Responsible Gardening

Coneflower. So many gorgeous native plants to enjoy throughout the season. Photo: Lise Jenkins.


By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

A packet of seeds, meant to catch my eye, arrived in the mail. A seed company in a faraway state, trying to get my business, wants me to look at their catalog. Its strategy backfired. I’m not happy with the little gift; in fact, I’m rather huffy about it.

The colorful packet featured a watercolor image of several different unidentifiable blooms dwarfed by a hive’s worth of bees buzzing around the scene. Titled “Pollinator Flowers,” the packet left me to assume the gauzy image relates to the contents. The label instructed me to visit the company’s website and enter a code to learn more about these seeds.

Thirty minutes later, I’ve learned this little gift “may contain” over 20 varieties of flowers, nearly half of which aren’t hardy in our region. Worse yet, a couple are considered invasive here. Did you notice I said “may contain?” Apparently, these packets derive from bulk seed mixes, so there’s no way to know exactly what’s inside an individual packet.

Rattlesnake Master. Photo: Lise Jenkins.

But this plucky company touts its gardening cred, saying it’s certified organic, a proud promoter of a pollinator challenge and a signer of a pledge to not sell chemically treated or genetically engineered seeds. Cue the soft music, I need a cup of herbal tea.

Gardeners are subjected to all sorts of marketing messages, some founded on solid science and some on feel-good fluff. Yes, I want to plant a diverse pallet of plants to support our insect population. But no, I’m not going to introduce a random assortment of plants, many of which aren’t suitable for our climate.

My attitude must be tiresome. Over dinner, my exasperated husband asked, “What’s the big deal? They’re only seeds.” Yikes. They’re just a drop of water away from being living, breathing baby plants. If a box of puppies were left at our door, my husband would rely on me to ask questions and not just turn them loose in our garden. Are plants really that different?

Products proclaiming “Non-GMO,” “Organic,” or “Pollinator Friendly” aren’t de facto better, good or even acceptable. Responsible consuming requires an educated buyer, so do your homework and understand the science behind the claims.

Beauty Berry. Photo: Lise Jenkins.

As I step down off my soapbox, I want to point you to the N.C. Native Plant Society ( These North Carolinians do more good for our gardens than well-intended seed slingers from distant locales ever could.

Focusing on native plants and their habitats, the N.C. Native Plant Society offers educational programs, seed exchanges, plant identification and events. On its website, you can find a treasure trove of resources, including a tool to help you identify the right plants for your garden.

Sorry, Mr. Garden-Marketing-Person. You can keep your random seeds. I’m keeping it local.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email:

Share This Article

Scroll down to make a comment.

2 Comments on "Responsible Gardening"

  1. What does one do with seed packets from foreign places….labelled pollinators. Will they grow if tossed in the garbage? How to dispose of them?

  2. Deborah Fulghieri | June 23, 2021 at 11:53 am | Reply

    The NC Botanical Garden is an absolute treasure in this regard. You can buy native plants like cardinal flower (a bright red hummingbird favorite), beauty-berry as pictures, or swamp sunflower (those yellow blooms that blanket the roadside in the fall), and many other colorful natives.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.