Discovering and Using Native Plants in the Garden

This short report includes news on resources for discovering and using native plants, including book list and authors.

| February/March 1997

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    Kavanah Farnsworth.
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    Tom Brown, Jr.
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    Andy and Sally Wasowski.

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News brief on resources for discovering and using native plants in the garden from established garden authors. 

What is a true "native" plant? According to Native Texas Gardens, (Gulf Publishing, 1997) it is one that has grown in a particular area without having been brought there by humans and can survive nicely without any help from us. Native Texas Gardens is the latest in a series of books by Andy and Sally Wasowski about landscaping and using native plants in the garden. The foreword celebrates an "emerging new land ethic."

This ethic emerges from what the Wasowskis see as a new interest in different design options and a desire to preserve regional biodiversity. Although their book is dedicated to showcasing about 100 Texas gardens, it is also instructional to anyone interested in the principles of gardening with native plants: conservation of water, soil, and other resources (including time); reducing pollution and chemical use; and increasing wildlife habitats. The large colorful pages list plants by common and scientific names and profile people who have embraced native plants as part of their gardens and their lives.

Native Texas Gardens also exemplifies a new trend in plant resources—that is, specialization and regionalization in order to provide more thorough and accurate information. In one of her previous books, Requiem for a Lawnmower (Taylor Publishing, 1992), Sally Wasowksi presents her belief in the need for region specific guides. Authors trying to present a broad scope of information, she says, rarely understand special needs and conditions. On the other hand, regional authors address the unique conditions in selected parts of the country. They are experts who live with the plants they write about and have tried the methods they describe.

A fine example of what Wasowski is talking about is Kahanah Farnsworth's newly updated edition of A Taste of Nature (Sunbelt Publications, 1997). The first edition of the book, which appeared in 1994, is a guide to 76 edible plants of the Southwest. The book also includes 12 plants that are poisonous, and her discus sions emphasize the care and knowledge that need to accompany any person's decision to explore the world of native edibles. Farnsworth's favorite sources are about plants of a specific region (see resources listed at the end of this article), but she makes an important point when she says that plants are separated more distinctively by habitat than by region (e.g., a cold climate or a mountainous region is far more telling than a classification like "Arkansas" or "the upper Northwest"). Thus these regional books can help narrow the scope for beginning edible plant enthusiasts, but they may be applicable in many similar geographical regions.

Farnsworth's book also includes recipes that make this resource particularly relevant to the modern forager since many doctors and nutritionists now advocate eating many different kinds of food, particularly organic and whole foods, in order to maintain optimal physical and mental health. Edible plants can provide natural alternatives to drug therapy and offer interesting meals and snacks that provide vitamins and minerals so often lacking in the modern diet.

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