The day of the native ornamental is drawing near. ---Douglas Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home
Historically, gardens were intentional, artificial, human creations loaded with exotic plants. Exotic introductions were (and still are) plants that are brought from outside the local landscape and imposed on the natural landscape. The exotic species of plants had the aggressive ability to colonize, displace, and disrupt the original community of plants.
Meaning, the outsider/exotic plants would be plants then take over the original, native plants and disrupt the natural ecosystem of the land that the native plants were creating and sustaining.
Image: White Europeans coming to North America and dumping their exotics into Native American land and trashing their crop landscape with foreign plants. Native plants were seen, or constructed, as unwanted plants.
Colonization of land.
What's an exotic plant? A plant that did not occur naturally in that particular area (example: Chesapeake Bay Watershed) and was brought to and planted into the ground by human agency.
A native plant is defined by Douglas Tallamy, who wrote Bringing Nature Home, in this way: "a plant can only function as a true native while it is interacting with the community that historically helped shape it."
For example, many garden plants are nectar supplies for bees and butterflies, few are able to be a breeding host ground for native insects, or beneficials. A butterfly weed is an example of a plant where the monarch butterfly can get food and lay eggs--using this plant as host for its complete life cycle.
A native plant is essential to a garden's eco-system, and it can be of great value when the plant has a connection with the geographical area where it was planted. Biodiversity depends on native plants for food, shelter and living space for birds, insects and animals, All depend on indigenous plants.
In my garden at home and at Church of the Pilgrims, native plants dominate the landscape. Native plants have gone into the ground as food for our honeybees. Native plants invite the beneficial insects that chomp away on the insects that can create chaos in the garden.
Garden can look like, and be, individual endeavors. I have my garden in my house. Pilgrims has its garden on its land. My favorite farm, Red Wiggler Farm, uses native plants as part of its organic agricultural ways. On the surface they appear as separate from each other.
But our gardens and farms are connected and political in nature---building a community of healthy bugs in the soil, creating homes for insects and animal life, retaining water through bioretention or controlling natural water run off through plantings.
Plants are political. Gardens are a communal endeavor, even if separated by neighborhood and a river. Gardens are more than creating a Martha Stewart, well manicured beauty-for-the-eye only experience. Plants are part of our ecosystem and, like humans, can disrupt, destroy, and dominate an already existing cycle of life.
Native plants extend the story of creation---they are an invitation to see the web of political life, the human and the non-human. And create beauty that persists.