If you're a designer and you've never been to one of Larry Weaner's annual conferences on native plants/meadow-making, make sure you sign up for the next one. Many colleagues that I met at last week's conference come every single year ... to hear different speakers and gain new perspectives on the latest in native plant design.
One of this year's most controversial speakers was James Hitchmough, Professor of Horticultural Ecology at the Univ of Sheffield and designer, along with Nigel Dunnett, of the meadow plantings at Olympic Park in London. Hitchmough uses a mixture of native & exotic species in order to create "urban meadows" that are attractive to the general public. While some of my colleagues were appalled that exotics were part of the mix, I'd say, why not? After all, another speaker pointed out that the UK has less than half the number of native plants found in the state of Ohio ... so a "native" UK meadow would likely look pretty darned ugly. And the meadows designed by Hitchmough & Dunnett are far more sustainable than the herbacious borders favored for so many decades.
I was also heartened by Thomas Rainer's thoughts on native plants -- mainly, that they don't always live up to their hype. As he rightly noted, there are plenty of non-natives that are also drought tolerant, that have deep roots, ameliorate air pollution, support wildlife and absorb stormwater. In his own garden in the DC suburbs, shown here, Rainer mixes native & non-natives to great effect. While he embraces native plants, Rainer also notes that pure native designs are often loose & sloppy -- and quite frankly, look terrible. He advocates making natives the ideology of "yes," instead of "no," ie, embracing natives and exotics that can work together to create beautiful landscapes inspired by nature. Can't wait until Rainer's new book is published.