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Native Plant Garden Tour: A Little Bit of Country in the City

Drifts of Keystone Perennials Dazzle

native goldenrod in urban garden
Fireworks Goldenrod in Early Morning

It's no surprise a gardener who grew up walking in the woods would become an avid nature photographer. It might be a surprise that all of her photography takes place in a City though. Website developer Danna McCormick is a very close watcher of the flora and fauna of Rock Creek Park which she chronicles on her inspiring IG account.

Danna also has gone all in with natives in the backyard of her City house. Working with professional landscaper Nancy Sainberg of Enchanted Gardens who advised Danna on which shrubs to add, Danna has added to her perennial palette a number of native shrubs at the edges including black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), elderberry (Sambucas nigra), winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) all of which will create a buffet of berries come fall. A walk through the rear garden of the 1/8 acre lot feels a lot like a bit of a walk in the countryside. Dana added many of her native perennials three years ago. She says this year they have truly lept -- all coming into their own this summer.

native perennials in urban backyard

Clouds of blooms burst forth in late summer. Imagine the stairs from your deck beckoning with this view every morning! Danna says seeing pollinators and birds respond in droves has been absolutely thrilling!

urban backyard with native perennials, shrubs and trees

The back garden is anchored on one side by an old dogwood (Benthamidia Florida) and on the other by a redbud (Cercis canadensis). These understory trees were planted sometime ago under the canopy of a limbed up, large tulip poplar tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) by a neighbor. Danna started with the same ornamental plants many of us have in our gardens: peonies (Paeonaia) and hostas (Hosta) near path edges, a climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomola) on the garage and acuba (Acuba Japonica) shrubs beneath the dogwood. She has filled in the space with as many native perennials as she can pack in and the results are pretty and powerful!

asters, black eyed susans joe pye weed late summer urban garden

Substantial drifts of asters yet to bloom, surrounded by black eyed susans (Rudbeckia fulgida), stalks of downy skullcap (Scutellaria incana) seed heads and coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and joe pye weed (Eutrochium purpurea) flowers create an enticing spot for pollinators and birds.

native slender mountain mint in bloom urban garden

Danna's newest addition is narrow leaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium). This is a great choice next to perennials like fireworks goldenrod. (Solidago rugosa "Fireworks') Most goldenrods are strong growers and mountain mint is as well so they should make good neighbors.

blue mist flower, bluebeard and joe pye weed in urban garden

This grouping of blue mist flower (Conoclineum coalistinum) and joe pye weed surrounding non-native bluebeard (Caryopteris) was buzzing with bees. The hues of blue and and blush pink glow. Bluebeard is a late blooming ornamental shrub from Asia with very blue flowers. A good native substitute would be anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) native to midwest prairies.

Danna's garden exemplifies so many of the principles of sustainable gardening. The results are powerful ecologically because she has planted several keystone species, those with extra ecological benefits: rudbeckia, goldenrods and asters (asters). Look at all the seed heads she has left for the birds. Danna has also let plants grow where they want to, like the blue mist flower. Letting plants grow where they self seed and thrive is one way to use less water (and less time!).

And if you look at Danna's choices of perennials, they are all pretty strong growers making for good companions. One exception are cardinal and great blue lobelias. Those are called short lived perennials. They do re-seed happily when in ideal conditions, moist soil with full sun, but might need replacing every few years when planted with the likes of strong growers like joe pye weed, goldenrod, bee balm (Monarda) and asters.

path in a small urban native garden
An Elderberry Shrub Anchors the Bed at the End of the Path

In late summer, this is a loose and flowing garden. If it were too loose for your taste, you can always turn to "cues for care" -- a term professional designers and gardeners are using to describe easy steps you can implement to show your loose and flowing garden is intentional and cared for. Cut back plants overhanging paths and walkways; cut back dead stalks of plants and lay them down in between upright perennials so the seeds are still available to birds; add a sign to tell everyone this is a pollinator garden; and perhaps place a container or two near an entry or focal point to add structure to the space.

It's hard to imagine anyone not recognizing the beauty of a space like this though! Danna is pretty focused on creating more space for natives. Sounds like the peonies may be headed elsewhere. And if you want to follow her eye for nature in Rock Creek park, check out her Instagram feed at Rock Creek Images.


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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