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Bethesda Backyard Native Nursery: Literally!

Native Plant Enthusiast Takes the Next Step...

native rock garden mid-atlantic
West Slope Garden

Mariana moved to her suburban home 16 years ago. She always loved gardening and how it connected her to the planet. She began to shape her garden -- a part sun, part shade sloped front garden, a dappled shade garden with spots of sun in the back and a sunny roadside bed. Lots of different situations on about a fifth of an acre to work with.

Eleven years in, she found out about our essential need for native plants and the rest, as they say, is history! An avid gardener, Mariana read all she could. She was highly motivated once she learned all the advantages of gardening with native plants. Thankful to have a graceful old magnolia and tulip poplar, both native, gracing the front of her home, she did all she could to add more natives.

At first, she planted lots of perennials sold as native plants at garden centers. Learning later that many were cultivars of native plants and knowing they did not provide the highest value to insects and birds, she began to go to Herring Run Nursery in Baltimore and Chesapeake Natives Nursery in Upper Marlboro to find native plant straight species. That proved to be a critical turning point for Mariana.

The corner lot in a Bethesda neighborhood has a bit of a rise upon which Mariana's home sits. The two large trees in front cast a fair amount of shade but there are direct sun spots too. Mariana removed grass to expand beds beneath the trees and in the sunny spots.

native asters and blue eyed grass

A corner by the driveway is cleverly planted with blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchum angustifolium) and asters (Eurybia divaricata) among stones echoing materials in the house but also giving your eye a resting place. In the late spring - early summer the blue eyed grass provides color. In fall, clouds of asters add the color.

golden ragwort along a path beneath a southern magnolia

Along the shaded front path, Mariana lined one side with golden ragwort (Packera aurea). The golden yellow flowers, even in deep shade, say spring is here, The deep green lobed foliage provides a texture contrast for the rest of the year. Many of these stay semi-evergreen the further south you are.

blue mist flower native perennial

Heading back to the side garden, a bed near the house is filled with blue mist flower, (Conoclinium coelestinum) a long flowering perennial in late summer and fall. It greens up early and fills the space until they bloom. These spread quickly in full sun and part shade.

northern sea oats in shade

In deep shade at the head of the driveway, northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) will thrive. Tall grasses in shade might seem counter intuitive but northern sea oats will grow quite well in full shade.

The real surprise is waiting in the back garden. Beds filled with native perennials and a rocky slope punctuated with native plants draw you right in. Native and ornamental trees are underplanted with interesting combinations of ferns, perennials and other ground covers.

Golden alexanders (Zizia aurea) and penstemon (Penstemon digitalis) mixed together make a perfect magical mini-meadow in a garden bed. The foliage of golden alexander is semi-evergreen and the seed heads of penstemon flowers will last through much of the growing season.

In one section of grass, Mariana discovered fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) growing. She allows it to bloom and flower in spring and once the blooms fade, she mows the patch just as she does the rest of the lawn. Love this!

The west slope, though, with its artfully placed stones and plants creates a sense of enclosure and expanse at the same time.

Unlike other parts of the garden where Mariana has planted beds masses of one or two perennials to great effect, the west slope is planted with a number of native plants in small pockets. The effect is stunning and such a nice contrast to the rest of the garden. It also provides an excellent way to really showcase smaller plants. As you pass by at the base of the slope, low growing plants like woodland stonecrop and foamflower are at eye level. A wild yellow indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) in full bloom beneath the canopy of a dogwood tree is eye catching. I always thought they really needed full sun but this proves otherwise.

Wild False Indigo

A little used native plant, false indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa), grows in front of a brick wall. Blooming now, its dark purply color tinged with specks of gold are really unusual. They can be gangly but the blooms are beautiful. In nature, it grows in moist areas and forms dense thickets.

window box of native wild violets

Convinced that native violets (Viola sororia) would be more popular if we only knew how pretty they are, Mariana filled a pair of window boxes with nothing but violets!

homegrown national park sign

Mariana added her garden to Dr. Doug Tallamy's "Homegrown National Park" movement. Hoping to share her enthusiasm with passersby, she hopes they may be interested in adding native plants if they knew the benefits and could easily find the plants.

Mariana's gardening knowledge has been super charged through her weekly volunteer days at Chesapeake Native Nursery. In the five years she has been gardening with native plants, Mariana has become more and more enthusiastic. That enthusiasm, combined with her trips to nurseries afar, led her to her latest effort with native plants.

She has started a nursery from her back garden! Wildflower Native Plant Nursery sells straight species perennials, ferns and grasses. Mariana takes great care and pride in these plants and every one looks robust and healthy. You can visit by appointment.

If you are new to native plants, Mariana will share what she knows and show you where the natives you are interested in are growing in her garden. Well, this makes it pretty easy!

What is Mariana's take away from all of this? Gardening with native plants is so much fun. Add a few native perennials and all of a sudden, your garden is filled with life!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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