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Using ‘native’ plants

JOHN LONGHILL
special to the daily
Special to the Daily/John Longhill
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Recently I received an e-mail from a reader who asked for my thoughts on the “concept” of native plants. This person questioned the validity of only using “native” plants, because the definition of native seemed arbitrary. I am paraphrasing what this reader had to say: “Who is to say what is native and what is not, since what is found to grow in a particular area is dependent on so many factors, including climate, how accessible the area is to animals and people that carry seeds and a multitude of other factors, including which way the wind blows.” I could not find fault with the reasoning this person had for objecting to a plant being classified as “native.”

Truthfully, to determine what is really native to an area and what is not, there has to be a definition of what native means. Is a plant native if it was born there, like some of the humans in Summit County? Or do they have to be the offspring of successive generations that have lived there for hundreds or thousands of years (like native Americans) to really be considered native. Or, is a plant considered native if it has been found in a particular locale, for as long as anyone can remember or has any written records about?

The “only use native plants” philosophy is like a religion to some, and like religion, some feel that their religion is the only true religion. I think a balanced perspective is more productive, wherein you realize that there are pros and cons with any plant you use. I suggest that you look at what you are trying to achieve with your garden, then decide for yourself what is appropriate, based on site conditions, climate, and most importantly – personal preferences and then pick the plants that are appropriate for what you are trying to achieve.

Plants currently classified as “native” to Summit County have done a lot of the work for us, because they have adapted and survived in our locale for an extended period of time. When we use natives, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and do the work to find out how well a plant does in an area. If it is classified as native, it will naturally be easier to grow and have a greater survival rate.

There are some beautiful native plants that require minimal maintenance, and there are some that are not so attractive (remember beauty is in the eye of the beholder). There are some that are difficult to grow, and others that can become a pest and take over your garden. You have the right to decide what works for you, and what doesn’t. Knowledge is the key, so know your plants. Always use plants that are well adapted for your site – both native and introduced species, because they are most likely to provide you with the beauty and enjoyment that you are looking for. Avoid those plants that will cause you problems, and problems with your neighbors, because that isn’t enjoyable either. Don’t let someone else’s definitions trip you up when it comes to what you plant in your garden – plant what you love, smile a lot and have fun!

John Longhill is the owner of: John Longhill – Landscape Architect (www.john-landscapearcthitect.com) A site planning/landscape design office

located in Silverthorne. John can be reached at (970) 468-0924 or email at

askjohn@john-landscapearchitect.com.


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