Bridal wreath is a plant on the watch list but still legal to sell in Maine. Shutterstock

Life was more fun before the internet. The World Wide Web does have some advantages – many people read this column online, and I use the internet to do a lot of my research. But the convenience of computers has stolen some of the joy from life, and not only because people spend too much time looking at screens instead of the world around them.

What bothers me most is that the internet opens everything up for criticism, including gardening in a phenomenon that some call plant-shaming. It’s what happens when someone goes online and posts photos of his or her gardens that include, say, butterfly bush or bridal-wreath spirea.

The response can be immediate. The gardener is desecrating the state with a non-native plant, which will deprive native birds, butterflies, bees and mammals of nutrition and habitat that they need, the internet trolls will say.

Both of those plants are legal to sell in Maine. There are 63 plants that are illegal to sell because they are not native and hold the potential to overtake the landscape.

Butterfly bush is another plant on the watch list in Maine. Shutterstock

Bridal wreath (Spiraea prunifolia) and butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) are on the watch list, which means they will be considered in about five years when the state decides whether to expand the do-not-sell list.

Both are what I consider “grandparent plants” – plants that I remember growing in my grandparents’ yards in the 1950s and 1960s. They are beautiful and showy and bring back fond memories.


Nancy and I grow neither of them, mostly because bridal wreath can be a nightmare to maintain, but many of our friends’ gardens that we often visit have them in prime positions, and we will not urge them to pull them out. We do have Spirea bumalda (Anthony Waterer) and Spirea japonica (Magic Carpet), which are also on the watch list. We are considering whether to replace them, but as of now, we’re watching them for potential baby spireas, which we pull out.

The fiercest online criticism I have received came after a column I wrote in February on chaos gardening. It included a picture of our vegetable garden which, while not a chaos garden, is still a bit chaotic, with a lot of flowers. The photo was taken during peak blossom time of big-leaf lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus, which is a U.S. native but not a Maine native. It is an aggressive self-seeder, and we never planted it in our yard. It showed up and we let it grow, which shows how aggressive it is.

The native sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis) is so rare that it is almost non-existent in the state, according to National Park Service officials at Acadia. They also say big-leaf lupine has some value in feeding pollinators and attracting hummingbirds.

Anyway, by the time the photo appeared, Nancy and I had realized we had too many lupine and pulled most of them, so they would not self-seed. (And I got somewhat immune to shaming during my years covering government and politics, although at that pre-internet time, shaming came in the form of letters to the editor, phone calls and face-to-face interactions.)

While trying to decide whether to write this column, I received an email from a publicity representative for Natural Lawn of America, asking if I would like to do an interview with the company founder and president on the impact of “yard shame.” It had been raining for a while, and I had nothing to do, so I figured I’d make the call.

Philip Catron, who said his company has operations in Portland and Bangor, said the pitch was that people could be embarrassed because neighbors and visitors might think their lawns looked bad. But he was open to discussing whether people could be ashamed because they have too much lawn.


“I believe that the lawn should complement the landscape, and not vice versa,” he said. He likes the idea of clover and other flowering plants in the lawn if people want them.

He argued against the idea that lawns are barren wastelands, saying that grass gives off a lot of oxygen while growing, filters out pollutants, and is an ideal surface for walking and playing games. The company uses non-phosphorous fertilizer, which reduces water pollution.

My advice on shaming attempts is to ignore them. Yes, every yard should have native plants and some natural areas that are a bit messy with left-behind leaves that support wildlife. But lawns and non-native plants can be part of the yard, too.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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