Learn How to Balance Natives and Exotics

One of the hottest topics in gardening today is the importance of using native plants – locally and regionally native ones, that is.  (Nationally native, a classification used by the USDA’s plant database and others, just makes no sense as a guide to choosing plants.)  But it’s also one of the least understood issues in gardening, thanks in large part to the sweeping generalizations too often used to describe the benefits of these plants.

For example, it’s common to see all native plants described as drought-tolerant.  But think about it – why should plants native to our relatively wet region (40+ inches of rain per year) need to be especially drought-tolerant?  The result of such misguidance can lead to, for example, sticking plants native to riverbanks along highways, and expecting them to thrive there.  Darke refers to this kind of mistake as the “abuse of natives,” and is so sorry to see.  So he employs his knowledge of actually growing native plants in landscapes to guide us in choosing plants and figuring out how to grow them beautifully.

Unity Gardens

And lucky us, on March 2 Unity Gardens is bringing Darke to the Key School to inspire and teach us, all while dazzling us with photos of landscapes that are functional, sustainable, and beautiful.  He’s done the work of combining aesthetics with horticultural science, contemporary ecology, and the results of modern resource management studies, and synthesized it all for us, with great photos.  So, it’s not just a pretty slide show.  Darke likes to makes his audiences and readers think, and we do. 

I’ve enjoyed all of Darke’s books and reviewed his Wild Garden here – with photos and a video.  I’ve also heard him speak in person at the National Arboretum and his talk and visuals were terrific!

Rick tells me that his talk will preview his next book, which is a collaboration with the highly respected University of Delaware professor Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home.  They’re friends and partners in a truly exciting joint venture – interpreting Tallamy’s passion for insects through the lens of an expert in growing plants and designing gardens.   Their book will, I’m sure, be an important contribution to sustainable gardening, and I can’t wait for it!

So who is this guy?  Darke heads a Pennsylvania-based consulting firm focused on landscape ethics, contextual design and photography.  His work blends art, ecology, and cultural geography in the design and management of livable landscapes. Projects include parks, scenic byways, transportation corridors, corporate and collegiate campuses, conservation developments, botanic gardens, and residential landscapes.

Rick Darke’s Features

Rick Darke’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Garden Design, Gardens Illustrated, and on National Public Radio. He is the author and photographer of many books, including The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest, The Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes, and The Wild Garden: Expanded Edition. For further information check his website.

The Event: “Balancing Natives and Exotics in the Garden” by internationally acclaimed native-plant expert/author Rick Darke.

When:  Saturday, March 2.  Registration and refreshments at 10 am, presentation at 11 am.

Where:  The Key School, 534 Hillsmere Drive, Annapolis, Free parking.  Talk sponsored by Unity Gardens.

Who Should Attend:  Garden enthusiasts, environmentalists, educators, greening organizations, non-profits, community lovers, nature photographers, area planners and residents.

Registration: Online at Unitygardens.org or registration form can be sent to Unity Gardens, P.O. Box 6310, Annapolis, MD 21401 Cost per ticket: $55 (a portion of the ticket will be tax deductible).  Unity Gardens Inc. is a 501 (c) (3) not for profit organization.

Contact Information:  Email [email protected] or Barbara Dowling at 410-703-7530.