I was speaking at a garden club meeting recently where the member who gave a conservation or horticulture report reported about the need to plant for pollinators. All gardeners value the critters who pollinate plants and we’ve all heard about how bees, butterflies, bats and others are currently in peril. Plant people understand the value of protecting, and providing supportive environments for, this varied eco system. We get that “everything is connected to everything else” and it’s important to us.
What was bothersome about the presentation that I heard, however, was that it was an “all or nothing” message. “Don’t plant the double varieties of Echinacea,” this committee chair urged, “because they don’t support bees and other pollinators.” Although I didn’t disagree with disseminating the information that some cultivars of plants are bee or pollinator friendly/supportive and others are not, I think that such all or nothing messages ultimately don’t serve us well.
I think that a better message is that in every landscape diversity is important. Forget large mono-culture lawns, but go for as many varieties of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals as you can. Every single yard and garden should include native plants, an wild “weedy” area, and as many other plants of all sorts as it’s possible for humans to put in a garden. Plant some areas in the style that pleases you most, with the plants that make your heart sing, and cultivate other spaces with the intention of supporting wildlife. Let Mother Nature take charge of part of your property, with the only rule being to check the growth or dominance of invasive plants. Appreciate the spaces where plants grow in communities instead of clearly defined clumps, and be willing to let the plants in those areas figure it out on their own.
It’s important for gardeners to get excited about new varieties, native or not, because this is an aspect of gardening that lifts our hearts and keeps us hooked. That’s important too. To my mind, we need gardens that contain natives, exotics, new varieties, straight species, singles, doubles, and weeds. Plant it all, thoughtfully, joyously and abundantly.