Since Friday, the weather has been spectacular, azure blue sky with white floating clouds, bright sun, cool breeze with temperature hovering above 50 (though it is dropping to below freezing in night). Crocuses are the only flowers that are blooming in our backyard now.
Spring is not here yet though; as I told you, it is playing hide and seek, and we are expecting another snow front this coming Friday!
However, in anticipation of spring, we have started getting ready. We attended the annual meeting of NJ Native Plant Society.
Every year they have a huge native plant sale at the end of the meeting. I ended up buying a big beach palm (prunus maritima), Eupatorium Hyssopifolium (some kind of native flowering plant), Lupine Lupinus (again a flowering plant that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies) and two large spice-bushes. The sale take place in order to raise money for the foundation, and all the trees are donated by NJ nurseries which specializes in native plants. That's why everything is cheap. I got all those huge plants and bushes under less than fifty-bucks. If I were going to buy them in any nursery, they were going to cost me quite a fortune. Ah! I wish we had a big car to buy more plants.
Whoever stayed in our house before we bought it planted both native and non-native plants around the property. I am not a purist who advocates only native plants, but I myself going to plant native plants only for various reasons:
1. They will get easily established in the garden because these plants have evolved through millennia to survive in the climate and soil of northern NJ. I do not have spend money on watering them or fertilizing them.
2. The native population of mammals, birds and insects have evolved, along with these plants, to survive on these plants. These plants provide food (nuts, berries, seeds, leaves), shade and nectar to these native animals. In the harshest of winter with freezing temperature and everything covered in snow, I have seen the cardinals, bluejays, nuthatches, chickadees and other birds eating on the seed-pods and leaves of native plants. They are very important for the survival of many of the native butterflies and bees.
3. I sometimes go around, volunteering with some organization in removing invasive species. I have seen what invasive species can do. Once I volunteered to remove this invasive species of rose (I am forgetting the name but they form huge dense forest of climbing plants with big thorns) that were brought to the US from China to create some kind of natural hedges/fences. They have escaped from their confinement and now spreading throughout NJ. They form such dense mass that they not only become difficult to remove but they kill all the other plants around them; these other plants simply cannot compete with the roses for light and nutrients. They are almost literally strangled to death by these climbing rose bushes. In my own backyard, I have the problem of invasion of Persian Lilac trees and day-lilies. I don't know who planted those for what reasons as the flowers are not long lasting. So, I have left them in their original confinement and have to constantly weed out any new ones trying to rise. I don't think they also have any values for pollinators or birds as I have hardly seen any bees flying to their flowers or birds eating the seed pods on the tree.
4. More than 99% of all grassland, meadow, prairie or savannah wildflowers of NJ are gone. Native plants are disappearing at an alarming rate. Already all the big mammals of NJ (except common deer, black beer, squirrels, groundhogs and some other smaller mammals) are extinct. Once American Bisons used to roam around in NJ!! Even if we do not care about survival of animals during winter, still we need to make sure that plants do not become extinct for our own good only. Every day scientists are discovering one thing or another that can only be obtained from plants and that cure cancer, AIDS or any other diseases or disabilities that affect human species. For example, scientists have found that Madagascar Primrose flowers have a chemical that can completely cure blood cancer (even when the cancer is at very late stage). So, who knows what sorts of chemicals can be obtained from the native plants of NJ that will beneficial to human beings? So, we have to make sure that these plants do not become extinct.
5. Many parts (like bark, flowers, leaves, seeds, roots) of these native plants can also be eaten. For example, one can eat the flowers and leaves of violet, seedpods, leaves and stems of yellow wood sorrel, every parts of a trout-lily plant, young blossoms and seed pods of common milkweed, leaves of stinging nettle or every parts of a common cattail.
6. Many of the native plants can also become invasive. But, even if they spread, I will know that they will be providing something for the native animals. The native NJ violet can become invasive and spread throughout the yard, but eight different species of fritillary butterflies completely survive on these violets. Once the caterpillar hatches, it has to find the violet plants to feed on and survive!!
Thus, my goal is to have as many native plants and flowers in the yard as possible. At the same time, I will also have some non-native species but only those that will not become invasive and mostly annuals. My vegetable garden is of course non-native, but they are not invasive (ah! how I wish they were and I would have fresh veggies throughout the year); and, hey, I am yet to eat any of the cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli or pears that I grow. So far they have become the food for groundhogs, rabbits, deer, squirrels and who knows what. Alas!! For vegetables also, there is the controversy between heirloom and hybrid. I need to do more research before I jump into the heirloom bandwagon. After all, what is hybrid (plants created by mixing the genes (seeds)/cuttings of two or more plants) can become the heirloom of tomorrow. All the heirlooms also originated in the same way -- farmers of past selecting and breeding good quality plants and in the process creating a plant with unique quality. Anyone knows about all these heirloom and hybrid controversies and why heirlooms should be chosen?