Guest Rants, It's the Plants, Darling

Ask a Designer: Make Invasives Great Again


From left: Japanese honeysuckle, Hellebore, Clerodendrum.

Next in our “Ask a Designer” series is a guest rant by David mcmullin.

The debate about invasive plants has become, well, invasive. It crops up anywhere gardens and plants are being mentioned. The general idea is this: gardeners are a band of outlaws set on destroying our Habitat through the insidious introduction of plants that thrive.

And these are plants that aren’t from around here. They are crossing the border and they are murderers. They are rapists. And some, we assume, are ok. But they are not “native” and we all know what that means…

Because humans love lists and I am human, I am making a list! This is a list of my favorite non-native invasive plants. Why focus on them? (Ahhhh… here’s where I’m really getting antagonistic.) Because I like them.

Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in the woods and the fields and have a deep love of the natural world and its citizens. But I am not God nor Thor nor Gaia and I have absolutely no idea how to create nature from scratch. Nor do I think that any gardener is required to follow any misguided dogma that suggests that we are responsible for doing so. Gardens aren’t nature any more than a fish tank is the ocean.

Why invasive? Well, why not? Invasive is in the eyes of the beholder after all. If I had a junk yard or some bodies to make disappear I wouldn’t mind kudzu. We have gotten to disparage any plant that spreads even a little. Two buddleia seedlings in five years isn’t exactly a hoard, is it? But to many it would be a cause for legislation.

In my home garden, which is now 20 years old and deeply ignored, invasive plants have kept maintenance to a minimum, weeds to a few and filled in gracefully where I have failed to plant, water and cultivate.

At my farm, which is many acres and where I now spend all my gardening jollies, I really appreciate plants that fill up expanses of ground and hold space for future ideas. And the grand views need “drifts” to be in scale. Drifts are expensive.

So here we go into the diabolical world of the enemy:

Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle)

Yes. I’m going there. This twining and unrelenting choker of everything is so entwined with the sensory memory of my childhood that I can’t hate it. I keep some by the farm driveway gate scrambling over an old spirea and squeezing the picket fence because I am in love with the fragrance of it. The more pinky type grows elsewhere into some cedars and I think it’s very pretty and I keep forgetting to get some cuttings. I’d like it on a wall somewhere.

Hellebores foetidus

It seems like I’m bragging to say that I have this beautiful and elegant plant absolutely everywhere. It’s like saying I just simply have too many tiaras. But in the winter the drifts of deep dark glossy divided foliage sending up their trusses of celadon green bells is a treasure.

Clerodendrum trichotemum

The swallowtails that swarm this beautiful tree in late summer are traitors to the idea that pollinators prefer natives. Sorry, no. I grow the variegated one called ‘Harlequin’ and it looks like a big wedding cake until it blooms then it’s like a wedding cake from a tacky South Asian country that has magenta and pink fireworks popping out of it! It’s totally worth the dull green suckers that I have to chop down – sometimes miles from the original plant. Sometimes in the garage.

From left, Miscanthus, Corydalis, Euphorbia.

From left, Miscanthus, Corydalis, Euphorbia.

Miscanthus sacchariflorus ‘Gotemba gold’

Nothing curls the toes of nativists more than than the mention of miscanthus. Apparently there is a magical and beautiful kingdom somewhere that miscanthus has devoured like The Nothing from The Never Ending Story.

Unlike its more common cousin, M. sinensis, this one actually doesn’t reseed at all but rather strangles the ground with a galavanting tangle of advancing roots. Why do I like it? Because it strangles the ground with a galavanting tangle of advancing roots. And it’s very very pretty with golden variegation down the center of its wide, arching blades. I don’t know of a better golden grass. It is holding the bank along my nursery driveway and I gaze at it from the potting shed wondering when it will join me in said shed.

Corydalis lutea
Another embarrassment of riches because this plant is lovely and shares blood with horticulture royalty. My home garden – where mulching and soil disturbance no longer happens – is literally blanketed with this plant starting in fall with tiny ferny seedlings and ending in early summer with knee high spikes of pale yellow flowers. Then it falls apart and rots all over the ground. And it smells like new carpet when it does that. I don’t know why.

Euphorbia coralloides

My farm is very near a huge granite outcropping that is a fantasy desert in the middle of hot wet Georgia. Such a stark and fascinating place. So it seemed right to devote a good acre or two of my dry sandy soil to a gravel garden. Gravel gardens are all the rage, apparently. The goal is to have plants from Mexico and South Africa and Australia and Italy all sharing space with natives from Arabia mountain up the road. All in all its a pretty great garden. But… I don’t exactly remember planting this pretty euphorbia and maybe it snuck in with an agave or a dasylirion but it LOVES 200 degree gravel! I can’t bear to eradicate it altogether because there’s a spring moment when its masses of chartreuse flowers on wiry clumps is just too beautiful. So we spray seedlings all summer. With Roundup. Begin lighting the torches.

As I sit here and try to think of more non-natives to add to my list I realize that the REALLY invasives in my garden have almost always been natives! Black locust, evening primrose, broom sedge, swamp sunflower, water oak, pecan. But nothing ever as bad as the common goldenrod that has absolutely eliminated all plant diversity from most of my wet meadow – like two acres of meadow! It’s pretty but only for a second in September and the rest of the time it just looks like chiggers live there. Which they do. There and in the vicinity of my crotch. Thanks goldenrod!

So the moral of this Never Ending Story? There isn’t one. Some plants are weeds. Some weeds are pretty.

With all the requirements our society places on us now to politicize our every choice, I won’t be supporting The Nothing party – I’m with pretty.

Photo credits: Honeysuckle and Clerodendrum by Oregon State. Other photos by the author.

Posted by David mcmullin on August 8, 2016 at 1:03 pm, in the category Guest Rants, It's the Plants, Darling.

72 responses to “Ask a Designer: Make Invasives Great Again”

  1. Aunt Em says:

    The title of this post alone is hilarious, scary, genius and makes a good point. The gardening community, like the Republican party has become a circus. Why the gardening community made up of people who share the same interest can’t find common ground is beyond me. Or, maybe it isn’t. Gardening isn’t what it used to be. That is for many, it’s not just about making a pretty landscape or growing vegetables or having fun anymore. These days it’s gotten way more complicated for the reasons mentioned in all these posts and in turn increasingly tied to questions of morality and human sustainability. And for these reasons plants are labeled with names such as native and invasive and gardeners are left having to decide not only which is which but which is best. Not all gardeners, but I’m guessing most because in order to garden we kind of have to. At least we have to consider it if we happen to open that Pandora’s box, which is hard not to run into at some point if we’re doing any online research or reading any up to date publications.

    I’m pretty sure David isn’t saying we should grow invasives or maybe he is. But his point may be that the native plant movement is adversely affecting its goal which I believe should be to build and protect complex and diverse ecosystems within the larger ecosystem of planet earth. What does that entail exactly? I don’t think anyone knows exactly, but maybe the word exactly is not so important. Maybe native plant purity isn’t as important as replacing large expanses of turf with the widespread establishment of ecologically useful plants and that can’t happen unless those managing landscapes are interested and enabled. When that happens the garden industry can snap into place supplying demand and concentrate more on plant purity. It just needs to be easier and more satisfying for all involved. This will probably not happen if the standards of plant purity are just too high or confusing for the consumer.

    But back to the discussion about David’s post. Even though by using that brilliant title, he was asking to get slammed, does slamming him help the cause or is it just turning people off from even considering the use of ecologically useful plants in their garden. Maybe the ecological health of the planet would improve on a greater scale if the garden community could just find a little common ground. Harsh attacks are not going to inspire anything but confusion, negativity and in some cases entertainment. The concept of native plants is somewhat new and hard to swallow for many people. If someone wants to grow native plants they need to feel not only comfortable that they can but also not like a fool for trying.

  2. Leslie N Inman says:

    David, when I re-read some of your posts…. I feel like we are all agreeing!

    I just mentioned Crepe Myrtles, Begonias and Turf Grass — because when I make a rare trip up to the suburbs…. I am not exaggerating…. it is as if THOSE are the ONLY plants the CONVENTIONAL landscapers know about. Miles and miles of Turfgrass, Begonias and Crepe Myrtles. It’s kinda funny….but not.

  3. Leslie N Inman says:

    Ok…. my last word, I promise. Bottom line is, this is no longer the world it was. We are in an emergency situation… an environmental crisis. Birds and pollinators are in steep decline. And we play GOD in the garden. We decide what lives or dies. If I choose to FOG my yard with Pyrethroids from the Mosquito Misting Company, then everything that flies, DIES. If I choose to be completely organic and plant natives (that are THE ONLY host plants for many species of moths and butterflies) then I have chosen LIFE.
    I have complete control, they live or die based on my decisions in the garden.
    And if I do nothing BECAUSE my neighbor FOGS his yard…. then there is no hope. There is hope if I plant butterfly and beneficial host plants. SO MANY PEOPLE HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF ALL THIS. We, having this discussion, are all in the ADVANCED CLASS. A seemingly well-educated lady down the street from me didn’t even know what I was talking about when I said, “Monarch Butterfly.” Who doesn’t know the most famous, iconic butterfly in the country? People are extremely disconnected from nature. Those who have the knowledge… should pass it on.

  4. David mcMullin says:

    David, thank you for the thoughtful words… Of course we should always be intentional and take every consideration when choosing plants for our gardens.
    Would I seek out and intentionally plant a species that I know, or even suspect, would become a whole-system problem beyond the boundaries of my own space? Absolutely not.
    My exaggerated prose is intended to counter the radical hyperbole of nativists who insist that their concern is the only concern.
    Even my advocacy of honeysuckle is acknowledging that it already exists in every hedgerow and vacant lot in the area. It’s not a new threat. My own patch was surely planted by a bird years ago. I just allow myself to enjoy having it and I’m confident that it’s not able to penetrate deep woods and strangle out native understory.
    But that seems dangerous to purists who spread the doctrine that non-native is bad, people who plant non-natives are committing ‘ecocide’ and legislation should be required for any non-native that shows vigor.

  5. marcia says:


    1. I agree that gardens cannot substitute for fully intact habitat, however restoration ecology does work and our wild neighbors can only benefit and thrive even in just one yard. (Of course, it would be nice if more people in a neighborhood were inspired.) The famous Ohio yard study, showed what can happen when one gardener feels inspired to have a yard to pleasure not only humans but other species. It’s just one small example.

    I see it in my yard and I see it on the 7, 000 acre research farm near my home when invasives are replaced.

    2. If you read through all of my comments you will not find one instance of me pushing the planting of only native species. I think the problem may not be so much with the native advocates. I think it may be with the overreaction from others who feel judged.

  6. David Feix says:

    Ex-situ, not ex-titular plants

  7. David Feix says:

    Some heated debates on this topic, and also a fair share of people feeling so strongly about their approach to gardening that it smacks of superiority. I can appreciate that it grates on many’s sensibilities to advocate utilizing plants that are known to be widely invasive in your local region. Whether that’s due to wind-blown seeding or bird-spread berries, these problematic plants ought to give pause, and advocating for their use does seem uncaring to the surrounding region.

    On the otherhand, not everyone has the same tastes or desires in what they want their garden to be. Approaching the garden as a habitat for native plants and fauna is fine, but will never substitute for preserving larger habitats as more beneficial. Gardens are piecemeal, and can never fully substitute for intact habitat. I also approach garden design as an art form, a place to create a retreat, opportunities to “play” with plantings that simply would never exist as such in nature. Creating opportunities for clients to interact with nature, to use their garden as an extension of the house, use plantings to attract the wildlife they enjoy; hummingbirds, other songbirds, bees, butterflies, dragonflies are always high on my list of desireables. Deer, raccoons, skunks, rats, gophers, squirrels not so much, they are more often destructive of my efforts. In any case, a designed garden still has to live with the destructive elements, and manage solutions to coexist.

    Even a designed, exotics based garden can give benefits to the wildlife and ecology via erosion control, providing habitat, sequestering carbon, lowering the heat load, replenishing the water table through thoughtful drainage design. Native plants exclusive gardens have no monopoly on benefits to the larger environment.

    In any case, garden planting design can include both philosophies at once, they needn’t be contradictory. In all my landscape designs, I try to be conscious of not planting known regional invasives, but have no qualms of using an invasive IF it isn’t invasive in my climate. A 6 month long dry season all summer makes it very difficult for a lot of southern/East coast invasive from summer rainfall climates to get a toehold in most of California.

    I’d like to make the case for gardens as botanical ark repositories for preserving ex-titular plant populations that are either threatened or gone extinct in the wild. Especially those plants attractive to migratory birds on the North America/South America flyways. They won’t mind seeing the plant in the wrong continent if they prefer it as a food source. Humans have always selected plants from the wild to cultivate in their gardens, which have become polyglot in their composition, to the extent that most aren’t considered foreign these days. I see no need to separate the native from the exotic in a garden design if they are otherwise compatible. If this approach doesn’t appeal to everyone, I feel no need to try and convince anyone else to garden this way. Intelligent gardening that respects the environment without degrading it for others should be the first rule.

  8. marcia says:

    David said, “Good for you Marcia dear.”

    Actually, I think I owe you something. Perhaps I do see my garden as art. I had to fill my schedule one semester so I took an art appreciation class. I remember a favorite was definitely Turner, a romantic foreward to impressionism. Your gardens I see online are pretty, maybe in the classical tradition of Pousin or Lorrain. Personally, I prefer more of a meadow, one might say a preface to impressionism, a Turner if you will. Maybe even your el Greco vs. my Matisse if portraiture was the chosen analogy.

    Since you feel that my appreciation for art is lacking when you suggested I “give up music for paintings,” I’m afraid I’m not going to do that. I’ll take a Jimmy Page garden over a Willie Nelson garden, (both great guitarists and on Rolling Stones’ Top 100) any time.

    BTW, the Turner exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in D.C. in 2007? Man, was it crowded when I went. People love his work.

    Sort of like my garden. Turner and Immigrant song right outside my front door. And, SRO for the pollinators:

    Thanks for opening up my eyes to the art in my garden, Dave. :-)

  9. David mcMullin says:

    I should point out that the garden I’m describing above is in suburban Atlanta in Dekalb county with a population of about 800K. Even though the historic farm here seems very rural it isn’t. We are, in fact, surrounded by a subdivision.
    In my inner city garden in Atlanta I have about the same number of species present except the wetland types because we don’t have a wetland.
    Over the last few years though we’ve seen a big decline in pollinators and songbirds. I attribute that to mosquito spraying and continued dense development.
    This furthers my opinion that wild things belong in wild places. We don’t make them happy in the city.

  10. David mcMullin says:

    I’m glad you’ve chosen a side. Good for you Marcia dear.
    By the way – my hedonistic garden is frequented by all the species you mention, especially turkeys, possums and raccoons and squirrels are a nuisance – both kinds plus we also have 4 species of frogsin the water and 1 in the trees, lots of toads, red shouldered, red tailed and coopers hawks, great horned, screech and barred owls, buzzards and black vultures, bobcats, armadillos, coyotes, deer, numerous snakes and lizards, every butterfly species that is native to my area including zebra swallowtails and gulf fritillaries and scores of songbirds, including indigo buntings and bluebirds and wetland birds like mallards, Canada geese, wood ducks, herons, kingfishers and occassional green ibis and white egrets and we are close to a stopover for migrating Sandhills cranes so they are ever present over head in the early spring.
    We don’t have beavers or otters because we don’t have a stream but I have seen a weasel or something like it in the pond. Oh and we have brown bats. sometimes in the garage.
    All that and begonias! Imagine. It turns out that the creatures that inhabit my garden are perfectly content with eating my peaches from Persia and my abelia from China and building nests in my pineapple guavas and noisette roses.
    So nothing static here.
    And maybe give up music for paintings. Or poetry for sculpture. Or dance for drama. I’ll keep them all and my garden, too, and nature won’t know the difference.

  11. Marcia says:

    Thank goodness the Nature Conservancy is out in front with their Habitat Network partnership with Cornell to encourage backyard nature gardening. It’s one of the main reasons I donate to them.

    Personally, I like the impressionists. When they painted landscapes, they saw what we see when we turn our yards into magnets for wildlife. That’s why people love the movement they created with their art. Sure, I like looking at paintings, but I’d rather spend my days looking at what attracted them to painting what they saw. The movement in nature, not the static art of a wildlife -free garden.

    I live one mile from I95 and have turkeys, squirrels, flying squirrels, rabbits, opossums, raccoons, chipmunks, foxes, 5 species of woodpeckers and songbirds too numerous to mention, let alone the incredible variety of insects all within my 1/3 acre.

    Callme “foolish.”

    Say it’s folly.”

    Call it a “half-formed ideal.”

    Call it the “worst of nature.”

    Call it a “little effort.”

    Say it has “little effect.”

    Be called “rancorous.”

    Be called “critical.”

    Just know that science and real experience is on our side.

  12. David says:

    Leslie, I wouldn’t be able to be convinced to replace garden as an art form with garden as a nature preserve. While nature certainly is a part of the gardening experience its folly to think of a garden as nature.
    We’ve been planting pleasure gardens for 3000 years and the form as art is well documented, well understood and essential to human creative endeavor. It’s a dynamic art form that has a wide range of cultural influences, styles, design principals and aesthetics. It incorporates movement, time, light, life and death along with all the prescribed principals of design and cultural mythology in cooperation with a deeper practice of many organic sciences like biology, botany, geology, hydrology, meteorology, chemistry, etc.
    To toss it out in favor of a half-formed ideal that we should force nature to exist in cities where the pressures of human population take their toll is choosing to replace something that is the best of humanity with something that is the worst of nature. I think that’s not serving either very well.
    Gardens are part of the built environment and not part of the natural one.
    I grew up in a wild place and spent all of my formative time observing and immersing in the natural world. I’ve spent 30 years working outside. I own a 10 acre farm property with a very healthy population of native creatures and an acre of garden in the city where I can draw comparisons. And my partner of 23 years began his career as an environmental educator and is now the state director for the Nature Conservancy. Our daily conversations are always informative and enlightening and I get to be privy of the real work of conservation done by actual scientists working in the field.
    I didn’t come by my opinion over a cocktail and I’m not just being contrary.
    I have come to believe that we are foolish to think that these little efforts of gardening for nature have any real effect on the natural world. Do it because you enjoy it, because you like milkweed and love to see butterflies and skunks in your yard. That is certainly reason enough. (And its reason enough for me too. I am loving my clouds of swallowtails right now and have been eating a regular diet of pawpaws in the last 2 weeks.) But when that joy that gardeners have for their gardens turns to criticism and rancor towards those that do it another way then we all lose.
    Not that you’ve expressed any rancor, Leslie. I am delighted at your enthusiasm and don’t mean to dissuade you from advocacy. The natural world needs voices more than ever.
    And if that kid that is living on a city street that carries the same light in him that I did for the wild world gets his illumination from a patch of well intended milkweed in a neighbor’s front yard and then goes out into life to make a difference then your advocacy has been worth it.
    Certainly there is room for all.

  13. marcia says:

    I agree. It is a movement. Our local government encourages backyard wildlife habitats and our county council representative has held community-wide meetings on the subject.

    Personally, I’m interested, as you are, in garden as function, not so much art. If I want to see Monet or Adams I’ll go to the museum. An ecology-purposed garden is like watching a 4K-HD -3D real, not virtual, reality visual feast that changes moment to moment. Art appreciation requires some distance. Garden function appreciation is different. It draws you in closer like a magnet to observe the natural world in all its enchantment. (I even use the Pentax Papilio butterfly binoculars meant to observe insects and flowers up close. They’re fabulous for the function gardener.)

    One yard planted ecologically can equal a square kilometer in its allure to wildlife and since studies show that many species of insect are territorial, if you supply them with food and shelter, you can have yourself a fabulous oasis where a dragonfly or toad or bat( all terrific mosquito hunters, btw) can spend its entire life.

    Heck. I have no fruit trees, so I supply the moths and butterflies with cantaloupe and watermelon. Fruit flies that show up feed the hummingbirds. Barn swallows fly over my suburban yard to pick off the flies attracted to the fruit. I have no idea where the barn swallows come from, but if I can help, great. A dry couple of days? I”ll sprinkle the lawn for a few seconds because crickets need water. The result? Toads and skinks come and stay.

    So, the cycle of life is right outside your front door. Never mind the native plantings along highways, Studies show insects hate the noise and exhaust. You keep bringing them to your garden. To garden is to cultivate, to tend, and if we recycle, make our homes energy efficient, eat locally, drive gas sippers, why not make the world a better place right outside your front door, too?

  14. Leslie N Inman says:

    But David, It’s a movement. If we can teach the next generation, ALL our yards can be wildlife preserves. I have to remain positive that this can happen. I know you have spent all of your career making beautiful places for people…and you feel passionate. And I respect your work. I BEG OF YOU… yes this is how strongly I feel. Will you come to my house and watch and hour long video with me? I would love to hear your opinion. One hour of your time.
    I tried to reach you on your website… please call us if you have Scott’s number!

  15. David mcMullin says:

    Those are certainly sobering statistics Leslie. I am deeply saddened by the loss of our natural world.
    But I approach garden as a profound art form and consider it a part of human habitat and not part of the natural world. That nature inhabits parts of our habitat is wonderful to an extent, but as our habitat becomes more intense and dense, nature declines, species disappear and retreat to rural areas. And we think all is lost because we aren’t looking at the bigger picture. We really do only see what’s in our backyards. But backyards aren’t nature.
    As a matter of fact I think it may be irresponsible to encourage wildlife to live in urban and suburban areas. I see one house planting natives to attract butterflies and bees and the next house spraying for Mosquitos. It’s like leading lambs to slaughter. Same with planting pollinator and seed flowers in medians and hell strips. Don’t the cars kill the wildlife?
    Let’s work hard to protect our rural areas and remaining wild places and build and garden our city gardens so that our own experience of living in the world is edified and enlightened by beauty.
    Beauty is essential to humans and without it we lose our way.

  16. Leslie N Inman says:

    ou have probably never thought of your property as a wildlife preserve representing the last chance we have to sustain plants and animals that were once common throughout the US. But that is exactly the role our suburban and urban landscapes are now playing – and will play even more in the near future.

    If this is news to you, it’s not your fault. We were taught from childhood that the plantings in our yards are made mostly for beauty; they allow and encourage us to express our artistic talents, to have fun, and to relax. And whether we like it or not, the way we landscape our properties is seen by our neighbors as a statement of our wealth and social status.

    But no one has taught us that we have forced the plants and animals that evolved in North America (our nation’s biodiversity) to depend more and more on human-dominated landscapes for their continued existence. We have always thought that biodiversity was “happy somewhere out there in nature”: in our local woodlot, or perhaps our state and national parks. We have heard nothing about the rate at which species are disappearing from our neighborhoods, towns, counties, and states. Even worse, we have never been taught how vital biodiversity is for our own well-being.

    We Have Taken It All

    The US contains 4 million miles of paved roads, turning nature into long, barren stretches of land.

    The population of the US, now over 304 million people, has doubled since most of us were kids, and continues to grow by roughly 8,640 people per day. All of those additional souls – coupled with cheap gas, our love affair with the car, and our quest to own ever larger homes – have fueled unprecedented development that continues to sprawl over 2 million additional acres per year (the size of Yellowstone National Park). We have connected all of our developments with four million miles of roads; their paved surface is five times the size of New Jersey.
    Somewhere along the way we decided to convert the forests that used to cover our living and working spaces into huge expanses of lawn dotted with a few small, mostly nonnative trees. So far we have planted over 62,500 square miles – some 40 million acres – in lawn. Each weekend we mow an area eight times the size of New Jersey to within an inch of the soil and then congratulate ourselves on a job well done.

    And it’s not as if those little woodlots and “open spaces” that we have not paved over are pristine. Nearly all are second-growth forests that have been thoroughly invaded by alien plants like autumn olive, multiflora rose, bush honeysuckle, privet, Oriental bittersweet, buckthorn, and Japanese honeysuckle. More than 3,400 species of alien plants have invaded over 200 million acres of the US.

    Ornamental species become invasive as they spread unchecked, like this tangle of oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle and autumn olive.

    To nature lovers, these are horrifying statistics. I stress them so that we can clearly understand the challenge before us. We have turned 54 percent of the lower 48 states into a suburban/urban matrix, and 41 percent more into various forms of agriculture.

    That’s right: We humans have taken 95 percent of nature and made it unnatural.

    But does this matter? Are there consequences to turning so much land into the park-like settings humans enjoy? Absolutely, both for biodiversity and for us. Our fellow creatures need food and shelter to survive and reproduce, and in too many places we have eliminated both. State Natural Heritage Centers have estimated that as many as 33,000 species of plants and animals in the US are now imperiled – too rare to perform their role in their ecosystem. These species can be considered functionally extinct. The songbirds that brighten spring mornings have been in decline since the 1960s, having lost 40 percent of their numbers so far. One hundred twenty-seven species of neotropical migrants are in steep decline. In fact, a survey of our nation’s bird populations, commissioned by former President Bush, has found that one-third of our nation’s birds are endangered.

  17. David mcMullin says:

    Leslie, I am breaking my oath to not respond to any more comments just for you! How are you? I didn’t know you were so passionate about environmental issues… Good!
    I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. I just think that the two things aren’t the same – nature and garden.
    A garden should be a personal and creative expression and should be governed by the whims of the gardener. For you that would mean a garden of native viburnums (you’re reminding me to plant some) and pipe vine.
    My goal is only to promote gardening. I want to grow gardeners and the finger wagging and berating of those that plant begonias (not a fan personally) isn’t achieving that goal.
    I also take issue with nativists who seem to have a lot to say but still seem to have no idea what nature is and isn’t.
    In the case of my deplorable honeysuckle there is a hysteria that it will come up everywhere if you plant it and that it will choke out nature or somehow interfere with natural systems. Anyone who’s ever stepped 100 feet back into the woods knows that you won’t find honeysuckle there. You and I live in the Piedmont forest. If this was real nature there would be a solid canopy from the Atlantic to the prairie and honeysuckle doesn’t live in dense woods. Most of the plants considered “invasive” are really only invasive on disturbed ground or man created areas.
    Someone once ranted to me about miscanthus on the roadside in the North Carolina mountains as though a roadside is a natural habitat and the dense forests of western North Carolina would be an acceptable habitat for miscanthus.
    In the city, where you and I live, I think we have to understand that, unfortunately, this isn’t nature. I too love the wildlife that comingles with us here but I think it’s increasingly under pressure – lately from indiscriminate mosquito spraying. I would advocate that we do everything we can to protect and increase natural habitats (like donate to the Nature Conservancy) and in our cities do everything we can to move people to garden in outrageously creative ways and get them involved with that conversation with nature so that they can evolve to being the stewards of the earth that we want them to be.
    Leslie, let’s catch up!! Hi to Scott.

  18. Leslie N Inman says:

    Also… butterflies will take Nectar from invasive plants, but for many, many butterflies they ONLY lay their eggs on ONE type of native plant and their caterpillars ONLY eat ONE type of native plant.

    So if we don’t promote Natives to the general public… then we’ll lose these butterflies.

  19. Leslie N Inman says:

    But what about Doug Tallamy’s message? The songbirds are disappearing; the pollinators are disappearing; we have 45 million acres of turfgrass in this country, and a lot of that is so chemically treated it’s toxic. As I drive through Atlanta, all I see is Crepe Myrtles and Begonias. If we know better, shouldn’t we try to plant the natives that can support the local ecosystem?
    If you don’t have native violets…. then you don’t have Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly.
    If you don’t have native Viburnum, then you don’t have the gorgeous Hummingbird Moth.
    If you don’t have native pipevine, then you don’t have Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies.
    If we don’t plant native Paw Paw Trees, then we don’t have Zebra Swallowtail butterflies.
    If we don’t plant native oak trees and native cherry trees then we don’t have enough caterpillars to feed all the baby birds! Most baby birds eat 100% insects. Non-native plants support no insect life… so they provide no food for native species.
    Because I feel like the environment is in such a crisis, and we can help so much by making great choices in our yards it’s really hard for me not to take non-native vs. native pretty seriously. No personal attack here at all… I just think those of us who are even AWARE at all about the natural world (a small minority),should be committed to helping the songbirds and the ecosystem. What’s healthy for them is healthy for us.

  20. nar says:

    I read Garden Rant as much for the well-reasoned and passionate comments as for the Posts, and I am puzzled that the author took such quick and personal offense to the comments here.

    My (gently humorous) rebuttal to “Make Invasives Great Again” is simply this: “Everybody Poops” John. (A cultural reference trump? Perhaps not.)

    Your invasive Japanese Honeysuckle is the great state of Georgia’s problem because birds eat the berries and poop out seeds miles away, where the Honeysuckle spreads with happy abandon and devastating

    My personal experience is with beating back my invasive Big Three: Buckthorn, Garlic Mustard, and Canada Thistle. I have not (yet) had Phragmites invade my land but have seen the plant form monocultures with devastating speed on numerous bits of untended wetland.

    I have yet to see a plant on the Michigan Invasive Plants List that did not belong there. Perhaps they do things differently in Georgia.

    I respectfully echo one point made over and over again in the comments: Non-native Invasives are a really small subset of plants that cause problems for your neighbors and your neighbor’s neighbors and for woodlands and wetlands miles away from your beloved garden.

    So when I here a gardener promoting the use of Non-native Invasives, I gnash my teeth and shake my trowel and ask again, consider the poop John, consider the poop.

  21. rosella says:

    I seldom come in to Garden Rant any more because the starchy smugness and self-satisfaction of most of the posters here is so irritating. Tonight I was a little bored so I came in for the first time in months, and I find the usual suspects here ranting away about purity and virtuous planting. If a garden is anything, it is a personal expression and to lecture people because they are planting plants they like which do not fit into YOUR personal canon of virtue is maddening. And for heaven’s sake, if you are going to cultivate something let if be a sense of humour.

    I enjoyed David’s article very much, and I will be visiting your blog, David. Thank you for a witty and interesting article.

  22. kermit says:

    Hi David, thanks for the street fight. That’s what this site is for.

    However, you can’t make a good case until you understand the difference between garden thugs and invasive plants. Thugs are what give you grief in your own garden. Invasives are what give other people grief elsewhere when you plant them in your garden.

    I agree that nativists can be …too enthusiastic. But your attitude is that of the tagger who spray paints my garage door because he thinks his work is pretty or his political message is important or his gang’s turf really needs to be established. He may be correct, but it’s still my door (unless it’s Bansky; he can do what he wants to my walls).

    There are plants that are problems in some areas, but not in others. There are no wilderness areas anymore; the most remote spots on Earth have altered atmospheric and water chemistry, invasive species, different climate, and other stressors. Native environments (however defined) are gone forever. But that’s all the more reason not to force our embattled ecosystem to deal with known problem species.

    You say ” I don’t insist on anyone planting anything. If there’s one point that I’d like to make its that no one should be insisting any such thing. ” So your preference is to plant your own plants in their garden or farm or public land? Because if it’s invasive, that what you’re doing.

  23. David mcMullin says:

    I agree, Lat, that it would have been nice to have that conversation, because, yes, I have logical arguments supporting my position, but I was immediately attacked personally and unnecessarily insulted and the conversation about the actual topic was never possible.
    Firstly, I don’t insist on anyone planting anything. If there’s one point that I’d like to make its that no one should be insisting any such thing. Gardens are personal and should be left to the gardener.
    Secondly, the plants I mention are not particularly destructive in any kind of real way under typical gardening practices. The only one that is on the noxious list for my area is the lonicera, but I have never had trouble maintaining it with about 15 minutes a year of effort.
    While I am really aware that honeysuckle can be super pesty, I have found that it takes soil disturbance and degraded sites for it to get out of hand. I don’t suggest planting it adjacent to wild areas but in a city environment, where most of us garden, there’s much less need for concern.
    Of course we, as gardeners, usually plant a combination of plants that we enjoy. That is all I am advocating for. The purists tend to dominate the conversation. I am only trying to provide a counter argument.
    I only wish that I didn’t have to be attacked for doing so.

  24. Lat says:

    There are plenty of beautiful non-native, non-invasive plants. I think many, if not most informed gardeners use both native and non-native. I am, however, a little confounded about your insistence on planting the destructive ones. You also haven’t provided any logical arguments to counter your detractors, only insults. I will look elsewhere for informed debate, it is not to be found here.

    • marcia says:


      He has offered no logical argument against the idea that planting invasive species is fine. He states that there are only a handful of plants available if one does not choose these, overwhelmingly most invasives are not invasive and those who don’t plant invasives live in fear and are misguided.

      A logical challenge to this is answered with you are “attacking, small, disrespectful, humiliating, sophomoric, uncivil, insulting, belittling, sick, and a jerk.”

      He ends by saying,
      “I wish for a forum that allows adults like you and me to speak respectfully about what matters to them.”

      (One only need to do a daily google news search on the word “invasives” to see how governments and individuals are working hard to make a difference. Here, in Maryland, we are making strides):

      • David mcMullin says:

        Yeah I never said those things. I said that overwhelmingly most non-native plants are not invasive. I’d like for you to prove that that is incorrect. And I said that fearing planting something because it may be invasive is no way to garden.
        And, again, my reaction to you wasn’t a reaction to anything you had to say about the topic, which was very little. It was a reaction to your personal attacks on me. You have yet to address that concern. You seem to think that insulting people you disagree with is ok. I’m sorry but I don’t.
        If you want to debate plants I’m glad to do that and that’s why I’m here and what I was asked to do, but I am not available for abuse.
        And Marcia I’ve gotten some private feedback that this is typical from you. This isn’t the first time you’ve gone on personal attacks on this forum and it seems that people are reluctant now to post anything because they don’t want to get caught in this quagmire.

        • marcia says:

          You ranted, ” This is a list of my favorite non-native invasive plants. I like them. Why invasive? Well, why not? Invasive is in the eyes of the beholder. ”

          “Overwhelmingly most ‘things’ are not.” One could not help but think that’s what you meant since the rant was about planting invasives because you like them and “nothing curls the toes of nativists” like planting an invasive.

          You seem to think that the invasives you like are not particularly destructive in any real way under typical gardening practices. But, when a bird replants your honeysuckle down the road and another bird then replants that plant, we have a problem you created.

          You’ve said, “I’m SICK of landscape architects,” and ” I’m a garden designer and I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking it anymore!” Well, luckily, the smart people at the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species, the Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council and the Georgia Forestry Commission disagree with you and believe Georgians should not be planting invasive species, they should remove them.

          You continue to not respond calmly to detractors, like myself, and now your emotions really get the best of you:

          “And Marcia I’ve gotten some private feedback that this is typical from you. This isn’t the first time you’ve gone on personal attacks on this forum and it seems that people are reluctant now to post anything because they don’t want to get caught in this quagmire.”

          Really? How youthful. The Bandwagon argument. We certainly have heard this type of statement recently:

          “You know, a lot of people are saying…”

      • David mcMullin says:

        Post Script:
        I’m bowing out of comments now at this point and I won’t ever do this again.
        I was asked to post a rant and I thought I’d do something fun and funny and yes, provocative because I thought I’d enjoy the experience and it would be good to talk and debate with people who are as passionate about plants and gardens as I am.
        My sole message is that gardening is a creative endeavor and a personal pursuit and, while we should certainly always strive to do the right thing, we have to quit shaming people who do things differently than we would. Gardeners evolve. We have to allow them their marigolds. A little success in the garden goes a long way toward growing new gardeners but finger wagging and scorn turns people off quickly.
        And I am also turned off now to offering my opinion – as a professional designer, nursery owner and passionate gardener for 25 plus years – because the people here who disagree with me believe that it is ok to call me names, disparage my business, misrepresent my words and insult and humiliate me.
        This isn’t what I came here for and if this is what this is supposed to be then I want no more part of it and I regret my willingness to step forward and do it in the first place.
        We don’t have to agree. I wouldn’t want us all to agree. The world can be made better through varied opinions. But we do have to be respectful of one another. That respect is certainly not to be found talking to native plant zealots. What a shame because it’s such a worthy pursuit.
        I sincerely apologize for taking the bait and responding to this meanness and participating in this stomach turning dialog. And I am particularly sorry if the words I wrote in this post were offensive or insulting to anyone. That was not my intent. I’m not a writer, I work with plants and soil and my hands. That is where my skill lies. Not here.
        I will be spending the rest of my day dividing bearded iris. I have wheel barrows full of them. I’m imagining that day in the spring when the new beds will be shimmering with color.

  25. David mcMullin says:

    No Kristin, they won’t attack you because they don’t actually have anything intelligent to say on the topic like you do. They just get their jollys being the cyber-Klan, hiding behind their anonymity so that they can exercise their perverse needs to insult, humiliate and belittle others.
    As the author of this post I guess I made myself vulnerable for them to troll my personal information so that they could use it to insult me. Lesson learned.
    This conversation, unfortunately, has nothing at all to do with gardening now. It is about lack of civility and disrespect and about how people like this invade sites like this and chase everyone off.
    Gardenrant is supposed to be provocative – but it’s supposed to provoke debate and conversation, not personal attacks. These Trumpish people think that disagreement means war. They are small and sick.
    I wish for a forum that allows adults like you and me to speak respectfully about what matters to them.

  26. Kristin says:

    Would anyone like to attack me or haven’t I stuck my neck out far enough?

  27. Kristin says:

    Did anyone note that David said he leaves a little patch of honeysuckle near the gate at his farm? He didn’t say he goes around planting it or uses it in a design. In fact all of his references are to things in his personal gardens. Things which he considers and makes judgments about and personally maintains. And if you have a meadow where I live you have to maintain it from becoming thicket– sumac, oaks and sweetgum inevitable crop up and dominate in a natural secession. Not the same as an invasive callery pear I know, but it does eliminate the frothy native perennials–it’s a natural process barring fire. This to the point of some native plants being invasive in a managed space (i.e., anything we do as gardeners).

  28. David mcMullin says:

    Carol you are just plain unkind. I would love to debate with you about the merits of native plants vs. non natives. I would love to share my position and why I’ve taken that position but you began with calling me stupid and you’ve just done it again (“educate yourself”).
    just because my position disagrees with your own doesn’t mean that I intend to illicit rancor. The rancor was there, in you, just waiting for a forum. I am not responsible for your lack of decency.
    Your snickery insults are sophomoric and frankly surprising. Not what I expect from adult discourse.
    I’m afraid that whatever opinion you have about plants is long lost in your meanness. Grow up.

  29. Carol says:

    I could only assume that you were trying to illicit rancor and will be glad to provide you as much in return. I am afraid however that I was mistaken and that you really are profoundly ignorant.

    I personally have no desire to limit the number of different plants you use or judge them on based on their continent of origin. On the contrary, there are literally hundreds of Loniceras, some non invasive and fragrant. If your imagination is limited to one of the most noxious weeds in Georgia, perhaps you need to broaden your palate.

    In the case of honeysuckle, the argument “me like, pretty” doesn’t cut it. It’s harmful. There are many alternatives. Educate yourself.

    As far as anyone trying to destroy your business?……. Ha ha to you. You’re doing that just fine on your own.

  30. marcia says:

    I’m glad you received the substance that you really wanted to receive.

    My early opposition that invasives, in fact, are harmful and spread outside of one’s own garden as wildlife spread the seeds, and my clear disagreement with you when you said we “limit our gardens and our built environment to a HANDFUL of plants because of the FEAR that something might be invasive” while “OVERWHELMING most are not, apparently was not substantive enough.

    I should have known and avoided making comments when the first sentence. in your post was : “The debate about invasive plants has become, well, invasive.”

    I took the bait and ended up being called a “jerk.”

    I’ll learn next time.

    Now, this weekend, I’ll be assisting the groundskeepers at Agriculture, in the removal of over 40 – 12 foot tall callery pears that have surrounded a pond for wildlife, a location where tree swallows and bluebirds and kestrels nest who then help keep the nearby farm fields and cattle free of flies, grasshoppers, and other insects, a pond which was teeming with milkweed, joe pye, ironweed and coneflowers until the trees made it difficult for anything else to exist there… in a very short time. In this just one case, minimal maintenance gave us a very bad result.

    I don’t do this for me. I don’t do this out of fear. I don’t do this out of what you call “MISGUIDED dogma.

    I do this because I like to sweat, and I like tired muscles and I like to pull off deer ticks,

    and I do this because it works.

    • David mcMullin says:

      Yeah Marcia, I don’t think that you will learn next time, this time or any time. You ruined this experience for me and, I’m sure, for others in the past.
      Good for you for your heroic attacks on me and Callery pears. You are magnificent.

  31. David mcMullin says:

    And thank you Kristin for offering substantive discourse!

  32. Kristin says:

    It’s worth mentioning that many of us garden and design in incredibly challenging urban environments. Areas in large cities near polluted interstates with extensive root competition and serious erosion problems due to overbuilt hardscapes. Viburnum dentatum might not make it but Fatsia japonica might. Partridge Berry and Galax won’t cover the ground, but Ardesia and hellebores will. They will slow down runoff and groundwater, allowing it to reach our aquifers instead of our gutters. I would never considering planting such plants in the wild ( partly because it’s stupid looking) and it’s worth making an effort to integrate natives whenever appropriate. Nevertheless a thriving plant is preferable to something limping along and eventually dying because it’s not suited to our non-wild conditions
    David’s golden miscanthus might help recover a landfill site. I’m not unique in making this argument but it bears repeating, especially as I run into people all the time who are frustrated gardeners because their native Azalea is dying crammed in a hell strip under a water oak. Thank you David for sticking your neck out on this issue.

  33. David mcMullin says:

    Kristin wins.

  34. Kristin says:

    This is a shame. David posted a thoughtful, entertaining, provocative blog that indicated that perhaps the Emperor is dressing a little skimpily at the native plants debate. He made allusions to the political debacle of our time by pointing out that fear based dogma doesn’t create content nor solutions –it polarizes. He took a strong stance and used humor and hyperbole to make a point and make us pay attention. It was effective. It wasn’t a manifesto nor was it saying that people who are committed to native plantings are wrong headed; simply, that the policing of debate has left no room for discussion. Because of the moralizing, anyone who raises a question or plants a Eucomis is selfish and uneducated or at least in the inferior camp.

    So he needled the dogma. Enter the ad homonim responses, the insulting of his intelligence, the peevishness– here was a compelling voice that says having fun and enjoying something pretty and nostalgic isn’t a crime. I am committed to using primarily natives in my mountain garden. But I have some boxwoods planted among ferns. I have some alchemilla. I have a begonia by the front door. All of which perform beautifully and lushly and ground the house in the woods so that I can get away with some rangy Fothergilla and Clethra and can let the fallen branches harbor mushrooms and bugs-a-plenty without making me feel like the forest is going to eat me alive. What I see all the time is a pile of natives that gets people off the hook for bad design because they are (pause and break out the incense) natives. ..

    Can’t we open up the forum and laugh and appreciate a clever post and quip back without getting ugly? Again, a shame.

    • Kristin says:

      Eucomis usually stays pretty tidy, bad example…Begonia grandis, Iris japonoca, Shasta daisy, Macleaya…take your pick…IMO all garden worthy plants in the right context. Loving these plants doesn’t mean that I don’t admire and subscribe to the work of Doug Tallamy, et al. It simply means that I’m in love with plants and agree with David that in our concrete jungle of a world I’d rather people get excited and plant some pretty Nicotiana than think gardening is not for them because they don’t want a messy pile of swamp sunflower by their front door or they don’t understand summer dormant sedges. Let them fall in love with plants and then learn and adapt and become conscious of our responsibility to preserve habitats. Most of the native camp came by their ideals in just that way…

  35. David mcMullin says:

    Yes. I was laughing at Vincent’s response – which was to call me dangerous, selfish and uninformed. All over honeysuckle! Preposterous.
    And I certainly expected some backlash and even some meanness but this isn’t anything close to civil discourse about something that we all share in common. I’m glad that you love the world and its wild things, as do I, but what you’ve communicated here is nothing but meanness and vitriol and it’s hard to conclude that you could love anything.
    My sincerest mission, if I had one, would be to bring people into the magnificent world of gardening because it has meant so much to me in my life. It makes me deeply sad that people that use tactics such as yours to “persuade” people to your version of what a garden should be only serve to repel anyone that looks to the garden as a place of peace and creativity and solace.
    That dogma only throws the baby out with the bath water. If you want a green world then you should grow gardeners – not use forums like this where well meaning people come together to discuss, debate and learn from each other as your personal sadistic playground.
    You wanted a rant?

  36. David mcMullin says:

    Wow. Another profoundly rude and insulting comment! Yep. There are some misspellings on my website. One reason I’m building a new site… You really had to scour the text of my site to find these! Glad someone is reading. I only wish it wasn’t for the purpose of ridiculing and humiliating and potentially interfering with my income by disparaging my business.
    I’m so glad that I agreed to write this blog and took time away from my kids and my partner on our vacation to do it so that you folks can call me dangerous, selfish, uninformed, illiterate, divisive, childish, etc. and so that Marcia can post pictures of weeds and suggest this is what my company does for a living.
    All this because I like honeysuckle?
    You all can be proud that you’ve put me in my rightful place. I’m sorry that my words instigated such viciousness.
    And I’m sorry if there are any misspellings here. I disabled spell check because it doesn’t allow me to use botanical Latin.

    • marcia says:

      Your very first response, your very first words to Vincent were:


      This is exactly the kind of response one would see on a yahoo msg board.
      Again, if you’re going to write a provocative post about growing invading plants, then you should be prepared to get some backlash and not become so emotional. You need to rein it in and not take things so personally. It’s just an opinion. You can plant invasives in my neighbor’s yard. I can’t stop you. But, I will get some exercise and remove it from my yard, the local watershed, etc.

  37. Carol says:

    Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. You are attempting to have a battle of wits with the guy who can taylor your garden and excell, but has no idea how to speal check. This is direct from his website. Unfair fight.

  38. Fred says:

    I’m looking for alternatives to the non-native invasive that covers much of my yard and creeps relentlessly into my gardens. It also seems to have invaded the mindset of almost all my neighbors. Down with Kentucky bluegrass!

  39. David Mcmullin says:

    Marcia Marcia Marcia… Every gardeners garden is – or at least should be – an unrealistic dreamworld. That’s why we garden. We envision the world we’d like to live in and then we set about creating it. Sometimes as a creative action and sometimes as a creative REaction. Sometimes both.
    Maybe a creative reaction is what you need here now. Clearly you are reacting in an uncreative way!
    Please express this anger by maybe planting another milkweed. You’ll feel better doing that than berating those that don’t.

    • marcia says:

      1.” Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”
      Nice start. The common Argument by Emotive Language – a method to sway the audience’s sentiment, not their minds. In this case argument by condescension. Well done.

      2. Clearly you are reacting in an uncreative way!
      Tone policing. Another common logical fallacy. This occurs when an argument is dismissed or accepted on its presentation. Often used by “tone trolls” to persuade the audience that he or she is the serious one.
      Nicely played.

      3. “Please express this anger by maybe planting another milkweed. You’ll feel better doing that than berating those that don’t.”

      —-“berate” – to scold or criticize angrily. You can’t point to where I berated because I didn’t. I calmly and logically presented my case.

      —–“Please express this anger by maybe planting another milkweed.” Thank you, but I have enough planted right now. However, I do have some english ivy that has crept onto the hill beside my house. It is a dry shade spot and it might be difficult to remove completely. I understand you’re a landscaper. Can I set up an appointment?

      (OK. I have to admit. Logical fallacy trolling is fun for me. Especially when trolls troll garden blogs with headline bait.)


      • David mcMullin says:

        You never watched The Brady Bunch, Marcia?
        Why are you so mean? You read a post on a blog that you don’t like. About flowers. So what?
        I’m here because I wrote the post. Why do you keep coming back?
        “Jerk” – an irritating or contemptible person.

        • marcia says:


          1.You went right after Vincent in your first comment with a childish, emotional response.
          2. I tweaked you with a photo of what happens when honeysuckle gets out of hand.
          3. I calmly replied to another commenter.
          4. You responded emotionally to me.
          5. I called you out on your logical fallacies.
          6. You remained emotional and called me a “jerk.”

          And, so it goes in the social media sphere. If one chooses to blog a provocative thought, one should always be ready with a smooth, cogent response.

          • David mcMullin says:

            Marcia do you have anything you’d like to say about the topic? I love a good debate but your comments from the first to the last have been unnecessarily rude. Your first post in particular. It was intended as an insult. I’m not inclined to be gracious to rudeness and insults. The topic is plants. Is there nothing you’d like to say about plants?

  40. marcia says:

    David McMullin:
    “Marcia, it sounds like your garden represents your ideals and your vision of a perfect world. Since we all have different ideals and visions maybe you can understand why I advocate for that individuality rather than a narrow interpretation. A garden is a human invention and not nature – its a work of art. I don’t see a compelling reason that gardens in the human environment be required to mimic the natural one.”

    You are essentially saying that I’m an unrealistic dreamworld-believing person who foolishly thinks that a homeowner’s garden is actually part of the natural world. How dumb of me to use a “handful” of plants and try to follow the Obama administration’s Development of the National Pollinator Health Strategy. I thought it was a “requirement” and If I didn’t follow the guidelines, they’d pry the shovel out of my hands.

    You’ve persuaded me. Japanese honeysuckle seems to be a popular choice, now. I see it everywhere. It seems to be the “it” plant, so I should have gone with that. It’s sort of like the art for sale at gas stations next to the air pumps. People sure do love that art. I guess I’m not a very good cognoscente. I’ll try to elevate my individuality.

  41. David Mcmullin says:

    Mary, dogma is dogma. Tyrants have an emphatic insistence that everyone must behave according to their illogical principals. The parallel was easy to find.
    But I don’t disparage the passion for natives at all – just the bullying and hysteria that seems to accompany and contaminate good ideals.
    A trillium changed my life. I’m all for trilliums! Just let me have a few petunias too…

    • Mary Gray says:

      My instinct is to point out that your rhetoric is just as divisive as that of native zealots, but since your essay is written in a humorous spirit, it’s hard for me to get too upset about it.

      Thanks for the entertaining read.

      • David Mcmullin says:

        And thank you Mary for getting the point of Gardenrant and not taking any of this too seriously! It’s fun to provoke sometimes but only if it leads to mutual understanding… my only message is that there shouldn’t be room for divisive rhetoric in a dying art form. Let’s hold up the garden as a profound expression of creativity and promote it as a valuable endeavor. We can’t afford to lose more potential gardeners to finger wagging and scorn. Plant marigolds! Plant anything!

  42. Mary Gray says:

    I do love to see a provocative essay here at Garden Rant.

    Still, suggesting that native plant advocates are akin to Donald Trump is a cheap shot.

    Plants aren’t people. A gardener who is wary of non-native plants — even irrationally so — should not be lumped in with people who want to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.

  43. I have worked as a professional horticulturist, plant collector and natural areas manager. I am an avid gardener at home. I view natural areas professionals who think no new plants should be introduced to the U.S. as extremists. Gardeners who refuse to accept responsibility for the plants in their gardens are extremists at the other end of the spectrum. The truth is somewhere in the middle. A small percentage of the exotic plants in our gardens are invaders of natural areas. We should not grow those plants. That leaves most of us hundreds of species and cultivars from which to chose.

  44. Emily says:

    I loved reading this, David. The unapologetic humor is something I appreciate. When there’s a lot of space to fill, like your farm, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with carefully selecting or allowing some “invasives” to fill in. I also agree that we needn’t restrict ourselves to “natives.” Plants from a a similar climate and geography can offer some benefits that other natives can’t. And it’s always fun to try something new. As long as we are choosing plants that are fit for our location, why not try to cultivate them?

    • marcia says:


      “As long as we are choosing plants that are fit for our location, why not try to cultivate them?”

      The problem is not so much about whether the plant fits your location. It’s that your location affects many other locations that may not want your plant. A bird poops that invasive Japanese honeysuckle on the watershed at the end of your neighborhood. Years later, it’s everywhere.

      We have statutes in my county against things like noise and burning brush because one’s actions affect others. IMO, it’s not a question as to what’s desirable for me and my garden, it’s what’s desirable and beneficial, for all beings.

      • David Mcmullin says:

        Marcia it would be a shame to limit our gardens and our built environment to a handful of plants because of the fear that something might be invasive. Overwhelmingly most things are not. Dare we eat a peach? (Which are not native, by the way!)

        • marcia says:

          “it would be a shame to limit our gardens and our built environment to a handful of plants.”
          Handful? Why a handful?

          “…fear that something might be invasive.”
          an appeal to emotion, maybe?

          “Overwhelmingly most things are not…”
          I think this is an appeal to ridicule

          “Dare we eat a peach?”
          I think that’s a distraction.
          My landscape designer had a hard time working with me for awhile. He said, “Marcia, you see, most people I work for look at their gardens through their windows.” Then, “you,” he said, “are different. You’re a gardener. ” I have a nest box trail for declining insectivores. I constantly observe the environment for harmony and imbalance on the 7,000 acre trail I maintain. I see natives and invasives and the changes over the past two decades. What I learn there I bring home to my garden. What we now know is that invasive species rank second only to habitat destruction as a threat to biodiversity.

          I do have some non-natives, but I’m quite sure my birds poop lots of native seeds in other places.

          • David mcMullin says:

            Marcia, it sounds like your garden represents your ideals and your vision of a perfect world. Since we all have different ideals and visions maybe you can understand why I advocate for that individuality rather than a narrow interpretation. A garden is a human invention and not nature – its a work of art. I don’t see a compelling reason that gardens in the human environment be required to mimic the natural one.

  45. skr says:

    This list of invasives has only one invasive species, Lonicera, in the author’s garden’s state as per the GA-EPPC. Simply being an aggressive grower in the garden does not mean a plant is invasive. Aggressive plants are useful in gardens but that doesn’t mean they are going to invade wildlands and cause economic and environmental harm.

  46. Kit Flynn says:

    In 2015 I wrote an article, “Are Native Plants Better?”, for “Triangle Gardener”–and the hate mail was extraordinary. I merely pointed out that many native plants, such as poison ivy, evening primrose (Oenothera specioca), Virginia creeper, the native tulip poplar, and wild oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) were invasive in my garden and therefore were undesirable to my mind. Native plants are not necessarily desirable simply because they are native while exotic plants may have wonderful qualities that make them welcome in our gardens. My plea was this: Let’s think in terms of desirable and undesirable plants for our gardens. While birds might love our native poison ivy, this doesn’t mean we have to.

  47. Laura Munoz says:

    Oh good, you make me feel so much less guilty about planting the two pots of iris pseudacorus given to me for FREE by a local nursery. I thought they gave them to me because I was one of their best customers. They fooled me good!

    I, too, like your website.

  48. It’s nice to know that dangerous, uninformed, selfishness is not the exclusive domain of politics.

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