Paul Cappiello, a former University of Maine horticulture professor who is now executive director of Yew Dell Botanical Gardens in Crestwood, Ky., wants to limit the use of the word native in horticultural circles.

“The word ‘native’ should never be used without a descriptive modifier,” Cappiello told the annual meeting of the Maine Landscape and Nursery Association in late January.

Without the modifier, people don’t know what you are talking about. Cappiello gives many talks, and about 70 percent of the time, people ask him to talk about natives.

One group asked him to talk about “natives from here and around the world.” He figured he could talk about anything he wanted.

To avoid such problems, he offered some modifiers for natives.

“A local native is within 10 to 20 miles of the site, with the same ecosystem,” he said. If you have some plants growing in a bog, plants that grow on an arid ridge 10 miles away would not be local natives for that site.

A “close regional native” is 50 to 75 miles away, a broad regional native is up to a few hundred miles away, and a continental native is anything on the continent.

Whichever modifier you use for natives, Cappiello is not saying that you have to use natives in your garden.

“What we want is what we call a ‘good garden citizen plant,’” he said.

That means a plant that will thrive where it is planted and not replace the native plants that are in the garden. Then you have to decide which plants are good citizens — and what makes a good garden.

Cappiello believes all land with plants growing on it qualifies as a garden, because someone is making decisions about what plants grow there and what is removed. Whether it is a garden of sheared shrubs or a ridge in the Rockies, people either put plants there or made the decision not to remove them.

That then goes to the question of invasives.

“An invasive plant is one that will establish itself in an undisturbed area (of the landscape) and displace existing vegetation,” Cappiello said. “A weedy plant is a pain in the neck.”

By that he means that you have to remove them from the garden — and they might damage your tomatoes — but they are not going to permanently damage your landscape.

As an example of a borderline invasive plant, he mentioned sumac, some of which are at least broad regional natives in Maine.

If you are growing a field, the sumac can take over the field and replace the grasses that are there. But after a while, if the field is left alone, larger trees will establish themselves and sumac will be forced out.

“So sumac is an early succession plant,” he said.

Cappiello also has problems with cultivars of some native plants, using as an example echinacea. Echinacea, or coneflower, is native to the U.S. prairie, but it has been hybridized to the extent that no one really knows where the original plants came from.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “If you are going to re-establish an American prairie garden, you don’t want to use ‘Pink Double Delight’ or ‘Green Envy.’ ” 

OFFICERS AND AWARDS

Rick Campbell of Gnome Landscaping and Design in Falmouth won MeLNA’s Al Black Award as horticulturist of the year. Campbell, who was out of the country, was praised for his involvement in all parts of the industry, especially certification programs.

Tom Estabrook of Estabrook’s Farms and Gardens in Yarmouth, Scarborough and Kennebunk was named Young Nurseryman of the Year. Some of the people wondered if he could qualify, because he has been attending MeLNA meetings for more than a quarter-century, but he assured everyone that he is only 37 years old.

Mark Pendergast of Salmon Falls Nursery was elected president of MeLNA. 

A SIGN OF SPRING

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has announced its fifth annual essay contest in connection with the Portland Flower Show, being held March 10-13 at the Portland Company Complex.

The deadline for essays is Feb. 18. Prizes of $50, $30 and $20 will be awarded in three age categories: 6 to 9, 10 to 13 and 14 to 18. The topic is “Describe What Your Enchanted Garden Looks Like,” based on the show theme “The Enchanted Earth.”

For rules, more information or an application form, call (800) 287-1471, e-mail Amy Witt at [email protected], or visit portlandcompany.com/flower or extension.umaine.edu/cumberland

Staff Writer Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

[email protected]