Buying the Right Plants

By Matt Thomson

It’s that time of year again! The time we flock to the local garden centres to buy plants we don’t know much about but they’re colourful and the tag says it’s “hardy”. It’s the type of amateur gardening the big box store garden centres are banking on year after year – the opportunity to sell as much as they can of the same types of plants ranging in various containers and arrangements from hanging baskets to front door planters. 

The majority of us buying the “pretty plants” don’t really care about what we’re taking home for as long as they’re easy to care for and they give the intended show of colour that promises to make the house and yard visually appealing. Some of these plants may be perennials while others are only annuals. If you want to achieve a garden that’s truly ‘low maintenance’ with promised results to make your property look appealing then these plants are the wrong ones to spend money on. Instead, with a little research, you can choose plants that are far more valuable and hold deep ecological connections to the region. It’s literally “plant and forget” because they are most adaptable, drought tolerant and self sustainable compared to the wide selection of “horticultural mutants” that often arrive treated with harmful pesticides. Choosing native perennials are important more than ever due to our decades-long obsession with gardening for looks rather than purpose. The best part is they require no pesticides, fertilizers or seasonal pruning. Sadly there’s a significant gap in availability, both in the natural landscape and at our garden centres. This could be due to a misconception that native perennials are more difficult to grow or are less attractive and retailers don’t believe they can sell them all. 

The other concern is that once the plants are in the ground we create that level of anxiety as if something is going wrong such as plants being eaten. Don’t worry too much. We see an insect that doesn’t look friendly or it’s chewing the leaves which triggers a sense of panic and suddenly there’s an urgency to rush to the store to buy some type of lethal chemical warfare loaded in an aerosol can. Good riddance! But why? Do those insects truly deserve an agonizing death? Perhaps these insects are feeding on their host plant in order to survive or reproduce. Some insects, like wasps, could be preying on unwanted pests which is an added bonus. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It only means that you did your job in providing value to nature through the plants in your garden. There’s no need to fret about the unexpected outcome. Embrace it. Learn from it but more importantly, enjoy it! 

There are many relationships in nature that we don’t often see or understand that are happening around us without our knowing on a daily basis though we, the humans, are directly responsible for disconnecting those relationships that nature depends on for their survival – and our survival. It’s time we restore those connections before it’s too late. Be sure to make an effort in sourcing native perennial plants and if you don’t see them on the shelf, ask for them. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy gardening! 

Matt Thomson is a local conservationist based in Severn and enjoys engaging the community through citizen science events & activities. You can find him on Instagram or Facebook, @ardtreanature.