A new book focused on native Southwestern plants

When George Miller moved to Albuquerque 15 years ago, he had already published a variety of books on landscaping with native plants, as well as wildflower guides. Originally from Austin, he earned a master’s degree in botany and zoology from the University of Texas and has traveled around the world, photographing and studying the natural environment.

So, as he recognized a need in New Mexico and the surrounding region to support wildlife through better garden choices, it was perhaps a natural fit for him to publish another guide in 2021 – Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies: Southwest.

Miller’s goal is to help people recognize how their garden or landscape design can help or harm our local ecology. He explains that plants provide food, which supports the very basis of the food chain. By not growing flora the local fauna need to eat, we’re negatively impacting that entire chain.

“Pollinators need native plants to survive,” Miller says. “It’s all part of a tightly woven ecosystem. We need to create a habitat. Not just a pretty landscape with a few accent plants.”

While his book’s title focuses on the three most popular pollinators, Miller makes sure to shine a light on other creatures that play equally pivotal roles in the biosphere, from moths to flies to beetles. Knowing which plants are attractive and necessary for each kind of pollen-carrying critter makes all the difference, even in the smallest of yards.

He says the size of the yard is irrelevant. It’s more important to get lots of yards and gardens of all sizes to be habitat-friendly.

“The more [habitats] there are in a neighborhood the more sustainable it will be. That’s the awareness I’ve been working on for the last five years with different programs and groups and the publication of these books,” says Miller. “It’s good to see the awareness has evolved, so we’re concerned with bees and moths and little things that we normally either overlooked or tried to eradicate.”

Miller says fostering a habitat is pretty simple.

“Primarily what you’re looking for in a landscape habitat is something that is sustainable through much of the year,” he says. “You want plants that bloom in early spring when bees first emerge and migrating birds arrive, that sets fruit through the summer.

A really important element is fall-blooming plants that provide pollen and nectar for native bees before they lay their eggs,” he continues, and goes on to suggest a few low-maintenance native plants.

“Apache plume is a good example of a shrub that blooms early. Chocolate flowers will bloom all summer long. They don’t mind reflective heat and are drought tolerant. They just need a little impulse of water that simulates a thunderstorm,” he says.

While Miller’s efforts were initially aimed at supporting regional wildlife, he says there is another important benefit of habitat sustainability using native plants -- water preservation.

“Water conservation is a hot topic. Using native plants assists that effort. These plants have evolved with this climate,” he says. “Many of these plants will survive with whatever water nature provides. We tend to give them more water than is necessary because we’re seeking a lusher look. But they’ll survive with less if you’re judicious in your landscape planning.”

In his book, after covering educational points about different types of pollinators and some basic plant anatomy, Miller groups individual plant profiles by type – desert accents, trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and vines and grasses. Each profile details the plant’s growth, hardiness, bloom period and pollinators, all preceded by a guide on how to plan a garden to meet your goals.

He has also included an alternate index, in which plants are sorted by pollinator types, so you can look up which plants are best for attracting hummingbirds or bees. An avid photographer, Miller has spent years capturing images of our native species and uses them to good effect as a colorful visual guide on every page.

To complete the ease of use he strives to provide in his book, Miller also lists retail sources for Southwestern native plants and seeds, and native plant societies and botanical gardens across the Southwestern states.

In pursuit of making this information broadly accessible to everyone, Miller also has diligently compiled an easily searchable guide to New Mexico’s biodiversity on his website, www.wildflowersnm.com.

Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies: Southwest, by George Oxford Miller, Adventure Publications, $22.95.

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