Cardinals and jays frolic in the rear garden. Here, there is a substantial cover of deciduous trees and tall evergreens, some from the native forest and others planted by the gardener over twenty-three years. Mossy boulders nestled beside the rills of garden ponds (above) provide still water easily accessed for a drink or bathing. And, there are abundant berries and fruits (Leatherleaf mahonia, below) to be harvested from nearby shrubs, some native to these foothills of northwestern Virginia, some not. The ravenous birds care little.
The Alaskan cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) outside the kitchen window provides a tall perch for birds, and particularly squirrels, who scramble through its branches and then leap to the wide spreading limbs of the neighboring ‘Burgundy Lace’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Burgundy Lace’, below). From the maple it is only a short bound onto the library roof, and from there (through some hidden entrance) into the attic. This is a constant source of consternation to the gardener, and particularly an aggravation to his wife (who declares that the squirrels must go, even if murder is required).
I am only mildly annoyed by authors who suggest this environment is possible when native plants alone are utilized. No science is required to know that the grape-like fruits of mahonia are stripped bare soon after ripening. Native American dogwood or Oriental mahonia, it matters not, berries are consumed quickly. There are, of course, plentiful native plants in the garden, so that butterflies swarm to the native butterfly weeds (Asclepias tuberosa), but also exotic butterfly bush (Buddleia, below), and if they know or care about the difference they’re not telling.
Non-natives require more water, pesticides and chemical fertilizers, some say, but in this wildlife garden plants make do without. The lush habitat testifies that chemicals and supplemental irrigation are not demanded by natives or exotics located properly, though both might be nibbled by caterpillars or invading beetles. Deer have preferences that are not dictated by the geographic origins of a plant, and a a mildly malodorous organic repellent is required to persuade them to feed elsewhere.
Invasive plants are avoided in this garden, but rambunctiousness is encouraged, and barely restrained plants scramble over and through neighbors. It seems obvious to the long time gardener that most non-native plants do not seed or spread themselves about uncontrollably, and are no more or less thuggish than indigenous plants. Native plants are no more well suited to the managed environment of the garden than exotics, and this garden would seem incomplete without Japanese maples and camellias, magnolias, and azaleas. This matter of natives, non-natives, and invasives has been politicized and so much chatter is hyperbole (nearly in the manner of presidential elections) that it seems to discourage planting rather than encouraging its benefits, native or not.