Ecosystem Gardening and Native Plants

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Here at Ecosystem Gardening we’ve been discussing the goal of adding more native plants to our gardens to increase the value to wildlife in our landscapes.

But did you know that saying the words “native plant” will send some in the gardening world into passionate heated arguments? I am finding this out with repeated frequency. There really are places where this is a dirty word.

I guess it should be no surprise that this happens, given the lack of actual political discussion in this country. Instead we have two sides, firmly entrenched in their beliefs who hurl hate-filled vindictive speech back and forth at each other and no actual conversation actually takes place (and nothing gets done).

Apparently our society is built on this model: choose your side, refuse to listen to anyone who didn’t choose that side, and hurl flaming arrows of verbal abuse at each other.

But gardeners? Really?

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I’ve been called a native plant nazi, a meanie-greanie, and worse. And sadly, I’ve also seen some native plant advocates call others irresponsible, ignorant, and uninformed. I’ve heard people say “You can have this invasive plant when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.”

Kind of sounds just like that gun control argument, doesn’t it? But why? Why do we heap such abuse on each other? This is a very sad state of affairs to me that gardeners treat each other with such disrespect.

I’ve also seen a website that trashed a book because of the over 300 pages in that book, she dared to mention the value of native plants to wildlife and ecosystem health in 3 of those pages.

So What is All the Fuss About Native Plants?

First, let me clearly state that I have never advocated here that you have only native plants in your wildlife garden. It’s not a good idea to remove all of the exotic plants from your garden, and start from scratch. That would be an overwhelming project.

What I do encourage people to do is to increase the proportion of native plants because native plants support more wildlife. And I strongly discourage the sale, purchase, and planting of invasive plants, which are destroying our natural ecosystems at an alarming rate.

Native Plants Support More Wildlife

Native plants are important because they support local food webs. Over the millenia native plants and insects have evolved together, acting and reacting on each other.

A plant would develop some kind of defense to protect itself from insect predation. Most insects could not overcome those defenses so they moved on to another plant. But some insects did overcome those protections and are able to feed on specific plants that others cannot eat.

Most insects are now specialists. That means that they can only eat one specific plant, or one family of plants.

Now, why would we possibly want to encourage insects in our gardens? Birds!


Native plants and insects form the base of the food web that supports all other wildlife. Without those insects we would have no birds because 96% of our land birds feed insects to their young, no matter what those birds eat as adults.

Wildlife Declines Are Due to Habitat Destruction

In our quest to have a Starbucks and Walmart in every neighborhood, as urban areas have spread into suburbia and further still into exurbia, we have destroyed a lot of habitat for wildlife, leaving them no place to go.

This is where ecosystem gardening comes in. Your wildlife garden can make a very crucial difference for many species of wildlife.

When we choose to become stewards of our properties and create welcoming habitat for wildlife, we are choosing to give something back to the wildlife that are dependent on those ecosystems.

Your wildlife garden can be a living ecosystem, supporting wildlife in the soil, in your choice of native plants, and by creating habitats that provide food and water, and shelter and safe places for wildlife to raise their young.

Since native plants are the basis of the foodweb that supports these ecosystems, it only makes sense to add more of them to our gardens, and to choose those native plants that offer the most value to wildlife.

What are you doing in your wildlife garden to give a little back?

Check out my new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week, teaching you to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your garden.

© 2011 – 2013, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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  1. says

    Very nice points about native plants in the gardens Carole! I too try to use natives when possible to help attract insects, birds and other animals that depend on them. Just as important as planting them, I believe that leaving the native habitat you may have in your yard to start with is equally important. So many times new housing developments and new home owners feel it’s best to “start with a clean slate”, removing all existing plant and soil materials. While this makes it easier for developers, so much is lost in the process.
    Kathy Green recently posted..What Gardening for Nature Teaches Me

  2. says

    What a wonderful post! It saddens me to know that gardener’s are getting dirty in this way instead of just with the dirt from their gardens. I still consider myself new at gardening with much too learn. But only a few years of experience has proven to me in a way that no words ever could that the reward of growing native plants and avoiding pesticides is more birds, bees, and butterflies. Truth be told, the birds, bees, and butterflies give me more joy than the plants. I look forward to enticing more of them to my garden as I increase the number of native plants that I have.
    Ginny recently posted..One for the bugs- one for the weather- and one for YOU!

  3. says

    Excellent post Carole! It is too bad that we always seem to be divided about one important issue or another. Really – “native plant nazi, a meanie-greanie.” How absurd. To be passionate about this issue is very important.

    I am lucky to have a native plant nursery nearby and have been buying most of my plants there. I have added more over the last few years. I must ask . . . do people really want a Wal Mart or Starbucks in their neighborhoods? I always thought it was forced on people. I never realized it might be the other way around. Frightening!
    Carolflowerhillfarm recently posted..Bird Review Part Vll Parenting Tree Swallows and Fledglings

  4. says

    Bravo Carole…once I found natives I never looked back…I try to balance these with exotics…I also worked to get my gardens certified as wildlife habitats…it really is easy and if you have the basics you are on your way…our pond and meadow have done so much to build the habitat for wildlife and as I learn more I improve more…thx for keeping the message going!!!
    Donna recently posted..Obstacle

  5. Scott Hokunson says


    I can attest to the fact that natives sometimes bring out the worst in people. I do not understand it either, except to say that they do not understand the beauty in a native plant nor its importance in an ecosystem. Great advice and post!

    And, were I to call you a name on behalf of native, it would be “Wonderful Spirit”! You go girl!

  6. says

    Carole, you are so right, native plant discussions always seem to degenerate quickly into a typical gun-control type discourse (either you’re with us, or you’re with them), but it’s NOT a black and white issue, and so it’s so frustrating for those of us watch as our ecosystems continue to decline as people argue about wardrobe malfunctions, etc. :-) Everybody has to find their own comfort zone in how actively they want to manage their properties, but anybody that owns any land at all in this country is responsible for learning the basics of land care so as not to continue to degrade our natural systems further! And that would NOT be a land care program that is sold to us by chemical companies! The best we can all do as landscapers, teachers, designers, etc is to continue to talk to anybody who will listen about the amazing flora and fauna that are out there, each working their unique jobs in a collective action that keeps our planet ticking along the way we need it..once people get excited about individual species (birds, butterflies, dragonflies, earthworms, snakes, turtles etc) and learn the basics of what they need to attract them, it’s usually a quick jump to understanding to how native plants, shrubs and trees contribute the most to healthy, functioning ecosystems, and that it makes sense to plant locally adapted native plants wherever and as much as possible in our back yards. And that is true whether you live in Oregon or Timbuktu!

    So in other words..keep doing what you’re doing, and don’t stop! You rock! :-)

  7. says

    Carole; well said!
    I too have been called an eco-natzi and other names, but I always reply in a civil manner with plenty of resources for further information. This is not so much for the name caller, but for the hundreds of lurkers who may witness the conversation.

    Keep up the good work!
    Green gardening matters.

  8. Julia Vanatta says

    Great post on native plants and the ecosystem. My experience has been nothing but positive… either that or people just keep their mouth shut because they know I will defend my garden and its benefit to the ecosystem. I do share my personal experience with natives and all the joyful visitors whenever someone will listen. Helps to live in a neighborhood with lots of educated and progressive thinkers.


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