It’s strange to think that we do not value the native plants that grow around us so successfully. That’s apparent because they are usually all removed, along with the topsoil, during property development. Urban gardeners, therefore, don’t become familiar enough with the plants that were originally growing in their gardens and, as a result, do not consider them worthy plant choices. Indigenous plants are adapted perfectly to their native habitat, which makes them drought-tolerant, pest and disease-resistant choices.
Attitudes toward native plants are changing as we come to appreciate their value, beauty, diversity and appropriateness. If you see the flush of pink from a bank of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, kinnickinnick, in spring, you know what a great ground cover it makes. With glossy, evergreen leaves, it happily spreads to a dense carpet in sun or shade. The best part is that kinnickinnick’s flowers also attract butterflies and bees in spring, and the red berries in fall and winter are an excellent food source for wildlife.
Have you ever noticed the heady fragrance of the creamy-white flowers of Oemleria cerasiformis, Indian plum, which heralds spring? Did you know that Indian plum also produces clusters of plum-coloured berries in summer, which are surprisingly sweet to eat?
For a shrub that thrives in shade, try Vaccinium ovatum, evergreen huckleberry, which also has attractive evergreen foliage and pink flowers, followed by edible berries. If it’s fall colour you are after, plant Viburnum opulus, highbush cranberry, which has stunning red leaves in fall, along with orange-red fruit.
The greatest benefit of integrating native plants into a home landscape is that they are of great value to wildlife. They provide habitat and forage, such as berries, seeds and nuts, for mammals and birds, and flowers that feed beneficial insects. Native plants attract hummingbirds to the garden year round. From March to April, hummingbirds are lured by the bright red flowers of Ribes sanguineum, red flowering currant; from April to July by the fragrance of Lonicera involucrata, twinberry, and Rubus spectabilis, salmonberry and the cerise-red colour of Dicentra formosa, Pacific bleeding heart. From July to October the pink flowers and red pods of Epilobium angustifolium, fireweed, keeps them humming.
Anna’s hummingbirds (Calypte anna) overwinter on southern Vancouver Island. They lay two broods a year, starting in February. They have been sighted in many places in British Columbia, but nest mainly in Victoria, with a few in Nanaimo and Greater Vancouver. It is estimated that there are 500 breeding Anna’s hummingbirds around Greater Victoria.
Selecting the right native plant for your garden is important if you want it to thrive. “Right plant, right place” means not planting a moisture-loving plant in a dry spot, or one that needs well-drained soil in a wet spot. Initially, just like any other introduction to your garden, you’ll need to water native plants to get them established. Once established, though, they will be low maintenance and will not require watering. As they thrive in native soils, native plants do not need feeding, but will benefit from a yearly application of leaf mulch and compost.
There’s a native plant for every garden. It’s just a question of looking at them with new eyes and appreciating them for the perfectly adapted plants that they are.
Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero Mile Diet, A Year Round Guide to Growing Organic Food and The Zero Mile Diet Cookbook, Seasonal Recipes for Delicious Homegrown Food (Harbour Publishing.), available at your local bookstore.