants but don't know where to start.
On what plants to include: the dilemma was not what plants to include in this book, but which to omit. Wonderful native plants are mentioned by botanists, native enthusiasts, and conservationists, but many are so difficult to find that I did not include them. Availability to mainstream gardeners became one of the main criteria for both inclusion and omission, based on my research for each genus. With this in mind, I omitted such taxa as Ageratina aromatica (small-leaved white snakeroot), the ditch-loving Coreopsis nudata, Helenium vernale (spring helenium), and on and on. Other plants begged to be included, but I couldn't find anyone selling them. Another criterion was potential for the future. Perhaps, with the native plant movement continuing to gain momentum, I can include many more in the next edition.
Certainly the question of availability became highly subjective. I included many taxa that will never see a garden center but can be found with a few clicks of the mouse. Laura and Heather will not spend days on a computer looking for a particular plant, but they will spend an hour or so. The list of available natives is greatly expanded: if true gardeners want a plant badly enough, they will find it.
Teaching and traveling are also wonderful ways to test availability. I use my garden and those of others in our community as living laboratories for teaching herbaceous plants. Of the hundreds of plants I teach, a significant portion are natives that these everyday gardeners have planted over the years, plants that have found their way into the garden community. And, without doubt, the more I travel, the more I see people embracing native plants for their gardens. That natives have been accepted by mainstream gardeners is now a given. Therefore, in this book you will notice that I have concentrated on natives that grow in gardens, not those that grow on the ridges of mountains or only by the stream bank.
On the inclusion of cultivars: here is a quote from Prairie Moon Nursery, a fine native plant establishment: "Many [cultivars] do not have the genetic variations of the plants they were developed from and can be aesthetically less pleasing than their wild relatives. Some have been selected to be larger and more aggressive and take over when planted in a mix with other native species." As a gardener, I don't happen to agree, but when have gardeners ever agreed on definitions of gardening? For me, cultivars are the gardeners' candy store. If you like purple coneflower, a dozen choices of that great native plant now await you. Should cultivars be called native? I don't know — should rap be called music? It is simply a matter of opinion. I believe garden-improved cultivars, both selections and hybrids, will only help mainstream gardeners further embrace the world of native plants.
On the difficulty of buying native plants: although I tell myself that nobody will miss a shovelful, or that a subdivision will definitely be built right over those trout lilies in fifteen years, my conscience continues to win, and stewardship has prevailed over greed. But whenever and wherever I try to purchase those trout lilies, reality hits. Anyone who has ever viewed a hillside of trilliums quickly realizes that one plant just doesn't do it. I want to purchase at least ten, and I am willing to pay a reasonable price; however, the reality is that many of the native plants I desire simply are not there. While more and more gardeners search the Internet and buy from mail-order sources, the paucity of native plants to be found on retail shelves is more than frustrating; this commercial scarcity of many wildflowers provides yet one more temptation to return to that colony with my trusty shovel.
Times are changing, thankfully. Good nurseries are making significant inroads against this problem, and to be sure, I don't blame commercial producers or retailers: it is as much a problem of market demand (in truth, there are simply not enough of us) as it is of production (many wildflowers are hard to domesticate — propagation and growing time are both issues). While crazy enthusiasts like you and me may lust for a pot of jack-in-the-pulpit, most weekend gardeners do not even notice its absence or even its presence — in their quest for hostas and geraniums. The dream of recreating a hillside of trilliums or a meadow of liatris rapidly morphs into hunting for three or four for the Armitage garden. Those of us who would like to recreate a population of mayapples can always try, but unless one empties the college fund, we often start with a colony of one. Time and patience, not brains or money, are the true necessities if wildflower bounty is wanted in the garden.
On our changing times: certain areas appear to be way ahead of others in the use and appreciation of native plants. The heartland — including Kansas, Wisconsin, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, and Colorado — has worked hard to show people the beauty and utility of native grasses and wildflowers; natives are everywhere out there, and native nurseries in this region are leaders in the country. The Southeast has also been a magnet for native enthusiasts, with well-established native plant conferences in Cullowhee and Gatlinburg, and the message is slowly filtering down. Every region is now more aware of natives, not just as part of our heritage, but much more importantly, as part of our gardens. There is absolutely nothing wrong with astilbes, petunias, or Japanese maples, and they should all be part of our gardens, but isn't it nice to see our own plants being mainstreamed and slowing the rapid franchising of America?
On marketing native plants: as native plant enthusiasts, we can rail at the shortsightedness of retailers and gardeners for using more oriental poppies than atamasco lilies and purple coneflowers. But let's be honest, how many of your neighbors even know that purple coneflower is a native? They are not stupid, they are simply uninformed, and it is everyone's job to do some informing. I am happy to report that at least three national programs to market native plants will be unveiled in 2006, proclaiming their presence with banners and otherwise informing gardeners that these beautiful plants are native to America. But the message that really needs getting across is that many of them make excellent garden plants. Gardeners are conservationists and proud Americans, but most of all they want the money they spend and the time they allocate to provide pleasure in their garden. We can get frustrated, or we can get moving.
On native plants and medicine: the histories of pharmacology and botany are intertwined. Plants and medicines are strongly linked and will be forever. Growing plants strictly for their ornamental value is a very recent event, reflecting our prosperity and confidence in modern medicine; however, a large and vibrant portion of the world continues to embrace herbal medicines. The holistic medicine movement has found its way to the corner pharmacy, where colorful vials of echinacea, saw palmetto, hypericum, and dozens of other plants are available for what ails us. And if you can't find what you are looking for there, check out the Internet, where almost anything can be ordered.
There is little doubt that ignoring the medicinal benefits of our native plants is no smarter than ignoring the importance of antibiotics created in the lab, and similarly, getting too carried away with what Native American Indians did may not be the smartest way to treat your child's illness. I am captivated by the ingenuity and brilliance of native peoples in using medicinal herbs, but I am equally enamored by the strides modern medicine has made. In writing this book, I have tried to incorporate some of this country's fascinating herbal history, but often, as in any story incorporating history, the facts may be a little embellished in the telling. Embrace the stories, embrace the healing powers, but do so with common sense.
On a garden of native plants: I have said it before and I say it again — I am not a fan of theme gardens. I love roses but can't stand the monotony of rose gardens. I enjoy annuals, but give me a shrub or two. Perennials are beautiful, but without some annuals and woody material, a perennial garden is gruesome. And words shall not appear in this book to describe what I think of daylily gardens, peony gardens, iris gardens, or herb gardens. I am not welcomed by many specialty plant groups.
Like many gardeners, I enjoy mixing natives with exotics; I am simply not capable of limiting myself to one or the other exclusively. Most gardeners are country blind, and that is a good thing. Our gardens and landscapes are richer for the diversity and assimilation. Some people prefer to celebrate only those plants which "belong" here, and they will talk you to death about why this is right. I like to celebrate plants that work in my garden, and I let the plants do the talking.
When I see a perfect miscanthus or a gorgeous scaevola, I will not feel guilty that I didn't plant buffalo grass or copper canyon daisy in its place. Does a chocoholic spurn Ghirardelli or Godiva because they aren't made in Hershey, Pennsylvania? There is sufficient diversity in native material to have all sorts of different plants, but why eliminate the rest of the world in a zeal for America? Good grief, we are gardeners, not Minutemen!
On the Internet: it is here, and it is here to stay. This is not the place to discuss the quality of plant material bought from the Web, or the quality of information there; but, if you try hard enough and persist long enough, you can probably find plants of big bluestem and indian pink on the Internet, and the situation will only continue to improve. As wonderful as this resource is, however, real shelves with real plants, and real people in real garden centers, will continue to be the principal means of attracting gardeners to native plants. That is not as big a problem as it appears; simply marketing the native plants already being sold at retail centers would go a long way to attracting interest in others.
On the fallacy of good guys vs bad guys: two common misconceptions among gardeners are that if it is native, it cannot be invasive, and that only "exotics" are bad guys. How many times have I heard the names kudzu, privet, multiflora rose, lythrum, and honeysuckle used as an excuse to trash all nonnative plants? They are simply handrails, leaned on by those with an agenda. Some stories are horrific, true, but I will not grow a meadow garden because I have to, and I will not incorporate dogfennel because it is native. If I make a meadow, if I incorporate natives, it is because that is how I want to garden, not how I want to live.
I have had my dealings with people who believe that natives are the only way to garden, who would not have an exotic in their garden. I have no problem with them just like I have no problem with people's religious beliefs — just don't preach them at me or anyone else. What we don't need is the religious right in our garden. Makes you want to gag just thinking about it, doesn't it?
The way some people equate natives with godliness is scary. If you believed all they said, a native would never move, and all seeds would either fall by the roots or birds would happily transport the seeds where they are meant to be. One has only to look at a meadow or prairie to know that it would take one heck of a big flock of birds to create those large colonies of native flowers and grasses. Birds do a lot of pooping, but it would be a paltry meadow or grassland if the plants did not reseed themselves. If you are going to lecture me about natives behaving themselves, do so while you help me get rid of milkweed and northern sea oats. They must have missed that lesson.
On maintaining native plants: I am the first to tell you that my design skills are suspect, but incorporating a native into a plant design is no more difficult than incorporating any other plant. Their maintenance, however, is a different topic. Many of our natives have evolved large taproots for survival or small leaves to conserve water. Overwatering may be a problem with plants that are normally drought-tolerant, as many of our natives are. Realistically, many of our plants need tough love to look good in a garden setting. They do not want or need great handfuls of fertilizer, and they benefit from vigorous pruning when they begin to look weedy. And in the case of meadow gardens, talk with your gardening buddies and look into the benefits of burning. Of course, you might want to notify the local fire department as well.
On the meaning of "native": this question is at the center of many a heated discussion. I listen, I opine, but I need something to wrap my arms around. A native to me is a plant that was in what we now call mainland America when the Europeans first arrived — a definition that is by necessity vague (I own up to my nebulous opinion, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to argue the fine points of European history). I also include cultivars — selections and hybrids — of native parentage. This is a gardening book, not one on political correctness.
Some people believe "native" means only their county, or their area of the state, or their region of the country. This book is national in scope, but I hope that those who wish to incorporate only their own regional plants will find the information provided under habitat helpful in making their choices.
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