Choose Plants Wisely When Gardening


During the recent catalog crush a packet of seeds, intended to catch my eye, arrived in the mail. A seed company in a far-away state, trying to get my business, wants me to look at their catalog. Their strategy backfired. I’m not happy with their little gift, in fact, I’m rather huffy about it.

The colorful packet featured a watercolor image of several different unidentifiable blooms dwarfed by a hive’s worth of bees buzzing around the scene. Titled “Pollinator Flowers” I’m left to assume the gauzy image relates to the contents of the little package. The label instructed me to visit their website and enter a code to learn more about these seeds.

Thirty minutes later I’ve learned this little gift “may contain” over twenty varieties of flowers of which nearly half aren’t hardy in our region. Worse yet, a couple are considered invasive here. Did you notice I said, “may contain”? Apparently these packets derive from bulk seed mixes and there’s no way to know exactly what’s inside an individual packet.

But this plucky company touts their gardening cred saying they’re certified organic, a proud promoter of a pollinator challenge, and a signer of a pledge to not sell chemically treated or genetically engineered seeds. Cue the soft music, I need a cup of herbal tea.

Learn to Pick the Correct Plant

Gardeners are subjected to all sorts of marketing messages, some founded on solid science, and some on feel-good hype. Yes, I want to plant a diverse pallet of plants to support our insect population. But no, I’m not going to introduce a random assortment of plants many of which aren’t suitable for our climate.

My attitude must be tiresome. Over dinner my exasperated husband asked, “What’s the big deal, they’re only seeds?” Yikes. They’re just a drop of water away from being living, breathing baby plants. If a box of puppies were left at our door my husband would rely on me to ask questions and not just turn them loose in our garden. Are plants really that different?

Products proclaiming “Non-GMO,” “Organic,” or “Pollinator Friendly” aren’t de facto better, good, or even acceptable. Responsible consuming requires an educated buyer. So do your homework and understand the science behind the claims.

As I crawl down off my soapbox I want to point you to the North Carolina Native Plant Society. These North Carolinians do more good for our gardens than well-intended seed slingers from distant locales ever could.  Focusing on native plants and their habitats, the NC Native Plant Society offers educational programs, seed exchanges, plant identification, and events. On their website you can find a treasure trove of resources, including a tool to help you identify the right plants for your garden.

Want to check out potential candidates in person? The North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill manages over a thousand acres of conversation property and display gardens. There you can explore a variety of ecosystems found in our state and the plants that thrive here.

So sorry Mr. Garden-Marketing-Person, you can keep your random seeds, this planting season I’m keeping it local.

Lise Jenkins, a newspaper columnist, volunteers her time as a Durham County Extension Master Gardener. You can find her on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener.

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