How we see what we want to see (and disregard the rest)

I still remember a garden volunteer preview visit a few years ago where a proud garden owner showed a group of gardeners his annuals. They were about the size of the seedlings above, but reseeded in the ground. "Here's the clarkia, and here the baby blue eyes," he said, and we stared at the tiny green specks transfixed. If anyone had walked by, that person might have considered us just a little crazy. But we were able to see these plants already, we saw not only the seedling, but the potential. The harmonizing areas of color. The birds picking the seeds. It was a special moment.

Regrettably, this ability to see potential has, as its shadow side, the ability to make that what we don't want to see invisible. A case in point is a recent exchange I had with another garden writer - and here's that story.

In a recent post on the venerable Gardenrant, the writer made the perfectly reasonable point that she likes to have exotics in her garden. I enjoyed the post, and really, Icould not agree more - my back garden is easily half exotics, and for all that, I'm actually always very happy if anybody gardens, exotic or not. But I wasn't sure I agreed with this sentence:"But sometimes, in the real world, things are not as easy as reading a list and then NEVER using anything that is on said list." -- I actually think it's a very good idea to NEVER use anything on the Don't Plant a Pest list (or, pick the list appropriate for you state or country. So I left a comment:

Sure, I agree in principle. We should all be free to enjoy gardens with plants from all around the world – I mean, it’s a garden! My own garden has a pretty good percentage of exotics – but I did take out the cotoneaster.
But I just drove up the California coast from Santa Barbara on Highway 1. It used to be chaparral, now it’s a Pampas grass landscape. The change happened in the last 10 years or so – the plant is very invasive here.
Ooops. Someone didn’t look at that list.
(I agree it’s a beautiful ornamental grass, but I preferred the chaparral…)

Enough said, I thought. But here's where things  got very weird. I had expected some disagreement, I had thought that someone would defend the god-given right of every person to plant whatever she wants - I see that often enough. But instead, I got this comment in response to mine:

I have driven the coast of California many times. I am writing from Cayucos at the moment, midway between SF and LA. There is no pampas grass here.
There is some pampas grass near Pescadero, but it has been there for over 30 years. It’s not going anywhere. The landscape there is still predominantly chaparral.
Your description of the California coast is exaggerated if not fabricated. Native plant advocates engage in a lot of hyperbole to convince us that the world will go to hell if we don’t eradicate non-natives and plant natives. Their doom and gloom scenarios have little relationship to reality.

That comment just stopped me dead in my tracks. It seemed right up there with "what climate change" and "overpopulation? there have always been a lot of people". And I realized I had nothing to say in response. Yes, if you google "pampas grass california coast" you come upon lots of articles and pictures about the situation, such as this one (the photos in this post are from that post - I did not have the heart to take photos during my resent trip). The California Invasive Plant Council has fairly conclusive information, I think - but if the commenter did not see the plants, surely she would not believe some government organization. In fact, I probably would not believe  some government organization - but I did see long stretches of the coast completely changed by it.

I also find it interesting how it creeps up on you. On the way up to Ms. Country Mouse's abode, I saw a single plant for several years. More recently, it's been up to five or six - and I don't know whether it's already spread uphill, where I can't see it.

What I can't understand is the "I have to have this, and nothing else will do" attitude associated with the unwillingness to avoid the plants on "the list". Sure, the elderberry I planted after I removed the cotoneaster (which is on the list) doesn't have the attractive draping form and red berries. But the blue berries aren't too shabby either (even though my elderberry isn't quite as productive as this one, which I photographed on a hike). And the most important thing is that the birds like it a lot more and are a more delightful ornamentation for the garden than the red berries were.


ryan said…
I think you're most right in your comment that polarizing comments are what Gardenrant is all about. Their post seems like a smug attack on a strawman, but there must be some reason they love putting up so many of these anti-native posts.
Anonymous said…
I still remember the stand of Cortaderia entering La Jolla when I last lived nearby in 1991. Your pics are stunning. Amazing the reactions like the one you heard repeated, except I hear them as well...when I show proof of whatever plant or ecology topic, it is dismissed as 1 or 2 examples.

If I want to see Argentina, I'll go there. Keep up the good info!
Country Mouse said…
Mr Wood Rat and I went walking in Capitola yesterday along the beach and up in the interesting neighborhoods - in a mobile home/manufactured home park in a long, pretty valley, a path about the length of the whole valley with a bank above it was infested with Jubata grass pretty much all the way along. Also English ivy, also the odd cotoneaster - it was a landscaping disaster. Probably all originally planted as ornamentals and spread - probably to the delight of the residents who are unaware of the problem.
Diana Studer said…
Years ago when we stayed in the cottage up in the Groot Winterhoek, I was appalled to see a proud clump of Pampas grass in the former garden of the park ranger. (An invasive nasty planted in a wilderness area!)
Country Mouse said…
I was just driving from Santa Cruz north a few miles - to Waddell Creek where Big Basin park's Skyline to the Sea trail comes out - and was disturbed by the jubata grass growing - seems to be spreading there for sure.