Over the past 30 years I’ve been in a great number of home gardens, especially in the City of Toronto. From events such as, Through the Garden Gate, visits to the Toronto Botanical Gardens, as a garden volunteer, and my work as fee for service gardener. I’ve employed a keen eye for plants that might thrive in my inner city garden.
In my garden I wanted to see beauty. I wanted to attract birds, bees and butterflies. Squirrels, raccoons, and chipmunks, were all welcome to share the outside space I was crafting. I accommodated the insects that can be a gardener’s best friend in combating other pests and diseases. I wanted everything to thrive and live forever. I believed in the promise of a garden – that there will always be a tomorrow.
Throughout those years the plants I chose were not “exotic”. I wasn’t a species hunter. One of everything wasn’t my idea of good garden design. Plants were chosen to give me cheer as the earth warmed up in spring. Cool and calming colours and foliage helped the move outdoors in the early days of summer. Splashes of colour drew the eye in the harsh mid-summer sun. The spectacular shows on trees and shrubs in fall mitigated the sadness of the garden coming into dormancy. Throughout winter the good bones of the garden maintained interest.
Designed with all the seasons in mind the garden kept its promise throughout.
I was also acutely aware that the natural environment was under assault. I knew natural habitats were being lost due to urban spread and ever growing farming enterprises. At no time was I conscious of an imperative to favour only native plants. But now, I have the feeling that wokeness, the cancel culture, has beset the gardening world. A kind of ideology that has seen the destruction of statues in the public realm.
Now, I’m seeing native only plantings in gardens being described as “ethical” and moral”. And “irresponsible” if all native plantings are not embraced in home gardens. Planting a hosta or lavender is “adding to vast food deserts for wildlife”, with dire warnings that “such choices are destroying bio-diversity” and “only benefiting humans who desire beauty”. Will we see all this lead to perfectly good plants being destroyed in pursuit of an ideology that, as far as I can tell, is not suited to the inner city gardens of Toronto? Sadly, that’s already happening.
Every home garden will have places for native plants. It simply makes sense. Not everywhere, and not all of them, but there are conditions in gardens that will support “natives”. Tolerance for disease, salt spread on roads, and garden soils, are just some of the reasons why every gardener ought to consider native plants.
As my wise Scottish grandmother always said, “everything in moderation”. I think suggesting that planting a hosta or boxwood is somehow “selfish” or “irresponsible”. That is regressive. The decimation of the natural environment has not been caused by irresponsible gardeners.
The only problem with home gardens is that there are not enough of them. What is responsible is doing things that give rise to more. Not shaming, blaming or scaring.