Q: Kinda native?

Well…yeah. I am all for native plants. The book Noah’s Garden by Sara Stein changed my life, and Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy cemented the addiction.

However, I am not a purist. I am pretty well obsessed, I grant you, I shake my fist at invasives when I pass them on the road, I groan and roll my eyes when I see stands of pampas grass or yet another flowering pear tree–but even I am not entirely native. In my garden, I’ve planted about two-thirds natives and about one-third plants that I just plain like. So there’s hyssop and butterfly bush in there, and petunias and heliotrope, and I have a real thing for the salvias, so there’s Russian sage and pineapple sage, and I love lantana (non-invasive in this part of the world, although I wouldn’t plant it any farther south.)

And just try to find a native Roma tomato.

There is room in my garden for what Stein called “well-behaved immigrants.” If you want to plant native, go for it–PLEASE go for it!–but don’t think that you automatically have to rip out your day-lilies. If a plant gives you pleasure, and it’d not hurting anybody, then eh, I got no quarrel with it.

And then, of course, there’s the other thing about native plants.

We’re using the term kinda loosely here. My licorice hyssop, for example, is a native…of this continent. But you have to head west for a good bit before you’d actually find it growing wild. My Texas sage is a native, but Texas is a solid day’s driving away. (Ask me about driving across Texas with a bladder infection some time. Bring alcohol.) And the cup plant and the wild quinine and the coneflower are all natives, but they belong in a tallgrass prairie, not neccessarily in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.

But this is a garden. To paraphrase Stein, you cannot duplicate a redwood forest or a tallgrass prairie on an eighth of an acre suburban lot. We’re creating a new ecology, a garden ecology. It involves some juggling.

Japanese Honeysuckle – This is why we can’t have nice things.

Q: Okay, then…mostly organic?

I do my best. I fertilize with composted cow manure, I don’t use any pesticides, and while the topsoil I’ve bought at the garden center has god knows what in it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the vegetable seedlings were pumped full of crap at the store, once I get it home, it’s entirely organic.


If you live in the Southeast, you are likely fighting invasive species tooth and nail. In my case, it’s Japanese honeysuckle, Japanese stiltgrass, mimosa (silk tree) and autumn olive. And while I take out as much of that as I can by hand, there are areas–and stumps–that respond to nothing less than the big guns, which in this case is glyphosate.  I use it very sparingly, I’ve gotten a VERY green-minded invasive species biologist out here to consult who showed me exactly what to use and how to minimize the impact, but I do use it, and I’ll continue to use it. It’s not ignorance, so feel free not to send me e-mails explaining just how horrible it is. In some places, you have to juggle the lesser of evils, and in my yard, small quantities of glyphosate hand-applied are significantly less than unchecked invasives.

The guy who wrote Bringing Nature Home, a manifesto for use of native plants to sustain wildlife, also uses it, so at least I’m in good company.

Q: Bad invasive problem, eh?

You have no idea.

Q: How long have you been gardening?

Off and on, for a few years. This is my second year in this particular garden. I had a lovely woodland garden in Raleigh for a year, but left it owing to divorce.

Q: How big is your garden?

Smaller than you’d think. The lot is about 2.5 acres, but most of that is woods, and most of the arable land I’ve done nothing with. Yet.

I have an island bed in the front yard that became a peninsula bed, with a long semi-shade border under the trees, and a very small vegetable bed in the back yard. I’ve been slowly and haphazardly altering other chunks of the yard–a few plants on a dry clay hillside on the other side of the driveway, a plant or two tucked into the wet areas of the woods–but it’s a long-term and ongoing project. I also keep a few things in containers on the back deck.

Q: How do you deal with deer?

I cry a lot.

Seriously, I’ve learned that deer are the great object lesson in reconciliation ecology (which I’ll talk about at some point.) The area is overrun with white-tailed deer, who are fearless and shameless and very very numerous.

My solution is simple–I only plant things in the front yard that they won’t eat. If they eat it, I move it to the fenced back yard, or if they killed it, I don’t plant it again. Why waste grief? (I have a lovely potted oakleaf hydrangea on the back deck that has been pruned by deer. It is a very peculiar looking plant. It is very happy in the pot.)

Yes, I could probably do elaborate things with soap and predator musk and whatnot–and yes, in seasons when there is little deer forage, and they’re sampling even things they usually hate, I have gotten my boyfriend Kevin to eat a lot of red meat and go pee on the yard–but generally, if the deer want it, they’re going to get it. It’s easier for everybody if we just move it into the back. It’s not like I have an inalienable right to plant what I want, where I want, and the deer are violating it. Gardeners are at the mercy of the natural world. We can make suggestions, but at the end of the day, nature is bigger than we are.

Q: Where do you get your plants?

Niche Gardens is about twenty minutes a day. I am very, very lucky. But they do mail-order, too!