I am dedicating the last of my series on “Myths about Native Plants” to a subtle but widely held misconception. I believe that this particular misconception is the number one reason that prevents people from embracing natives more fully in designed landscapes.
Myth 3: Native plants are not as showy or ornamental as exotic plants.
It’s not that people think that native plants are ugly; rather, when it comes to choosing plants, natives are perceived to be a bit more natural, less over-the-top-bloomy than exotic garden plants. Walk into your local garden center and just try to resist the seduction of a lipstick-red Knockout Rose or the voluptuous softball-sized flowers of a Limelight Hydrangea. The native section, by comparison, is populated by a sad collection of leggy, dull perennials.
When I was in graduate school, I took my girlfriend to the local botanical garden. I had just finished a class on native plants, and I wanted to show her how wonderful and unappreciated our local plants were. When we arrived, the native garden was hard to distinguish from the unmanaged woodland next to it, and the only plant blooming was a Dogtooth Violet. I got on my knees to show her how delicate and beautiful this little plant was. It was so exquisite it barely existed. She seemed unimpressed. On our way out of the garden, we passed a tulip border that was so colorful, so showy, I was convinced one could see it from the moon. She exclaimed, “Now that’s beautiful!” I knew then my cause was lost.