Why plant native plants? 

By Bob Brett, Whistler Naturalists

"Live as if you will die tomorrow. Garden as if you will live forever."

Shaker proverb.

In spite of a growing season briefer and cooler than a Stockwell Day wetsuit, more and more Whistlerites are gardening these days. In Vancouver, the snow’s gone (was it ever there?), early flowers are up, and the plant sales have started.

Not all plant sales showcase the latest pampas grass or new strain of rainbow-coloured tulip. As more gardeners become interested in their native flora, more native plant sales emerge. The first in Vancouver is at UBC Botanical Gardens this Sunday (see details below). Another at Van Dusen Gardens is at the end of the month. Both attract an increasing number of growers and an ever-increasing selection of native plants: from ferns and mosses to flowers and shrubs.

Native plants are those which grow naturally in an area. In Whistler, they include common species like Douglas-fir, huckleberry, skunk cabbage, and deer fern. They do not include exotics like Colorado blue spruce, Scotch broom, and Kentucky bluegrass.

Why are more gardeners choosing native plants? The increased interest follows a trend towards natural landscaping, sometimes called naturescaping. And you don’t need to check hardiness zones for native plants. If a plant grows naturally in the woods on the other side of your property, you can be pretty sure it will grow in your garden.

More importantly, gardening with native plants can increase the habitat value of your backyard. Plants provide shelter, food, and shade for other species. Native plants are most likely to provide the habitat needed by native birds and other creatures. Shrub cover is especially important.

In Whistler’s increasingly developed landscape, gardening with native plants helps reclaim natural habitat which might otherwise be lost. Every little bit helps.

Using native plants doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice beauty. Our native flora includes some stunning flowers – orchids, lilies, saxifrages, and representatives of many other common plant families. Great shrub covers include low shrubs like kinnikinnick and penstemon, and tall shrubs like red-osier dogwood and Nootka rose.

Of course, the trend towards naturescaping will never eliminate tulips and daffodils in Whistler gardens. Nor should it. Non-native plants add beauty and can also contribute habitat for other creatures. The only caveat is that anything you plant should stay in your garden. Try to avoid species which might spread to neighbouring properties (the main threat of exotic plants is their potential to supplant native species).

A great side-benefit of gardening with native plants is in helping you notice what’s in natural woods and meadows. There are lots of beautifully illustrated books to help with identification. Try Plants of Coastal BC (by Pojar and MacKinnon); Trees, Shrubs and Flowers to know in BC & Washington (by Lyons); and the exquisite book by Lewis Clark, Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest . Check for them at Armchair Books or the library, and watch this column for information on upcoming native plant sales.

Upcoming Events :

April 7 — Monthly Bird Walk . Meet at the base of Lorimer Road at 7 a.m. ( please note earlier time! ). The April walk is a good one since the shrubs are bare of leaves and birds are more visible. Contact Bob Brett (932-8900) for more information.

April 8 — Pacific Northwest Native Plant Sale . Sunday, April 8, 2001 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. UBC Botanical Garden, 6804 SW Marine Drive (at 16th Avenue) in Vancouver. Ten growers with over 300 species of native plants, as well as information on propagation and tours of the B.C. Native Garden. Free admission.

Sightings and Memberships: NatureSpeak is prepared by the Whistler Naturalists. To become a member or to report noteworthy sightings of mammals, birds, or other species, contact Lee Edwards (905-6448; e-mail: leighe11@hotmail.com).


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