Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Exotic Love

I love talking with people who are passionate about what they do. There is so much you can learn from someone who is impassioned by their vocation/hobby/interest. I ran into just such a person the other day at a nursery. She introduced herself, and noticed that I was looking at the indigenous section, and before long we were having an interesting debate about the effect that the indigenous plant movement has had on gardening in South Africa.
Not much beats an indigenous Helichrysum for its spectacular beauty
She felt very strongly that the last decade of emphasis on indigenous plants has had a very negative impact on gardening in South Africa. She talked very caustically about gardening in 'Eco' Estates and pointed out the double standards that exist in the rules and regulations at these estates. She compared the move toward indigenous planting (rather extremely) to Nazism, and also to our unfortunate political landscape, and pointed out that fanaticism in any shape or form is usually unhealthy.

I agreed with much of what she said about the exotic vs indigenous argument:
  • Many exotic plants use much less water than some indigenous plants.
  • Just because a plant is exotic, doesn't mean that it is invasive or a pest, and in fact some indigenous plants can be hard to get rid of once they are established in your garden.
  • Exotic plants are (generally speaking) prettier, with bigger, more abundant flowers.
I also agreed that we need to be careful about extremes of any form, even in the garden industry.  And although I am a firm believer in planting predominantly indigenous plants, I have always felt that there is space for exotic plants in the landscape.

But I think there was something that this plant enthusiast was missing about the ardour for indigenous plants...its more than just a superficial appreciation for the beauty of a plants flowers, its unique shape, or its interesting leaves. There is something 'true' about seeing a plant that is thriving in its rightful place. There is an undefinable feeling I get when I see a plant that fits in with its surrounding vegetation or environment. And while I agree that we need to be open-minded about our plant selection, in most cases an indigenous plant is the 'right fit'.

I walked away from our discussion with a better understanding of the exotic plant enthusiast, but I also left with a more firm love for indigenous plants.
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