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Chesapeake Native Gardens: Unique Flowers & Front Door Plants

These need to be right by your house!

native service berries along a path
Serviceberry Trees Along the Front Walk of Ellie's Garden

Front door gardens can be tricky places. You want your entrance to look good. First impressions and all. A while back, I visited Ellie Altman's garden. Ellie, now a published poet, made a point of showing me the benefits of planting shrubs with three seasons of interest near the front door.

I thought of this recently as I moved a young native witch hazel from a far corner of our small garden to a spot closer to a window. I had planted the witch hazel in front of a large evergreen with the idea that the dark background of the tree would highlight the papery yellow witch hazel blooms in front. Yet, for the past two years, I completely missed those blooms. This year, working ahead, I moved the shrub to the front of another evergreen closer to a kitchen window. Turns out, not close enough! I noticed the blooms only by chance one day. The flowers had likely been there but were not visible from the window even though I peered out each day in anticipation.

There are just some plants that are going to need to be right outside the front door or a window! My two candidates for this are witch hazel and Carolina allspice. Both native shrubs have utterly unique flowers and often times fragrance as well. They are just too special to not pass by daily when in bloom.

Witch Hazel

Common Native Witch Hazel Flowers in November
Common Witch Hazel Flowers in November

Native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a late fall - early winter bloomer. Also called common witch hazel, it grows as a shrub or small tree in part shade and sun. The blooms are completely cheerful in cold weather. You can read more about witch hazel here. It's easy to grow and versatile in terms of soils. It also takes well to pruning. You can really shape it anyway you like.

Carolina Allspice

Carolina Allspice Flower along a branch in May
Carolina Allspice Flower

Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus), a late spring bloomer, also grows as a shrub or small tree. These dramatic flowers punctuate shrub stems when in bloom. Carolina allspice also grows in part shade or sun and tolerates a range of soils. This shrub has glossy green foliage in summer and yellow fall color.

Now, you will not find a lot of experts recommending these large shrubs or small trees be planted very near your house or front door. First, if you are not a pruner, they can become too large in scale for the front of many homes. Second, there is the remainder of the year to consider. When out of bloom, they both look fine but are not exactly the world's most eye catching. Remembering Ellie's advice about three season of interest, these have one, maybe two seasons of interest.

So the question is, is this your special plant? The one that speaks to you the most and you really want to see up close? For me, these two definitely are. Gardeners are nothing if not creative. These plants can be successfully located so they are up close and personal. Where there is a will, there is a way!

For you enthusiastic and hardy gardeners, you can still find these shrubs for planting now (so long as your ground has not frozen). Direct Natives has three sizes of witch hazel available by mail. Bona Terra, Kollar Nursery and Unity Church Hill Nursery show both witch hazel and Carolina allspice in stock. Please note Kollar is temporarily closed through December 8th for inventory and maintenance.

As for me, I'm going to leave my plants where they are for now and use these wonderful early wintery days to ponder their best locations. They are my special plants, after all. Do you have special plants? Please do share.

Happy winter pondering or planting!


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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