Local Plants Give Sense of Place, Character

As budding horticulturists begin invading garden centers around the country, gardener Lisa Caprioglio talks with Michele Norris about the benefits of growing local plants.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Listeners of this program know me as a radio host, but I actually wear a lot of hats. I'm a chauffer, a nurse, a homework tutor, a fixer of anything that happens to break, a chief cook and a bottle washer too.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: I am a busy woman, but like many of you I find relaxation in the garden. I'm more of a tinkerer than an expert, so I get help from Lisa Caprioglio. She's a professional gardener in the Washington, D.C. area. She's sort of like my gardening coach.

This summer we're checking in with her from time to time. In our last chat Lisa Caprioglio helped me. Actually, she implored me to remove a profusion of purple loosestrife. It was a beautiful but invasive plant that can wreak havoc on the environment. I had to get rid of it, leaving a big hole in my garden.

(Unintelligible) wistful about that. I liked the view but as I...

Ms. LISA CAPRIOGLIO (Professional Gardener): Well, we're not going to leave it empty and lonely. We will come up with something that is beautiful and inviting for you, and perhaps even for the wildlife.

NORRIS: She wanted me to complete the circle, to replace the invasive with an indigenous plant.

If we want to go native...

Ms. CAPRIOGLIO: Yes.

NORRIS: ...in the space, you have a couple of ideas?

Ms. CAPRIOGLIO: Yes, I do. I actually even brought a sample for you.

NORRIS: Okay, well, then, let's take a look.

Ms. CAPRIOGLIO: Okay. There is another plant that is originally native. That's liatris.

NORRIS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CAPRIOGLIO: Okay. And right now, this early in the spring, it's just a little thing. It looks - it almost even looks grassy, the leaves are long and skinny. But in time it will grow in a similar shape to what you had with the purple loosestrife, and it will have similar type of blooms. They'll be long spikes of purple flowers.

NORRIS: So we get to work. Bye-bye purple loosestrife; hello gay feather.

Native to Chesapeake Bay?

Ms. CAPRIOGLIO: Mm-hmm.

NORRIS: Deciduous perennial, so all good, (unintelligible).

Ms. CAPRIOGLIO: Now, we want to do it generously. You can use your trowel or you can...

NORRIS: (Unintelligible) Is it difficult to find native plants if you just go to the local garden store?

Ms. CAPRIOGLIO: You will find native plants at the larger specialty nurseries. And if they do a good job, they'll - they might even have them labeled for you to make it easier for you track them down. But unfortunately you're not likely to find them at the big box stores, so you can't just go swooping in on a Saturday while you're out doing other errands and pick up some native plants.

NORRIS: So it's best to do a little bit of research, figure out what's native to your region and to have a list when you go to the garden store?

Ms. CAPRIOGLIO: It is a little bit more challenging to go out and find natives, and I think that maybe one of the reasons why people have not used them to the extent that they might, is that it's easier to just go get one of the top 10 familiar plants, grab it and go put on the ground, and you've got a pretty garden. If you want to do native, they're equally beautiful and perhaps for the long term they're better, but it's not as easy. And if you feel that it's all or nothing in terms of - if I don't reap out my entire garden of all the exotics and put in only natives, then I guess I might as well not do anything. You don't want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

NORRIS: And Lisa says there is another reason for going native.

Ms. CAPRIOGLIO: There's a homogenization of the way that United States looks. When you drive around, the malls all look the same; you see the same few stores everywhere that you drive. And that is happening too with the plantings. You see the same few plants used over and over and over again. They're not necessarily invasive, but it's repetitive. And when you plant native plants that are regionally native, you have a sense of place, a sense of character. So if you're in Virginia, you've got Virginia bluebells. It adds a unique quality that makes you feel like you're someplace.

NORRIS: Well, Lisa, thank you. Thanks for your help today.

Ms. CAPRIOGLIO: It's always wonderful to be in the garden with you.

NORRIS: That's Lisa Caprioglio of Alder(ph) Tree Gardens in the Washington, D.C. area. For our next chat the subject is roses, and we want to hear from you. If you have questions about growing roses, send them in, and Lisa Caprioglio will try to answer some of them. Go to our Web site. It's npr.org/contact, and please put roses in the subject of your e-mail.

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