Any good garden is a garden of immigrants.
A foundation planting composed solely of Japanese holly, Nandina, Liriope and Pachysandra is a sterile old-fashioned, unenlightened landscape, of which I have seen many that linger into the 21st century, offering little sustenance to native pollinators and even less to the eye.
Diversity gives us color, variety, opportunities for many different kinds of life. Sticking to just one idea – whether it be vast beds of hostas or Chinese junipers or a pedantic restriction to flora indigenous to Albemarle County – limits our scope and opportunity.
Our July bouquet illustrates a happy combination that proves the rule that the best arrangements are made from flowers of the season: black-eyed-Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) and river oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) are native perennials, both quite invasive in their own way, but welcome components of our low-lying meadow and borders. The icy blue Vitex (V. angustifolia) is from China. Jefferson, who loved to collect rarities, had specimens at Monticello. They will grow quite large if left to themselves, but can also be trimmed yearly in spring like a Buddleia to keep them in size.
Although it ranks zero on Doug Tallamy’s list of plants that sustain larval insects in his influential Bringing Nature Home’, nevertheless, Vitex along with other non-natives like butterfly bush (Buddleia) do offer summer nectar to butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. Tallamy is right to emphasize the value of native plants as hosts for caterpillar larva – the classic example being the Monarch butterfly’s need to lay its eggs on milkweed (Asclepias vars.), but we must not ignore the value of summer nectar or twiggy winter shelter whatever its source.
This is a fraught subject among horticulturists, gardeners, and people of good will all across our land.
Can we keep a garden or a country “pure”, forever protected from contamination by seething life that presses from all sides? Can we? Or can we cultivate and guide the surge of life so that we can live in harmony?