“PLANT THE WORLD; grow yourself.” For years now, this has been my mantra. Probably like you, a love of plants is what first drew me to gardening. However, lately, I’m looking up from my crowded beds and borders, as personally enriching and grounding as they are, to take a closer look at how my garden functions in the larger natural world.
Lately, leading voices in ecological garden design are calling on us to loosen our grip and let a little wildness into our cultivated landscapes. “Planting in a Post-Wild World” by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West (Timber Press, 2015) is a galvanizing and optimistic call to action and a guidebook for gardeners looking to collaborate with nature in this time of unprecedented urbanization. “I think wildness matters more now than it ever has,” Rainer says.
Don’t worry; Rainer doesn’t mean unkempt, simply more lived-in — literally, lively gardens that attract life. Nature is adaptive, resilient and responsive: a dynamic dance between plants, animals, birds and insects — and we’re all a part of that wild mix. Furthermore, nature wants what most of us do — an always-changing, ever-blooming landscape filled with flowers and fruit for as many months of the year as possible.
Every year, Richie Steffen, director/curator of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden, comes up with a theme for the Great Plant Picks (greatplantpicks.org) selection program. This year, inspired by a growing awareness of environmental pressures and the upcoming 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Steffen and the horticultural brain trust that is the GPP selection committee have put together a list of outstanding plants for Northwest gardens that work in concert with nature and help to heal our troubled planet. “Plant a garden; save the world,” if you will.
Entries on this year’s “Plants for a Better Planet” GPP list are presented in three categories:
Pollinator Plants provide pollen and nectar for foraging wildlife with an emphasis on those plants that bloom early or for an extended period of time. Bonus: Satisfied pollinators will boost your harvest of backyard fruit and delicious berries.
Drought-Tolerant Plants conserve water resources and beautifully adapt to our summer dry-weather pattern — less time at the end of a hose is a good thing, as is a water bill that is less scary.
Garden-Worthy Pacific Northwest Natives preserve regional biodiversity. And while the list contains many expected stalwart favorites, the inclusion of several native bulbs brings another dimension of seasonal interest to the unique gardens of our place.
All of the plants on the 2020 GPP list beautifully amplify environmental benefits in the garden, and most contribute in several ways. Trust Steffen, a contemporary pteridomaniac (fern enthusiast), to ensure that this category of plants receives due recognition.
The entire GPP database is chock-full of garden-worthy plants that excel in our region, but at its core this educational outreach program of the Miller Botanical Garden is all about storytelling. As Steffen tells me, “While we are always adding new plants to the GPP list, our primary goal is to contextualize and present the information to the gardening public in a way that is digestible and accessible.”
Everyone involved with GPP is rooting for our success. Past themes include “A Garden for all Seasons,” “Bright Ideas for Shade,” “Plants That Make Scents” and “Small Spaces — Big Impact!” Bookmark the GPP website, where you’ll find all this and more — including a hardworking list of deer-resistant plants, along with the following caveat, “Virtually no plant is invulnerable to being damaged by deer if population pressures or severe weather conditions prevail.”
GPP doesn’t sugarcoat facts. But with nearly 20 years invested in trialing and testing plants, and more than 1,000 plants on the selection rolls, the Great Plant Picks program is a valuable and trustworthy resource for gardeners living in the Maritime Northwest.