English Garden Style: Landscape Designer Adds Native Plants!

Barbara Katz, London Landscape Design and her amazing garden.

native bluebird aster in bloom in english style garden

How does a landscape designer who trained with one of England's premier 20th century garden designers and worked installing "English" gardens all over garden crazed London begin adding native plants to her own award winning garden in Bethesda? With great intention! Professional Barbara Katz continues to design and build gardens 35 years in. Recently, she worked with famed designer and plantsman Piet Oudolf to develop his meadow at Delaware Botanic Gardens. Serendipitously, she now lives in a home with a garden she designed for a client. As Barbara does, she was involved in every facet of the planning, design, hardscaping installation, plant selection and planting at this garden project. When that same client later called to let her know the home would be put on the market, Barbara and her husband jumped at the chance to make it their own.

native wood's purple aster and ornamental variegated iris

This garden is stunning. Built on a steep slope enveloping the rear of the home, attention to detail was a must. Despite the challenging site, the resulting garden featuring a waterfall, stream, ponds, patio for entertaining and a circular grass lawn surrounded by exquisitely selected plants makes quite the calling card for London Landscapes, Barbara's own landscape design build business. A short visit to the garden is akin to taking a mini-vacation. The sounds of cascading water, the early morning light falling on the many artfully placed plants and the birds take you away. When Barbara said she added native plants to her garden, I was thrilled to have the chance to visit and share her thinking with you. Make no mistake, Barbara doesn't believe in using only natives. Barbara has traveled to gardens all over the world and just loves, and knows, plants. She believes every plant has its place.

An ancient white oak (Quercas alba) reigning supreme over the rear garden was one of her highest priorities as water drainage issues from surrounding properties emerged. Experiencing flooding and plant loss, it was time to rethink plants and water management. As she reminded me so eloquently, gardens are all about perpetual change; they are never static.

That's why, when the drainage patterns in her garden did change, she leapt at the chance to do something different, add some native plants. Barbara focuses on pollinators with her plant additions.

bluebird aster and fireworks goldenrod in bloom

Visiting in September, the asters and goldenrod accentuated this sunny slope so perfectly. Planting in groups like this is the answer for those who say they want natives, but not an informal meadow. Barbara's plantings show fall asters and goldenrod don't have to be totally loose and casual. She chose aster 'Bluebird' (Symphiotrichum laeve var. laeve 'Bluebird') and 'Fireworks' goldenrod (Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks') for their structure. Barbara gives the 'chelsea chop' to the goldenrod in mid May to help keep its structure stout.

blooming native flower Turtlehead 'Tiny Tortuga' surrounding bird bath

Pink turtlehead 'Tiny Tortuga' (Chelone lyonii 'Armitpp02' Tiny Tortuga) artfully dances around a bird bath.

Another of Barbara's favorites is Stoke's aster (Stokesia laevis). While the flowers have faded, the architecture of the plant still stands. Her favorite cultivar is 'Mel's Blue' (Stokesia laevis 'Mel's Blue') for its upright habit and ability to bloom till November! Barbara has also planted closed bottle gentian (Gentiana clausa), that curious native flower that buds but never opens. She allowed Hyssop-leaf boneset (Eupatorium Hyssopifolium) to spread a bit on one part of the slope. The airiness of the boneset near the ornamental variegated iris is such a great texture contrast.

The same contrast is repeated here along the stream but with aster 'Wood's Purple' (Aster 'Wood's Purple'). Sublime.

native fireworks goldenrod
fireworks goldenrod, a phlox paniculata in the middle and phlox paniculata 'Jeana' in back

Barbara is thrilled with Phlox 'Jeana' (Phox paniculata 'Jeana'). Hers was still in bloom in September. She said it bloomed for three months this year. Hard to beat that for a flowering perennial!

cultivars of native helenium in front of ornamental blue spruce

Another favorite native perennial Barbara thinks is underused is helenium, often called sneezeweed. Mt. Cuba Center agrees and did a trial on many of the cultivars. Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) is the straight species and there are many, many cultivars like these above. Sneezeweed does not make you sneeze; rather, historically a snuff was made from its crushed leaves -- another native plant in need of an image makeover!


The blue spruce back drop emphasizes colors in the flowers. The use of evergreens throughout the slope both highlights flowers and creates Barbara's winter garden.

willow leaf sunflower 'Autumn Gold' in bloom

Barbara is also a big fan of willow leaf sunflower 'Autumn Gold' (Helianthus salicifolius 'Autumn Gold'). a fall blooming perennial sunflower that only gets 3 to 4 feet tall. It has a much neater structure than some of the taller perennial sunflowers. This is a cultivar of a perennial sunflower native to the Great Plains. Barbara says It is covered with the smallest bees and has a much neater habit than many taller perennial sunflowers.

hedge of native Virginia sweetspire

A hedge of Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) edges a soggy border. Note the unique soft brown color of the deer fence. After much research, Hercules Fence was the only company able to provide this softer color, an alternative to black.

decorative water rill handmade form Mexican pebbles

Turns out Barbara is not the only artist in the household. Her husband Howard, an architect, designed and built by hand, this narrow swale to channel water along an edge of the patio.

As you might expect, every detail of this garden is exquisitely chosen. That's why I am taking Barbara's suggestions of favorites to heart!



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.