An Immigrant’s Garden


My mother was born in Russia.  My father was born in Poland.  They were brought to Canada by their parents, met and married and had me there.  I moved to the U.S. over 40 years ago.   We are immigrants all.World Map

Does all this moving about have an influence on my views about native plants vs. immigrant plants (called ‘aliens’ in horticultural circles)?  Perhaps it does.

In any case I have been thinking a lot lately about the subject as I go on with the choice of plants for the gardens at Timshala.  I hear more and more about the importance of planting natives — usually defined as plants which were already here when Europeans arrived.

And yet.  Some of the most surprising plants, the ones we see everywhere, are actually not natives.  The Daylilies coloring the sides of the road in late summer, Apple trees (yes, despite Johnny Appleseed), weeping Willows, Peonies, Irises, Hostas, Peaches, Dandelions (!), Lilacs, Irises, Japanese maples (no surprise there),  Soybeans, Wheat.   Immigrants all.

What they all do have in common – besides having been born elsewhere – is that they have traveled to find their preferred habitat.

So habitat is what determines all my plant choices.   The right temperatures, both winter and summer, soil quality, wind – these are all part of the planning. Wherever they might have come from, all the plants I am using will (should) be happy where I place them.  Some wet areas will have plants that like wet soil – Bald Cypress, Camassia, for example.  Actually those are both natives, but more important to me, they will grow well where I put them.   

So a lot of the plants I use will be natives.  A lot of them won’t.  But they should all thrive because they’re in the right place.

And so my garden at Timshala will have a lot of immigrants.  Including me.


Lilac Childhood

I grew up in Winnipeg, Canada, literally on the wrong side of the tracks; within sight and hearing of the tracks actually.  But we had one great wealth: our front yard was completely filled with Lilacs.  Nobody knew who planted them or when.  Nobody cared for them.  As a child I ran through them, as if they were a private forest.  When they bloomed I could cut armloads of them, bringing them to my favorite teacher.

Many years later when I was visiting Winnipeg I decided to take a drive past our old house and discovered that the Lilacs were gone (as was the house, but the Lilacs were what hurt me).  The area had been cleared for urban renewal, and never built.  It was just barren.  And it still makes me cry.

There is profound unity between the garden designer I am now and the seminal power of those Lilacs.