Native plant garden at Princeton University.
Public and county parks, school gardens and municipalities, landscape architects and backyard gardeners are all reaping the benefits of planting native
By Ilene Dube
From language and literature to the culinary arts, influences from around the world add flavor to our lives. But when it comes to the plant kingdom, specimens from afar can wreak havoc on the ecosystem.
Exotics, sometimes called non-native invasive species (although that term can take on a negative connotation), often outcompete native plants — plants that grew in the Americas before colonization. They can take over resources, proffering the wrong kind of food for the native wildlife.
The case for native plants can be summed up in the words of environmental farmer Jake Fiennes (brother of actor Ralph Fiennes), who was recently profiled in The New Yorker: “How do we feed the nine billion?” he asks. “Through functioning ecosystems…cultivate as much on the land — fungi for the soil, grasses for the pollinators, weeds for the insects, insects for the birds…”
Happily for the planet, landscape architects and horticulturists are increasingly populating public parks and spaces with native plants. Even New York’s Fresh Kills Park, built on the site of a former garbage dump, is being planted with natives.
Mercer County Park Commission
Betsey Stockton Garden
With Betsey Stockton Garden, Princeton University has chosen to make a bold statement in support of native plants right alongside its main gates. The public pocket park was planted in September 2018, and its willowy grasses and flowering plants dancing in the winds are just coming into their prime.
Princeton University Landscape Architect Devin Livi refers to the space as a “naturalized garden.” It actually serves as a green roof for a 1971 underground addition to Princeton’s Firestone Library, according to Dan Casey of the University Architects office. Three feet of undulating soil covers the library roof, with Louise Nevelson’s sculpture Atmosphere and Environment X a centerpiece. That title is fitting for the public space as well, with Adirondack chairs that welcome visitors to sit and contemplate. At this mid-winter writing, the dried stems gave structure to the garden, allowing a visitor to experience the seasons — something a mown lawn would not do.
The garden was named for Betsey Stockton (1798-1865) as part of a campus initiative to recognize and honor a more inclusive set of people who make up the University’s history. Sources suggest that Betsey Stockton was born into slavery in the Princeton household of Robert Stockton. While a young child, she was taken from her mother and placed in the Philadelphia household of Robert Stockton’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband, the Rev. Ashbel Green, a University president in the early 1800s.
After her emancipation, Betsey Stockton became the first African American and first unmarried female missionary to Hawaii. She was also a prominent and respected educator in Philadelphia and Princeton, as well as a founder of the First Presbyterian Church of Colour of Princeton, now known as Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church. more