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Can garden landscaping have political overtones? In many ways, yes, though not perhaps in the manner you’re imagining. Landscaping supplies won’t be able to clue people in as to whether a homeowner registers as a Democrat or Republican. They can, however, reflect an overall approach people take towards the environment.

Investing in drought resistant landscaping is one example of this, especially in states like California where water-usage has been highly restricted. When it comes to the Seneca Nation of Western New York, native plant garden landscaping is part of their approach — and it’s a move that reflects their overall beliefs about environment preservation.

Ken Parker, the horticultural consultant for the Seneca Nation, lived in Canada for several years before returning to Seneca territory. When he arrived, he found himself flummoxed by the many Norway maples on the territory, as well as future plans to landscape a traffic circle with Dutch bulbs. Under Parker’s direction, the Seneca Nation will now be moving to a new policy: native, indigenous plants only.

What, exactly, are indigenous plants? These are plants that are native to the area — in this case, Western New York — rather than introduced from other parts of the country, or even other continents. Many gardens today are not “naturally occurring” but instead are colorful, international bouquets. While this is a fairly common practice, Parker suggested that it was not in keeping with representing the Seneca culture and its own beliefs about the importance of perpetuating indigenous land and culture.

What is the importance of preserving native plants? Parker explains in an interview with North Country Public Radio that the decision is “cultural, environmental, and again, it addresses food sovereignty meaning a lot of the plants are edible. These plants are all significant to native culture. Again, food, medicine, dye plants; things we use in everyday life. It is important to preserve those because native plants, like native people, are in the minority.”

Parker also explains that, in many ways, plants are a natural resource, and that something is lost when landscapes are consistently plotted the same way whether they’re in Denver or Washington, D.C. The gardens themselves might be diverse, but there is an overall sameness when it comes to regional differentiation.

He points out that in many cases, it’s just an issue of landscapers being taught to have a preference — “Things like hydrangea — there’s a big European influence with the landscapers and the nursery industry,” he says. However, homeowners can and should feel free to look into the option of native plants — most landscaping services would, in fact, be happy to explore different landscaping designs that incorporate native plant options. As an added benefit, native plants often require less watering, because they are already adapted to the local climate conditions.

Do you have any interest in incorporating native garden landscaping? Let us know in the comments.