The folks at the Dunwoody Nature Center are going native on us. They have announced that the Nature Center will henceforth be a “living lab” for the use of native plants. According to their press release, “The theme of native plants will be included in the curriculum for children’s classes, adult training events, summer camps and other aspects of the Dunwoody Nature Center’s work. Community events, festivals, plant sales and fundraising efforts will also focus on themes of native plants.”
As one who toils in the soils at the Dunwoody Nature Center, I can’t help but applaud this effort. The Nature Center and Master Gardeners have been using native plants almost exclusively for many years. The new twist is that we will use the gardens, and future plantings, as demonstration sites for anyone visiting the Nature Center. Visitors will be able to see how native plants can be used effectively in the landscape. Visitors, especially kids, will learn about how native plants and our wildlife coexist to their mutual benefit in a sustainable and attractive native landscape. This is a good thing. It lays down a basis for us and our children to learn new ways of doing things, both in the garden and in the wild. The Dunwoody Nature Center should be commended for taking a leadership role with this step.
The concern about what is happening with native plants in our area results from a couple of major factors.
We are all familiar with the sprawling nature of Atlanta. Gainesville, Canton, Woodstock and other once distant towns are now centers of suburban development.
The resultant loss of habitat for plants, trees, birds, and wildlife has been devastating. Thousands upon thousands of acres of natural habitat have been turned into homes, roads and commercial development. This leads to the loss of food resources for native wildlife.
Poor developmental planning and ill-designed drainage systems damage water resources with runoff and flooding. Roads, traffic and concentrations of people upset feeding and breeding patterns for birds, critters and even the insects and microbes that form the bottom layers of the natural food chain.
In addition to our loss of vast acres of natural habitat, we have seen the introduction of hundreds of species of non-native plants. Just as bulldozers can destroy the naturally balanced habitat so can the introduction and spread of non-native species of plants.
Landscaping for homes and businesses has brought in many, many non-native plants. We are all familiar with the horrors of kudzu. It replaces, takes over and drives out native plants in a most dramatic fashion. But it is not always that dramatic.
The same thing is happening on a much more subtle scale with the massive use of non-native ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers at house after house in our expanding number of subdivisions.
I know that I have had to rethink my own approaches to selecting plants for my own gardens. While there is certainly room for the judicious use of non-native species, we need to foster an interest and a willingness to look first to our great wealth of native Georgia plants to decorate our homes and businesses.
The Native Plant Initiative at the Dunwoody Nature Center is a most positive step in that direction. It will demonstrate how native plants, wildflowers, trees and shrubs can enhance our homes and our community while helping to restore and preserve a better balance of our natural, native resources.
Garden-wise, you just can’t do much better than that. So, come on over and watch us “go native” at the Dunwoody Nature Center.