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Native Chesapeake Flowers: Lambent Lavender

A season of subtle glow

You may be ahead of me in knowing the definition of "lambent." It's a new word to me and seemed to so perfectly fit lavender flowers "glowing with a subtle radiance." That's what lavender in a garden seems to do. It is there in the background providing needed color but it doesn't necessarily stand out. Native lavender flowers can be had all season long in sunny and partly shaded Chesapeake gardens. These are listed in order of bloom.

blooming native iris

Dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata)

These short spring blooming iris are easy to grow and, in addition to blooms, short sword like foliage sticks around all summer and provides a nice shade of bluish green.  They are very short — around 6″ tall or so. In conditions they like, they spread into a colony.  These grow in sun or part shade and need medium moisture. If planted in sun, they will need plenty of moisture. These iris are fairly widely available. The flowers are often described as blue or violet too. I think it depends on the garden location, the plant and amount of sun they get. Blue, violet, lavender ... no matter what you decide, it's a great plant to grow.

American wisteria and Chinese wisteria

American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens)

The native wisteria picture above right is a woody vine that blooms in April and May much like the common Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis and floribunda). It does not grow as aggressively as Chinese wisteria and is said to be much easier to manage in a garden. It will still need regular pruning just like Chinese wisteria does. I have not grown it myself and get this information from the Mt. Cuba Center. The photo on the right was taken in their trial gardens. The flowers are a tad smaller and more than equally beautiful as Chinese wisteria. Importantly, non-native wisteria has become invasive — from time to time you can see it high in the canopy of roadside trees.

native bergamot close-up

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa):

This lavender bee balm grows in full sun to part shade, attracts pollinators and hummingbirds, can grow in dry as well as medium moist soils, and is fragrant. As with a number of native perennials, this does well in clay soils too. It grows to three feet high and wide. These flowers are so unique and a great addition to a summer garden.

Bee collecting pollen from native anise hyssop

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum):

Pollinators gravitate to this easy to grow, taller perennial. It blooms from June through late September. It is usually described as a full sun perennial but it also grows well in part sun and part shade in the central part of the Chesapeake watershed. I am not sure if that would hold true as you move up into Pennsylvania. Anise hyssop is also a great native substitute for lavender itself.

native liatris in bloom

Liatris (Liatris spicata):

Liatris also goes by the names blazing star and gay feather. This is a common and terrific perennial for adding structure and color to the garden. You may think of these as purple and some are more so than others. Liatris can be mixed into a flower bed or massed for a more modern architectural look. Because of their linear structure, these also look good even after the blooms have faded.

blue mist flower in bloom

Mistflower, sometimes called hardy ageratum, easily grows in sun or shade in average soils and blooms in August and September. It looks a lot like the non-native annual ageratum that is often sold at garden centers in spring. This small perennial, growing to 3’ high and wide, self sows once established, particularly in the moist soils it loves. The Missouri Botanical Garden calls it an aggressive spreader in some areas of the US so please be aware. Ours spreads though it’s very easy to remove from places where you don’t want it. I like its propensity to fill in blank spots at a time of year when not a lot is blooming.

Blue wood aster

Blue wood aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

This perennial blooms in August and September in full sun and part shade and in an array of soil types. The common name is blue wood but they look like pale lavender flowers in the landscape. This great fact sheet from the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia tells you all you need to know. Their website has tons of terrific information about native plants and much more. Asters are a great native substitute for traditional fall mums.

If you like lavender, there are lots of natives to light up your garden with subtle radiance. Enjoy.


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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