There a lot of local nurseries and garden centers I used to like to frequent, and
having ordered plants from a website once, I now receive gardening catalogs from a couple dozen purveyors of mail order plants. In my city gardens, the world of color, texture, and form were available to me: a dark leaf over here, something ‘warm’ over there; I planted umpteen foofillion Something var. whatever and This x. that. I could have whatever I wanted from any nursery or catalog. Ahhhh. Good times. So long, color; Adios, texture. Now I cannot have a hybrid or a variation. My plants have to be native, and when it comes to native plants it seems I can have any color I want, as long as it’s green.
As I develop a planting scheme, it is a fairly easy task in the information age to say, ‘I need a mounding plant or an evergreen broadleaf shrub:’ I use lists from the Washington Native Plant Society, define a characteristic, look up a photo, select a plant. If I am lucky I can find a supplier. Knowing what I’d like to have, easy; figuring a substitute, harder; finding and acquiring it: harder still.
But the most difficult thing of all: figuring out what I already have. I can tell the difference between vine maple and a mountain ash, and not only because there are a thousand naturally occurring vine maples and only one ash. They just look different. But a slide alder and a red alder? Presumably I have both, but I’ll probably never know. I have purchased native goat’s beard, bleeding heart, and columbine. The crowns of each young plant look
identical in a four-inch pot. As I make my way around the property uprooting invasive grasses, I see hundreds-if not thousands-of nearly identical-looking little plant crowns. Either I will soon have a wealth of naturally occurring native wildflowers, or an entirely different crop of weedy plants. At the moment, all I do is wait for each plant to do what it does or be what it wants to be, kind of like a botanical Free to Be You and Me. Backwards engineering the native plant question is difficult, and obviously I need a field guide to help (one upside of my property restrictions is that I am forced to learn, something you should never stop doing but most people stop doing anyway). While I wait for my Amazon order to arrive, if you know what the plant to the right is, let me know.