Where have all the Monarchs gone?

We’ve all noticed it this year, my gardening friends and I. We talk about it in hushed tones, and we can’t quite figure it out. “Too much rain this spring!” “Brutally cold winter last year!” And: “Could it be we’re using too many non-native plants?” We shake our heads and shrug – we haven’t seen many butterflies this year.

It’s one of the reasons why the drumbeat for native plants has grown louder and ever louder. They’re a food source for bees, for larva, for butterflies, birds, animals. They give a garden a sense of place, unlike a garden that is the horticultural equivalent of a roadside fast food restaurant where you could be anywhere in the country and it all looks the same. Native plants can tolerate the climate extremes with a grace and dignity that imports can’t quite pull off. In other words:

Natives are good plants. Exotics are bad.

Yes, I’ve met gardeners who swear by this mantra. With great pride, they inform me that they’ve “ripped every single plant out of the garden and replaced it with a native!” (A spouse is often standing nearby, wincing with pain over the memory of the now-chipped-and-composted Japanese Maple.) Some gardeners, though they are fewer in number, insist that the plant that is selected for admittance into their garden must not only be a North American native, it must not be a hybrid, and it absolutely must be native to this very latitude and longitude. Otherwise, it must be pulled out by the roots and cursed.

I am no such purist. An instructor at a course I took this summer said that diversity is good. A well-behaved import can be a fine addition to a garden. (Such diversity exists even within my own household, hubby and I coming from two very different corners of the globe.) I was happy to hear a reasonable voice from deep within the green industry. I wrote down his exact words into my notebook and re-read it a few times, just to be sure I’d heard right.

But still. I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Talking to more plantsmen. Going to a few lectures. Maybe it is time for me to reconsider my own garden, and the gardens I make for a living. Maybe I need to think about going native in my own back yard.

I didn’t see very many butterflies in my garden this year, either.

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