What to do about “gardening as exterior decoration”

Tomorow for sure bulbs. But I just got a long and thoughtful letter from a reader in Ottawa who is worried about the amount of ink given over to what she refers to as “gardening as exterior decoration.”

Here’s her quote:

“All this is a preliminary to saying that garden magazine writers wield tremendous influence. They are in a symbiotic relationship with nurseries and plant breeders to publicise (sic) all the newest cultivars and hybrids and I am now finding it very difficult to find ordinary species of plants in nurseries. Two examples: I could not find species echinacea purpurea or asclepias incarnata this summer…..

“Of course nurseries don’t want to carry plants that don’t appeal to most gardeners. But I think you have a responsibility to ensure that species plants remain available. They are hardier than the cultivars, much more attractive to insects and they don’t revert if they are a variegated or new colour form. If disaster strikes, species plants will prove their worth. (Think hosta virus problems and consequences.)…”

Absolutely all true. But the thing is it isn’t up to garden writers to make demands on the nurseries. Customers have to do that. If you want to have native plant species (and you really do want this), you’ve got to make it very clear to the nursery that you want them before the seasons starts. Nurseries are struggling just to stay alive. They will carry plants which sell well because they work on such tiny margins in a fragile seasonal market.

I agree with the writer when she talks about how “…we should all be more focused on conserving water and doing no harm.”

But I feel as if I’ve been beating this drum for 30 odd years of garden writing and 14 garden books including one a massive one on native plants called Botanica North America (which sold about 1,000 copies in Canada alas). I feel some days it’s just hopeless to get people to understand the importance of being a steward of the planet whether you are a gardeners or not.

This particular letter hit on a bad day and it’s really depressing to be thumped over the head like this. So once again I say bulbs tomorrow.