Free planting templates
I often find getting started is the hardest part of many projects. I was recently reminded how true that is for gardening when a Master Gardener from Newport News wrote to me about a fantastic project she is working on with her fellow gardeners: a "Getting Started" kit tailored specifically to Virginia coastal gardens. This sounds like a terrific idea and I hope to be able to share it when it is ready for prime time. In the meantime, her note jogged my memory about another excellent resource: Maryland's Department of Natural Resources "Green Book for the Buffer."
The PDF manual has 24 specific native planting templates beginning on page 31 for all sorts of situations from dry sun to moist shade to everything in between. Want to attract frogs? There is a plan for that. Love the color violet? There is a plan for that. Turtles? Ditto!
While these plans were designed for shoreline property owners, they feature native plants that work across the watershed. Some of the plans are for smaller areas and some for larger. Each of the plans can easily be scaled up or down, though, by proportionally adding or subtracting numbers of each plant depending on your situation. The plans are straight forward and feature plants that are, for the most part, widely available from nurseries.
The spring plan, best suited for filtered shade and soils with some moisture, is one of the simplest and perfect if pink and purple are your garden colors or you are just getting started.
The eastern redbud tree (Cercis canadensis) is one of our iconic spring trees and amps up your garden in every season. Spring buds emerging are a sight to behold, Heart shaped leaves on the graceful understory tree add peaceful texture all summer long. Fall color and seed pods will add to your fall garden. It's hard to go wrong with a redbud!
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is so bright in fall. Purple berries pop against the chartreuse fall color of its leaves. Beautyberry shrub can sometimes grow in a haphazard manner. To get a more uniform shape, you can cut it back to 12" or so in late winter or early spring. Since it flowers on new growth, you will not cut off buds. Also, while this planting plan is best suited to filtered shade, beautyberry usually produces more berries in sun. To ensure profuse berries in filtered shade, you could substitute coralberry (Symphoricarpus orbiculatis) which produces pink berries and grows best in part shade.
Pink native azaleas, piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens), pink-shell azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi), pinxter bloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides) and rose-shell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) are each amazing in their own right. Though not evergreen like the ubiquitous ornamental azaleas from Asia, their shape, subtler coloration and graceful flowers make them very distinctive and beautiful.
Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) is a perennial said to be easy to grow. It is on the shorter side, at one to two feet in height and blooms with magenta colored flowers through summer. I have not grown this but plan to try it. Please know there is also a "hardy geranium" widely sold in garden centers that looks almost exactly the same but is native to Europe and Asia. To ensure you are purchasing the native, either buy from a native plant only source or check for the latin name "geranium maculatum" on the tag.
Whether you are planning a pink and purple spring garden or not, I do hope you are able to enjoy this magical time across the Chesapeake!