For various reasons, planting native, or indigenous, plants is relatively popular in South Africa. It is slowly gaining appreciation in other parts of the world. Why is there so much emphasis being put on growing native plants in our gardens lately? What are the reasons that it’s ideal to grow indigenous?
Indigenous, What D’ye Mean, Ol’ Chap? For those unfamiliar with the concept of planting indigenous, the term basically means growing plants that are native to, or have originated from, your local area. Plants that you’d find growing in the wild (apart from naturalised alien species, of course!). One would just need to consult a reference book like the RHS Plant Encyclopedia to find out the origin of a plant. One could find this information online too, although this is stating the blinking obvious. What are the benefits of growing native, then?
One’s garden has the same climate as the surrounding locality. This means that wild plants that flourish out in the ‘wild’ in your area will most likely do well in your garden too. Those plants are suited to that kind of soil, climate and have adapted with the surrounding plants and animals for the last few thousand years, at least. The problem with trying to grow plants that don’t originate from the area that you live in is that they are usually used to a different climate. This means that a lot of effort is sometimes involved in growing them. For instance, some plants would need to be brought indoors or protected in some other way during colder months, while other plants need to be kept cooler during very hot months. So growing native is also easier!
It should be noted that growing indigenous is not some patriotic exercise! South Africa, for example, as many varying landscapes with different climates. Therefore, the fact that something grows in, or originated from, South Africa does not mean that it would be suited to your garden. Think of the different climates experienced throughout South Africa. There are dry desert-like conditions (think of the Kalahari and the Karoo), Mediterranean conditions in the Cape, Temperate forests in some in-land areas, cold mountain ranges, full of snow and then sub-tropical through to tropical areas! A plant that grows on the top of the Drakensberg will not be ideally suited to a garden in Cape Town, will it?
As a follow-on to the previous point; plants that grow naturally in your area (without anyone watering them or tending them) will cope without too much maintenance being necessary, except perhaps to tidy them up a bit. Therefore less time, energy and money would need to be spent on them. For example, growing succulents in a part of South Africa that doesn’t get much rain and plenty of sun would be a good idea as one would not need to spend so much money on almost wasted water!
As mentioned earlier, indigenous plants provide food for the many insects, birds and other animals that grow alongside them. This ecosystem of living creatures has lived and adapted to each others needs for millennia. Thus the best thing we can all do to help prevent the loss of anymore precious species is to grow them and feed them in our gardens.
Many people shy away from growing native plants because, perhaps, they are viewed as ‘weeds!’ Oh dear! The truth, however, is that, with some planning, careful planting and care, these plants can make the most attractive displays! Take note of what is in flower through the year where you live and include plants into the garden that will provide you with year-round interest.
One does not, however, have to grow just native. By all means include plants from all over the world into your garden as they will contrast and blend in with indigenous species nicely, but please include a number of natives too. Care should be taken when growing plants that are not native, however. Many plants that are alien can be invasive. So if you wish to grow alien plants, try and pick ones that will not spread invasively. Try and stay away from plants that have seeds that are carried by the wind or have berries (these are spread far and wide by birds!). If a plant has invasive roots try and grow it in a pot so that it cannot invade the rest of your garden. If alien species of anything get out into the wild they cause all sorts of imbalances and create havoc!
So, then, grow and enjoy the ideal, idyllic indigenous plants!