What's the best way for gardeners to regard native species: Are they wild, woodland wonders, or do they present a plant paradox? Getting in line with easy-care, wildlife-friendly, green and sustainable gardening practices means making wise plant choices for home landscaping.
Native species — which by nature have thrived well on their own and have adapted to local growing conditions for long periods — are often recommended as eco-friendly selections, to be chosen over exotic and sometimes even invasive species introduced more recently.
What factors are important to consider in making selections? Next week, gardeners will have two chances to pick up some pointers from experienced horticulturists.
On Tuesday, Todd Rounsaville, above, curator of native plants at The Arboretum on Alumni Drive, will present "The Native Plant Gardener's Paradox."
With a background in public horticulture and a master's degree in plant breeding from North Carolina State University, Rounsaville has worked at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, and with Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, N.C.
"I am passionate about native plants and getting people interested and engaged in public gardens," he says.
More often than not though, Rounsaville notes, the practice of cultivating native plants goes against any sense of real naturalism.
His program will explore why we as gardeners are succeeding for all the wrong reasons and failing for all the right ones.
"People try to artificially control nature in gardens, but by definition, nature is devoid of human control," he says.
Important considerations include issues of pest and disease resistance, biodiversity, the use of genetically modified or closely related hybrids that might cross-pollinate natives, and more local climate adaptations.
Red maple trees, which are native from Canada to Texas throughout the Eastern United States, provide a good example. Suppliers might be selling seedlings adapted to growing conditions in Texas that might not have the best survival odds in Kentucky.
Rounsaville will discuss ideas about how to collect and propagate native plants, and he'll present some pitfalls and positive aspects involved in using them in home gardens, including a lot of clarification about issues to consider.
Barry Glick of Sunshine Farm and Gardens in Greenbrier County, W.Va., will be in Lexington on Thursday. He is a guest speaker for The Arboretum's Founders Lecture Series presentation, "Woodland Wonders from the Wild."
From his own broad collection of more than 10,000 types of native plants, Glick has assembled a slide presentation featuring about 160 colorful photographs of native specimens that might be overlooked on woodland hikes, including some interesting and unusual wildflowers that can be grown in back-yard gardens.
Certain trilliums such as toadshade, or the sessile, brown-flowered T. cuneatum, ephemeral spring bluebells and the uniquely shaped jack-in-the-pulpit are just a few Glick plans to cover. He will talk about why the plants are such good survivors, and some plants you'll want to avoid.
He is also an avid plant breeder of Lenten roses, or hellebores, which are just now coming into bloom in the late winter landscape. Not native to North America, these evergreen perennials are not roses but members of the Ranunculaceae, or buttercup family.
Glick's youth was spent in the Northeast's Delaware Valley, which he fondly calls the "mecca of horticulture." Outstanding gardens such as those at Winterthur, the famed du Pont museum in Delaware, Pennsylvania's Longwood Gardens, and the Scott and Morris arboretums near Philadelphia were his training grounds. Glick went on to establish his own 60-acre mountainside farm, where the woods are full of display gardens with ideas that gardeners may use in their own back yards.
IF YOU GO
"The Native Plant Gardener's Paradox" with Todd Rounsaville. 6 p.m. March 19. The Arboretum's Dorotha Smith Oatts Visitor Center, 500 Alumni Dr. $5, $4 for Friends of the Arboretum. Information and required pre- registration: (859) 257-6955 or email@example.com.
Friends of The Arboretum Founders Lecture Series: "Woodland Wonders From the Wild" with Barry Glick. 7 p.m. March 21. University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center, 1400 Nicholasville Rd. $5, free for Friends and students with ID. (859) 257-6955. www.ca.uky.edu/arboretum.
Other sources for information about native plants:
Kentucky Native Plant Society. Visit Knps.org for information about the spring Wildflower Weekend at Natural Bridge State Park, April 19 to 21, and for a link to The Lady Slipper newsletter.
The Wild Ones native plants club. The Lexington chapter's programs are listed at Wildones.org/chapters/Lexington. A trip is planned 11 a.m. March 23 to hike at Cove Spring Park in Frankfort, where wooded ravines, waterfalls and spring ephemerals can be found.
Susan Smith-Durisek is a master gardener and writer from Lexington. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Blog: gardening.bloginky.com.