Well, look who’s thrown his famous hat in the ring of the often-contentious discussion around pollinators and native plants. It’s Friend of Rant Allan Armitage, the author of Herbacious Perennial Plants, who has often contributed guest opinions here – actually, it’s been too long since we’ve hosted one.

In a recent column for Greenhouse Grower, Armitage has a few blunt words to say, starting with “It does not take a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist to understand the importance of pollinating insects to ecosystems in general, from the forests of the Amazon to your neighbor’s vegetable garden.” But then his wry addition: “The fact that most gardeners and landscapers don’t want plants to reseed and have no use for the fruit of impatiens or baptisia is not important.”

I won’t quote the entire article – it’s freely available and linked here – but basically, Armitage says what many of us say: A judicious mix of natives and nonnatives can make both pollinators and gardeners happy. He then goes on to applaud such nonnatives as zinnias and salvia, both of which are the stars of my garden at this time of year.

The article is also making the rounds on Facebook, where it has attracted plenty of comments, including these–all good points:

•“There is a lot of shaming going on in the gardening community, condemning people who don’t grow 100% natives. It’s awful. I agree with Allan’s line of thinking.”

•“As a lavender farmer who also has a butterfly farm I am chastised by the native fanatics out there. Yes, I am well aware Lavender is not a native and zinnias are not either. Our butterflies and other pollinators love our selection of ‘pollinator plants’. “

•“As a professional gardener, there is no way I can plant all natives in many of my gardens, yet there is no shortage of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, etc. I use a ton of annuals, and let’s face it — the only way to satisfy many of my clients is with lots of color year round among the native, non-native perennials.”

•“… the focus on pollinators (many of which are generalists) is short-sighted because it’s not just about the pollinators, it’s about the myriad Lepidoptera larvae and other insects that need host (not pollinator!) plants, many of which are far more likely to be specialists on one or a very few native species.”

Here’s a comment from former Ranter Carol Reese: “Plant closely related plants from other continents and watch the native insects use them for larval food. Nutritionally they aren’t very different. A place to start would be fennel and parsley for black swallowtail caterpillars. Passiflora species that aren’t native for Gulf Fritillary caterpillars. Gomphocarpus (a milkweed plant) from Africa for monarch caterpillars. Then help dispel the myth that it must be native, tell folks to get out of the way and let the insects choose. Who are we to tell them what they ‘should’ be consuming?”

And here’s a claim about natives with which I thoroughly disagree: “Bonus, they’re adapted to local soils and climates, so they’re easier to maintain and don’t need to be replaced after one or two seasons. “

No. Simply not true. And, honestly, adapted to what soil? Local soil? In most urban and suburban communities, there is no such thing. Who knows what has been added and subtracted over centuries of human development? That primeval forest is long gone, my friends. 

I wish more gardeners where I live would read what Armitage – and our friend Carol – have to say about this. Instead, too many around here have swallowed the orthodoxy whole – just the orthodoxy, minus most science – and can’t wait to scold those who dare plant buddleia (another of my favorites) or even daylilies in their gardens. 

While many would add more detailed analysis to such columns as Armitage’s, it’s the accessibility of what he says that is important. And the common sense.