If you have ever stopped to wonder where many of the common plants we buy from garden centers come from you may be surprised to learn that most are not native American flowers but originate from many different parts of the world. As the title suggests there are of course many great native plants and that is the subject of this interview with Andy Brand of Broken Arrow Nursery. The interview was conducted by Margaret Roach and is from her A Way To Garden website.

THE LONGER I GARDEN, the more I see plants as science teachers, bringing nature into focus by playing out its processes right before my eyes. The plants that tell the story of how things work best of all are native ones, but many garden plants come from elsewhere.

I spoke about some notable natives with my friend Andy Brand of Broken Arrow Nursery, with whom I?ll also be hosting half-day workshops in my Hudson Valley, New York, garden September 17, 2016 (get the details), when we?ll focus on upping the beneficial wildlife quotient in your own backyard with better plants and better practices. ?Andy has been one of the experts I?ve pestered for ideas as I?ve been doing that in my own garden in recent years to good effect.
Andy is manager of Connecticut-based Broken Arrow, and he?s a serious amateur naturalist, and founder of the Connecticut state butterfly association. (That?s a photo by Andy of a red-banded hairstreak on a Clethra blossom, top of page.) Learn where many familiar garden plants come from (Asia!); some high-value natives he loves; advice for growing mountain laurel; the rich plant palette of the Southeastern U.S., and also an invocation for slowing down to pay closer attention.
Q. Maybe before we even get to some of your notable natives, Andy, let?s take a quick virtual ?look? around the average American garden or garden center. I?m not sure people realize, but so much of the traditional garden palette comes from Asia, doesn?t it?
A. I think you look at most garden centers now, and the majority of the plants are not from the United States or North America, for that matter. The majority are from Asia, from Europe, and places in between.
Q. Like hostas?not from America. Astilbe. Epimedium.
A. Right?Japanese maples, exactly. So many things that are standards in most people?s landscapes are not from this area.
Q. We?re not saying that means they?re bad, as long as they?re not invasive as some alien plants have proven to be?we?ll put aside the judgment for now. But natives have some special assets in enhancing the wildlife quotient in our gardens.
A. They certainly do. All of our fauna and insects and everything have evolved with our native plants. I always state in the lectures I give on native plants that not all plants that come from other places are bad. I think when people hear that a plant comes from Asia, for instance, they think it?s going to be a bad plant or invasive, and it?s certainly not the case.
Q. On the subject of, say, Japanese versus American species: I noticed that you and your Broken Arrow colleague Chris Koppel even do a sort of back-and-forth program. Describe that to me.
A. We put a little program together called ?East versus West.?
Q. I see; it?s a guy sport-competition thing. [Laughter.]
kousa bloomsA. Chris is a very enthusiastic lover of Japanese plants, Chinese plants. I am too, but I?m on the Western side and deal with the native plants of this area in North America. We battle it out. For instance, we do Cornus kousa versus Cornus florida. Cornus kousa is the Chinese dogwood and Cornus florida is our native flowering dogwood. We discuss the attributes of both. [Above, kousa blooms in Margaret?s garden.]

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