Allan Armitage on native plants and Pink on veggies

Native plants for backyard gardens.

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If I were to list all of Allan Armitage's credentials, I wouldn't have room to write about plants today. Let's just say that he's one of the giants of horticulture, and you can read all the details here. The same can be said -- in the music field -- of the accomplishments of the pop singer known as Pink.

I've heard him speak many times and always enjoy it -- and learn from it. Most recently, I was at a talk called "The Mainstreaming of Native Plants," which he presented at the Garden Writers conference earlier this fall.

Although Dr. Armitage is the author of the excellent reference book "Armitage's Native Plants for North American Gardens," he holds several strong opinions that run counter to some beliefs common among native plant aficionados:

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1. He isn't a purist in the debate about what qualifies as a native plant. Should cultivars (cultivated varieties, or hybrids) be grown as natives? "I don't know," he answered. "Should rap be called music?" His definition of native plants tends to be broad and inclusive.

2. He doesn't believe that all wildflowers and native plants are superior to modern plants. Some are great and some aren't.

3. It's not just "alien" plants (those imported from other countries) that are invasive. Some native plants are, too. "If you don't think they are, you haven't been in a meadow lately," he said.

Partly, these beliefs are built around Armitage's desire to get everyone interested in gardening. He believes that people garden for beauty and emotion, and that professionals should make it easy for beginners to become gardeners by making it simple and making it fun.

Many people would love to grow native plants, he says, but don't know how. "The most important thing [experts] can do is make the gardener successful."

Among his many plant recommendations, Armitage said that among the huge group of new purple coneflowers (now in many colors other than purple),  Echinacea purpurea 'Kim's Knee-High' is the best.

He also said, "You can't go wrong with cinnamon ferns [Osmunda cinnamomea]."

When I saw his slide showing the cultivar of ironweed that's named Iron Maiden, I knew I was definitely that was going on my wish list. Wow!

But I had to wonder if the flower was really named for a medieval torture device. Or if the name came from the hard rock/heavy metal band Iron Maiden. Or maybe from the video game of the same name (which features lots of battles).

None seemed quite appropriate for a pretty fall flower, but who knows? In pop culture, anything can happen. Recently the British press revealed that the singer Pink loves to grow her own veggies in raised beds.

"It's very punk rock to be out in a yard growing your own food," she said. As I read that, I couldn't help but think that Allan Armitage would be thrilled. She's not growing native plants, but she's a new convert to gardening and you can't get more mainstream than that.

Added later: Here's Allan Armitage on simplifying gardening so more people will be successful.

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