For most of us, our first thought when designing a landscape is how to make an aesthetic difference. As landscape designers, we want to inspire people and give everyone who spends time in our landscape an opportunity to reflect, feel uplifted, and just enjoy the sheer beauty of the plants that share our world. This is important work. I know when I spend even a few minutes in my garden, I emerge feeling refreshed and ready to do good things in the world. A life spent in the pursuit of beauty is a wonderful thing. However, there’s more to the creation of beauty than pairing this color with that, and landscape designers and home gardeners are in a position to be able to make an enormous difference to the world simply by choosing some plants over others. I’m talking, of course, about native plants. Native plants have a special relationship with the birds, butterflies, bugs and bees in our gardens. The plants native to your region are the ones that your local wildlife are adapted to eating, using as breeding grounds, and enjoying as habitat. While we may see some generalist species of birds and bugs enjoying nectar or raising young in our gardens, for other species that have evolved to need a specific plant (like most butterflies), the beautiful landscape plants from the regular nursery may as well be plastic. Not only do native plants attract wildlife to our gardens (a type of beauty which hits me on a soul level), but they also ground us and connect us to our surroundings in a way that the same-old, same-old landscape plants just don’t. There’s something very jarring and wrong about seeing the same Astilbes, daylilies and roses in Arizona as you do in Washington. It’s like that weird time-space warp you experience when visiting a McDonald’s or a Wal-Mart. Once you get inside, they’re pretty much the same anywhere across our fine and diverse country. When I think about why I live where I do, “utter boring sameness” is not the attribute I’d pick. However, most landscapers and gardeners think of themselves as artists. We love experimenting with color and texture, and telling an artist to limit their palette is never going to go over well, even if doing so invites a whole new element of beauty into the landscape in the form of salamanders, beetles, butterflies and birds. So how does one go about making a real difference in the landscape, while still enjoying our human, artistic interaction with the space? If you’re not going to go all-native (and most people don’t), then it’s about how to make the biggest impact with the natives you do choose. Here’s how.