Getting to Know the Natives

Credit: Richard Hebda

Swallowed up by two-room cabin fever during an unexpected rainstorm at a Vancouver Island cottage last summer, my salvation was a rickety but well-stocked bookshelf. Choosing Native Plants in the Coastal Garden, by Victoria residents April Pettinger and Brenda Costanzo, I was left inspired by their wise and practical approach to gardening in B.C.

Recently, chatting with Pettinger, I asked her what it was about the topic of native plants that had so strongly drawn her in.

“When I first moved to B.C., I was dazzled by the wonderful hedges of salal and the bounty of the rainforest. Yet no one seemed to appreciate these wonders. I began to question why we garden exclusively with plants from other countries,” says Pettinger.

Happily, every issue of GardenWise highlights one of B.C.’s native plants. Our columnist Richard Hebda – when not busy as curator of Botany and Earth History at the Royal British Columbia Museum – is often found gathering specimens of botanical treasure.

Plant-collecting in the alpine zone around Williston Lake and near Tumbler Ridge
recently, he was delighted to discover patches of wild chives (Allium schoenoprasum).
“It set me to thinking about how little we gardeners know about the plants that grow in our gardens,” recalls Hebda. “Chives, a traditional garden herb native to B.C.! Not every plant we use need be the result of years, centuries of manipulation by human hands and minds.”

Writer Christine Allen agrees. For this issue’s garden profile, she visited two gardens where native plants rule. “What struck me,” she says, “is how many of our country’s native plants have been used in Europe and are now being recommended to us by their designers!”