Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Go native or exotic?

In Where I'm going--Short term I listed, in no particular order, some of the foundation issues I've been researching for Village of Ordinary. The first of those is: Should the people of Ordinary grow only native plants, or can they enjoy exotic shrubs, trees and forbes?

Wherever possible, the people of Ordinary Earth use native plants. Like peoples everywhere, however, trade is an important source of diversity in diet, textiles, ceramics, clothing and art, as well as agricultural and landscaping materials. Human beings have always hungered for the exotic, and the people of Ordinary are no different. They enjoy the bounty and variety of imported trees and shrubs, especially as food sources, but also as ornamentals. Where Earth tenders in the land of Ordinary differ from our culture is in the care with which they introduce exotics.

Before a new plant is introduced to the environment, every known factor is gleaned from the host community gardeners. What pests or diseases like it? Is it an invasive plant? Does it tolerate conditions similar to those it will find in the new location? How might cultivating this plant in the landscape affect wildlife? If the local agronomists decide the plant is worthy of testing, they carry it home, carefully isolating seeds or cuttings.

Sample plants are cultivated in a closed system, with care taken to avoid accidental release of seed or spore to the environment. Nursery workers plant new seeds or cuttings in conditions that simulate local soil, air, moisture and light. They observe how the quarantined plants respond to the environment. Do they thrive? Are they prone to disease? How well do they tolerate the soils and typical moisture levels throughout the seasons?

When a plant proves an ability to thrive in local conditions, other agents are introduced, one at a time. First, the plants have an opportunity to show how they respond to insects, molds and blights of the region. If they resist attack, selected native plants are introduced, simulating the gardens or fields in which the plants will live upon release. Do the exotics choke the native plants and take over the site? Or are they good companions, offering new textures, hues, scents, and tastes to delight the senses?

Only when a plant has met all these tests over a period of three growing seasons is it permitted to appear in a few test gardens, carefully managed and watched for two more seasons. An exotic that proves it fits in the landscape as if it were a native is ultimately welcomed for its unique appeal.

Gardening responsibly, with care for the natural ecosystems of a neighborhood and region takes time, but the longterm payoff is tremendous. Native plants are well-suited to local climatic changes and soil conditions. They have developed natural resistance to pests and disease. Exotics add welcome variety to please the senses, but it is important that they thrive in local conditions without overtaking and replacing the native flora. If, once established, they have no more need of extra care than native plants, naturally resist pests and disease, and adapt well to climate, including rain and groundwater conditions, they are worthy and welcome additions.

Were we to take similar care in mixing exotics with native plants in our gardens today, we would avoid the use of toxic pesticides and excessive watering so common in western culture. Even better, we would spend a lot less time gardening and a lot more time enjoying the fruits and blooms of almost self-tending gardens.

Some, though not all, concepts in this post roughly follow those of permaculture gardening. I'll tell you more about that Thursday. It's fast becoming the Ordinary way to garden, from city balconies to the most arid of deserts.


  1. Have you considered Biodynamic farming?

  2. Yes, thank you, Wanda. I'm just beginning to learn about biodynamic farming. There was a provocative article about it in Ode magazine recently. The author of that article waxed almost orgasmic over the taste sensations of the food.

    Green bloggers are starting to talk about it more and more. What is your experience with this type of gardening? If you'd like to do a guest post on it, let me know.

  3. I am not a gardener and am grateful that I am not required to grow my own food. I kill house plants. I don't mean to. It just kind of happens. The only thing I haven't killed is an ornamental bamboo--but someone else is helping me keep that alive.

    I know of biodynamic farming through the work of Royal Lee and Weston Price (see Nourishing Traditions). Rudolph Steiner's anthroposophy is intriguing to me, but I know very little about it. I just know that there is something to it and it takes us to a new level of relationship with medicine and nutrition and our connection to the land when we add the spiritual to all of those "tasks".

    I read the Ode article, too, and found it quite interesting.

    Thanks for the offer of a guest post. I am honored. At the moment, I have exhausted my knowledge of the subject!


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