It’s the trashy parts of towns where people are most likely to encounter a native garden. The old dump site that’s now a restored wetland. The flood zone reborn as a rain garden. A vacant lot transformed into a meadow.
Unintentionally, are we building a perception of native gardening as: A bunch ofweeds on derelict public land helping bugs? That can’t be a good branding strategy.
I really want native gardening to equal home gardening in people’s minds. But I fear that the way people usually encounter a wildlife garden — as a public solution for a crappy site to help critters — an honest, instinctive reaction has got to be: Not in My Backyard!
I don’t mean to diminish any of the important work that the ecologically-minded are doing to restore habitat. They are not managing the native gardening brand. But could this important work be counter-productive when it comes to framing the public’s take on native gardening?
I want native plants to become the Next Big Thing that will Disrupt the gardening world, Go Viral so that everyone will covet native plants for their own garden.
The High Line, one of the most celebrated urban renewal projects in the United States, definitely forged my positive take on native plants. But typically, a public park does not have that kind of funding or workforce.
In cities like Philadelphia and small towns like New Britain (both in Pennsylvania) vacant lots have been transformed into native meadows. Ever walk through a native meadow in mid-summer? It’s unbelievably hot, humid and uncomfortable. Growing a native meadow from scratch is time consuming and expensive. A meadow design plan is basically: sow a mix of native seeds in the largest space we can afford. Which is great, insects desperately need meadow habitat as accompanying signage explains. But I suspect most folks reading about habitat restoration don’t dream of relaxing in their very own meadow. Because a large meadow is for insect, not human comfort.
Rain gardens are another commonly encountered native plant landscape. It’s designed to collect rainwater, filter pollutants while building beneficial wildlife habitat. A beautiful ecological solution to flooding. In Aspen Hill, Maryland political candidates described rain gardens as dangerous pits of death. That scored more political points than sharing — what I guess — are their true feelings: I don’t want a weedy gutter in front of my house.
No one wants to hang out in an ugly, uncomfortable garden because it’s the right thing to do.
It’s my hope that the popular perception of native gardening will shift when beautiful, private native gardens become more and more visible. The marketing agency is our own front lawn.
Negative —> shift to—> Positive
Public Site —> Private: what anybody wants from their garden, a place to relax with family and friends and get away from the troubles of the world.
Derelict Site —> Best Part of Town
For the Environment —> My Enjoyment: it’s fascinating to observe the interconnections between plants, insects, birds, and other garden visitors.
Pristine Nature —> Designed Nature: work with the plants that make your corner of the world unique but also design it for your comfort and whimsies.
Chaotic —> Designed Space: edging contains the “chaos,” intended zones for critters, intended zones for humans, comfortable seating, focal points, paths that invite exploration, landscaping that uses color, texture… a full design toolkit.
Staffed by Volunteers —> Me Happily Puttering Around
Weedy —> Resilient Beauty: not just showy flowers but flowers that shift through four seasons from emerging bud, to flower, berry. Grasses that turn brilliant colors in fall and define the shape of winter snowfall.
What are your thoughts on how to shift the “native gardening brand” to the positive?