Native Plants for Beginners - A HerKentucky Guest Post

Today, local garden enthusiast Retta Ritchie-Holbrook shares with us her efforts to fill her garden with native Kentucky plant species. Be sure to check out her fabulous list of resources, as well. Maybe my black thumb isn't so black after all! Maybe I just need to choose more native plants!

One of the flowers from my friend - Wild Columbine
My first true foray into gardening began when I bought a house and decided I wanted to make the landscape more appealing. My mother is an avid gardener and grows the most beautiful flowers. I guess you can say the desire to grow things runs in the family. The only problem was I didn’t seem to be very good at it. I would buy an array of bright, colorful plants only to watch them die. Sometimes, I would get lucky, and the plants would live for a few years until they became diseased, got pests or we would have a drought and I would miss watering them a few times because I was traveling for work. I would then have to yank them out and replace them. Gardening seemed like a lot of work and I simply didn’t have the time for it.

This process went on for a few years until a friend brought me some plants from her own garden and told me they were Kentucky native plants. I had not heard of native gardening at that time but those plants thrived and are still in my garden today. This encouraged me to learn more about native plants.

Native gardening or native landscaping is what its name implies: growing plants that are native to your area. I slowly started replacing my less hardy flowers with mostly native plants. They did so well that I began adding more and more flowerbeds with native plants and I’m currently in the process now of turning my backyard into mostly flowers and plants and less turf.
In my garden, left to right: a.) Butterfly Weed & Purple Coneflowers b.) Celadine Poppy (Good in Shade) c.) Rattlesnake Plant

Some benefits of native plants:

  • They require less fertilizers and fewer pesticides.
  • They require less water and often do better through droughts and other extreme types of weather.
  • They provide shelter and food for wildlife. This also helps to manage the pests since wildlife feed on the pests, eliminating or greatly reducing the need for chemical pest control. I personally have not used pesticides for years.
  • They are usually not invasive because they are a balanced part of the ecosystem and have natural predators.
  • Native plants are beautiful, hardy and come in a wide variety of options. I recently added some native bushes, such as the spice bush, to encourage butterflies to breed there.

One of my flowerbeds doing well even after the early summer drought.

Because native plants are adapted to the local environment, they are easier to grow and create ecosystems for birds, pollinators and other beneficial critters. Now my yard is alive with butterflies, birds and more. I looked out the window just the other day to see a gold finch eating seeds out of the coneflower heads. I’ve seen several new species of birds and butterflies just this year alone that I had never seen in my yard before and I love it.

Left to right: a.) Lady Bug larva b.) Eastern Tiger Swallowtail


Just a few of my favorite plants (Many of these have several varieties to choose from):

Places to visit for inspiration:

Online Resources for Native Plant Species:

Where to buy native species:

Native Plant Societies:

Ashley Judd does Kentucky proud

Ashley Judd recently wrote a piece for The Daily Beast addressing speculation over why her face has appeared puffy. She gets right to the point in the first sentence. “The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us.” As a former women’s studies major, it was all I could do not to stand up in the middle of my living room and shout “AMEN!”

However, I feel pretty confident not all Kentuckians will feel the same way about her feminist critiques. Kentuckians have a complicated relationship with Ashley Judd and I believe that relationship only further proves her point.

I remember the first time I learned Ashley Judd was from Kentucky. It was probably when I realized she was a JUDD Judd - daughter/sister of the famous country music duo. I felt such pride. She was so beautiful, so talented, so articulate. I loved that she was from my home state. Even though I'm not a huge sports fan myself, I loved that she was such a passionate UK fan, always making her way home for big games. And of course, we ALL remember the famous hockey team poster.

Yet, as her celebrity grew, so did her political consciousness. It quickly became clear that Ms. Judd leaned  more to the left on the political spectrum. She also became an outspoken feminist - unafraid to speak her mind on controversial issues like abortion and most recently the objectification of women in the media.

(Side note: I met Ashley Judd at pro-choice march in Washington, DC, and she was nothing but incredibly kind and gracious to me...especially when I told her I was from Kentucky.)

Suddenly, I began to notice not every Kentuckian experienced the pride I felt when talking about Ashley Judd. People would criticize her outspokenness and say nasty things about her appearance or personal life. In fact, the place I noticed the most vitriol was among UK fans. You want to read some mean, nasty stuff about Ashley Judd? Go to a UK fan board.

It is almost as if Kentuckians feel they own Ashley Judd. But we don't. We have no more right to criticize her than a citizen of any other state. The truth is people's dislike of her has little to do with Kentucky and more to do with the subject of her essay - patriarchy.

Everyone (in Kentucky or anywhere else) was fine with Ashley Judd as long as she followed the #1 rule for women as "objects" to be enjoyed - you are to be seen and not heard. When she was the stunning actress who just happened to love UK, everything was fine. When she opened her mouth and started challenging things and making people (men and women) uncomfortable, the meanness began.

You know what's funny? I don't hear the same vitriol directed at George Clooney. Also a proud Kentuckian and incredibly physically attractive person, you'd think he'd be subject to the same rules. However, Mr. Clooney is just as liberal if not more so and he has said just as revolutionary things about women in the media. Yet, people seem much more comfortable with George Clooney saying things they disagrees with. I would argue it's because they don't see Clooney as an object they have some ownership of or power over.

Either way I am still proud Ashley Judd is from my home state. In fact, with every political statement or feminist critique, my pride only grows.

~ Sarah Stewart Holland