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Winter Greetings,  


At this point, regardless of what the winter does next, we can probably say it's already not going to be as cold as last winter. Coming out of last winter, we were all reminded why our gardening forbears were reluctant to plant certain things -- lavender and butterfly bush come to mind.  Many gardeners reported losses with these two plants.  What does it all mean, and how does The Plantsmen continue to fit into the big picture.of central New York horticulture?  Good questions, and I'm glad you asked.



An interesting development in American horticulture is that large retailers have begun to dabble in cultivars of native plants, because they've recognized the popularity of natives-- but their business model doesn't allow for anything local because it is precisely the opposite–large scale and centralized.  Some people say that at least cultivars of native plants are better than non-native plants.  Some disagree, and I tend to be in this camp.  Of course no one advocates invasive non-native species, but most non-natives are not invasive.  With non-natives, we can immediately distinguish them from native species.  But with cultivars -- which are generally clones – we don’t get local genetics, or genetic diversity, even thoughthey may look similar enough to native species that people assume they are using ‘good’ plants.    I consider cultivars a kind of ecological masquerade—because a clone of a native plant lacks much of what makes a native plant native—it’s been spliced out of its natural context, its existence is no longer the result of a pollination event, and when spread throughout the native horticulture industry, it promotes a single genotype—a clone—for use by everyone everywhere.  Would you feel comfortable doing this with animals?  Would you like to know that your scarlet winter cardinals, your gentle garter snakes, your grooving spring peepers, your flashing wild trout—are all clones of a single genome?  We were supposed to learn this lesson with the potato famine—restricted genetics and mass production is a bad recipe.  This is what cultivars bring to horticulture, and we resist this trend as it spreads to native horticulture.   At the same time, many people naturally worry about lack of genetic diversity in food plants.  Presumably this is an easy one to understand and worry about, because it involves us directly: our food.  For some reason, people generally don’t translate that concern to native plants, which are food plants for most of the planet's other organisms! 


This is exactly why, at The Plantsmen, we continue to collect our own seed of native species, locally propagate seedlings of these plants, and raise them to healthy vigorous plants available in various container size.  This is a rare service and becoming more rare all the time -- but in the 'old days', this was how most nurseries operated.  This act of bucking the trend is our way of trying to help native plants retain their uniqueness, their distinct local genetic identity, their ecological power and ability to respond to changes in their environment.  This power comes from their deep diversity and is lost once we start cloning native species.  The more you use these genetically diverse, locally propagated plants, the more we will grow them and diversify our offerings.  We love this part of our business and want to do more of it.  And we appreciate how well you have responded to it so far.



We work on many fronts, and while we continue to do more and more with our locally-grown, local seed source native plants, we also recognize that many of our customers want the widest range of plant options.  Increasingly, this means deer-resistant or even deer-proof plants.  So we have worked at adding these plants to our palette, while avoiding invasive species, and trying to make sure we can identify some ecological up-side to any plants we grow.  I would love to see all landcapes planted entirely with natives, but I would also rather see some landscape instead of no landscape, and in many of the hardest-hit neighborhoods, planting options are seriously limited.  Deer fence takes some of the magic out of a natural landcape, but it's also liberating to feel the widest range of plant options again.  Our clients who have chosen deer fence for their yards have all mentioned an incredible feeling of freedom, contrary to what one might expect with a perimeter deer fence...



In March we present our 7th Annual Ithaca Native Landscape Symposium.  We are proud to have founded this event (with our friend Rick Manning, local Landscape Architect) and proud to see it growing every year.  We have over 100 native plant professionals, educators, enthusiasts and novices attend for 2 days each year.  This year's event is Friday, March 6th and Saturday, March 7th.  You can register for 1 day or both days.  For all information including speaker info and registration, click here.  This is one of the 3 or 4 largest and most established native landscape events in the eastern U.S. now, and we hope you will consider registering.  Find out more at



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