The Nature of Natives: Deciding Which Flowers to Plant
“We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?” –Wendell Berry
Native plant species can form the basic template for our garden design. However, it is important to remember that the natural landscapes that surround us are dynamic. Climates change and ecosystems shift. Throughout time, humans and animals have introduced non-native plants and they have naturalized to our area to become common sights.
With this in mind, how do we define what a native plant is? This is a very complex topic worthy of a long discussion. To get a basic idea, we recommend reading plant identification books and other references specific to your area. These books will help you find plants that professional botanists consider native and which are relative newcomers. This government website can also help you explore the idea of native flower gardening (link is to a PDF file).
As far as your flower garden is concerned, you can be as strict as you wish when planting your garden and using natives. There are many non-natives that are very adaptable and will fit in very well with natives without disrupting local plant communities. The key is to find a combination that works for you while being environmentally responsible.
You don’t have to give up your favorite ornamental non-natives, but be aware that many exotic species can be aggressive and disruptive in your garden and out-compete natives. Many exotics are weedy and aggressive simply because their natural predators are not present in their new environment. The more you educate yourself about the natural history of your state, the better. The North American Native Plant Society maintains an excellent website.