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Native Plant Garden Tour: Rodgers Forge Row Home

Just how much garden can you get in a small space?

row home native front garden

This garden is what you get when two people bring their own passions for gardening to the same home. One worked a summer landscaping job in college, spent time in Seattle, the gardening capitol of the west coast and the other began with an affinity for house plants that grew into more. Now they have combined efforts to create a garden home I learned about through the exciting efforts of the Green Towson Alliance. The Alliance promotes planting with native plants in Towson and this garden was voted best small garden this year.

native perennials in front of row home

Kara and Craig are two most enthusiastic gardeners! As I walked toward their home, I could see from a block away which one was theirs. The exuberant flowers gave it away. Puffs of purple iron weed (Vernonia angustifolia), red cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), black eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), Culver's root (Veronicastum virginicum), liatris (Liatris spicata), blue false indigo (Baptisia australis), coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) announce that gardeners live here. The front garden, once filled with ornamental pachysandra, is now a riot of color, pollinators and happiness.

hand stacked stone wall

The slope has been terraced with some remarkably sturdy stacked stone walls Craig built. Using what he learned on that summer job combined with some You Tube videos, he stacked several low walls, creating tiers of level ground for the plants. He says it was easy! That may be, but these are professional quality stone walls.

sensitive ferns along side steps

Native ferns including sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) on the lower right mingles with ornamental autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) planted to the right of the front steps let you know that every square inch of garden space is utilized here. I was still enthusing over the front garden when Kara said we need to show you the back.

native and vegetable garden mosaic

Wow - did they ever! We exited through the back kitchen door on to the deck over looking the rear garden. Kara and Craig have used every inch of space in a way that invites you in, is spacious and accommodates a generous lower seating area, an extensive vegetable garden, a treasured non-native lilac (Syringa vulgaris) from a family farm, a native perennial bed, a shed and sunflower hedge. Kara was the original gardener here. She contended with a flat backyard with few plants and a very tired silver maple. After having the tree removed, she transferred her love of houseplants to the outdoors.

native perennials in row home garden

Today this labor of love and fun is truly stunning. The native plant bed is something worthy of a country garden: turtlehead (Chelone glabra) and anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) in the front, the next layer is obedient plant, behind is the fireworks wrinkle leaf goldenrod (Solidago rugosa 'fireworks') getting ready to bloom, and in the very back, the striking seed pods of Carolina lupine (Thermopsis villosa). To the right, a volunteer clump of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) grew into a tower whose height has surprised even Kara and Craig. Other natives are tucked here and there. A mountain mint (Pycnanthemum icanum) looks just right in an urn.

native plant garden and patio

Every year they talk about which garden projects they will take on the next season. This year, they decided that while they like sitting on the back deck looking at the garden, wouldn't it be cool to be

able to sit in the garden. Faced with every square inch already allocated, they couldn't bear to give up a portion of the vegetable garden or the bed of their beloved native perennials. Craig, using the aesthetics of urban gardens he had seen in Seattle, set to building a vertical structure to grow tomatoes and beans. By moving the veggies to a vertical space, they freed up an area for this lovely new patio, also installed by Craig.

And this garden just keeps on going. At the very back of the lot, is the shed and space open to the alley. A contemplated parking pad has instead been filled with Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia). At about eight to ten feet high, the hedge of sunflowers delights and blocks out the alley completely. Future plans include a native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) in this area.

This garden reminds me of something the well known gardener, educator and British t.v. garden show host Monty Don recently said. After touring US gardens he was asked to compare gardens in the US to gardens in the UK. He said something along the lines of Americans are really good at recreating outdoors and connecting to nature whereas the English excel at creativity in their home garden. When you look at the front of a house in the UK, it never tells you what amazing garden you will find behind. Well, I think Kara and Craig are giving the Brits a run for their money!


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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