The Landscape Guide

Native Flora and American Gardening

In every land and in every time the art of gardening must have shown some impress from the native flora. In North America this impress has been very considerable. The following reasons may be alleged for the influence of native plants on garden design in America: First, the severity of the climate has made the introduction of exotic plants always difficult. Second, the inhabitants have always shown a keen delight in the natural landscape and the native plants. Third, the natural style of landscape gardening for which a distinct preference has been manifest would tend to favour native scenery and plants. Fourth, there has been working at sundry times a strong propaganda for native plants. Fifth and last, the native flora of America is extensive, varied, and exceedingly interesting, commending itself to the skill of every garden lover. How cogent is this appeal may be read in hundreds of volumes written by early explorers on these shores—by Michaux, Rafinesque and scores of others. For upwards of two centuries the importation and acclimatisation of American plants in Britain and on the continent of Europe was the vocation and delight of all botanists and gardeners.

The index of American plants is a very long one, owing to obvious physical and climatic conditions. There are many notable species of trees well suited to planting for forest and landscape use—dozens of species of pine, fir, hemlock, maple, elm, and oak, not to mention such particularly interesting sorts as the tulip-tree, the live oak, the catalpa, and the magnolia. The species of shrubs suitable for ornamental planting probably exceed a thousand, many of them of signal beauty. The rhododendrons, azaleas and kalmias supply a suggestive illustration, Likewise the great number of desirable herbaceous species should be emphasised. The asters, solidagoes, pentstemons and aquilegias may be cited merely by way of example. In spite, however, of this abundance of native flora it is quite certain that the ultimate effect upon American gardens would have been less had it not been for urgent preaching in a country where waves of propaganda have a powerful influence. A good many nurseries have been established which specialise in the collection, propagation, improvement and sale of indigenous plants; and of necessity their advertising has supported the doctrine that native plants are to be favoured. Yet it is a curious fact that some of the very best garden varieties of American plants have come from the nurseries of Europe, where they have been raised and large quantities sent to America. The selected varieties of asters grown in England, and the delightful coreopsis from Erfurt, Germany, exemplify this point.

It may be said, by way of summary, that at the present time a catholic taste prevails. Landscape architects and home gardeners use freely all kinds of plants with little respect to their nativity. Japanese species show a rather peculiar adaptability to the Atlantic seaboard region, yet the unquestioned merits of American species, especially trees and hardy shrubs, give them a conspicuous ascendancy in nearly all American landscape gardening.