What is Native Gardens?
In a nutshell,we grow and sell native plants. Sounds simple ? Ed and I, Meredith, began growing plants in 1983 here in Loudon County, TN. We are about 30 miles SW of Knoxville, about a mile from Tellico Lake. We offer container grown plants by mail-order or from the nursery by appointment. To be the source of an interesting variety of high quality native plants and information for use in beautification and sustainable habitat creation and enhancement is why we get out of bed every morning.
I came into this by the process of elimination. After college, a brief Peace Corps adventure, milking lots of goats out West and then managing a restaurant, it was time to "get a life" as they say. I wanted dirt to dig in - my OWN dirt. What were my favorite plants? Wildflowers! I'll go to work for a wildflower grower! After I go back to school.... Well, I met Ed in my first botany class (he was the guy up front doing all the talking) and by this time I had discovered that there was no one to work for growing wildflowers and I would have to grow them myself. Turned out the idea was also in the back of Ed's mind and it didn't take long for us to decide it was time to start this imaginary nursery. (He didn't quit his day job.)
With much encouragement from the NC Botanic Garden, New England Wildflower Society and others, we began gathering and begging seed from any and everywhere to get a start. It took about 3 years for us to even have enough mature plants to sell. After that is has been a long road of educating our customers about what we are doing and why. After all, our plants cost more than collected plants and most people were not aware that the bulk of plants available up to that time had been wild collected.
Luckily, we discovered that indeed we were not alone and were soon to be joined by all of the 'closet' native plant enthusiasts from across the nation in a heart felt effort to not only grow more native plants, but to protect existing populations of rare and not-so-rare plants from senseless destruction. Many individuals, ourselves included, have found a way to make a positive contribution to our world, and the environment as a whole, by planting and encouraging the use of more native plants. (Business improved !)
Though many "native" nurseries have found it necessary to include a large percent of standard perennials in their offerings just to stay afloat, we have tried to limit ourselves strictly to natives and natural selections from natives. Yes, we do have a few plants that don't qualify, but we have tried to limit these to especially complimentary species that have some benefit other than beauty. We want our customers to know that they can come to us with confidence when they are looking for true native plants. There are plenty of standard perennial growers if you need exotics. We have nothing against these "other" plants and they often happily coexist in the garden with our wild types, it is merely our personal preference and we had to draw the line somewhere.
In the twenty-two or so years since we began...
We have expanded to +/- 200 species in our offerings, and have been involved in increasingly more varied and interesting projects. Most exciting was the TN Aquarium in Chattanooga, where we provided consulting and most of the herbaceous plant material. This year, now that Ed will be around more, we hope to catch up on a long list of improvements to the nursery and basically tighten up the ship on all fronts. It has been nice over the last few years to have to worry about being able to meet demand instead of trying to create it, and be able to move on to other things. Thanks to all of you for the kind notes of encouragement, handshakes, hugs and business over the years. We hope we send a dab or two of good cheer back your way in our plants. The future looks better than we ever imagined and we look forward to seeing you there!