Native Plant Narratives: the Artistic Garden in Spring

This is a secret garden!

native cross vine blooming on arbor
Cross Vine

My friend and native plant gardener, Alice, describes herself as a late comer to native plants. I say she is an artist whose palette is native plants. The results are enchanting. There are so many ideas to borrow from her garden.

Native plant garden

Growing Many Species


One is an approach that defies traditional garden design advice to place plants in groups of odd numbers, 3s, 5s, or 7s, to create mass of color or texture. While Alice employs this technique in a few places, she also uses single plants to incredible effect. She does this so well that the diversity of species in her row home garden far exceeds that of many much larger gardens.


native plant garden

This Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), just to the left of one of two garden paths adds fragrance and fresh greens in late spring and early summer and brilliant color in fall. Virginia sweetspire is easy to grow in sun or shade. It naturally grows in moist areas but will also grow in average soils. It is very versatile.


soft rush and rain barrel

A common rush (Juncus effusus) nestles up against the rain barrel. This very vertical plant thrives in consistently moist soils in full sun. It grows up to 4 feet in height. The Missouri Botanical Garden suggests planting it in pots sunk into the ground to contain spreading if that is a concern. In warmer areas, this plant can be evergreen.


oakleaf hydrangea bud

An oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) adds an ethereal lushness to the back garden at dusk. Oakleaf hydrangeas particularly lend themselves to being planted as a focal point. Their papery winter bark, slowly unfurling leaves in spring, summer blooms and radiant maroon and red fall colors make oakleaf hydrangea a plant for every season.


native sedum

Three leaf stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), our native sedum, naturalizes along a path. This low growing, evergreen sedum thrives and spreads in conditions it likes -- either sunny spots with a bit of moisture or in drier soils in shadier spots. Small white flowers bloom in spring. It needs absolutely no care.


native carolina allspice just past peak bloom

Peak bloom for this Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) was earlier in the season yet fading burgundy flowers still add color. In the fall, foliage turns yellow. This is an easy to grow shrub that can take full sun or filtered shade though it blooms best in sun. It also grows in a range of soils. Many descriptions of this plant describe a fruity scent though not all have that scent.


Alice also has a southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), a dogwood (Cornus Florida), a drooping laurel (leucothoe fontanesiana) and many native perennials growing in her back garden. Using so many species, scientists tell us, is a good way to create habitat. It has also enabled Alice to exceed the recommended threshold of planting 70% native to achieve a garden that effectively supports insects, pollinators and birds. To read more about the 70% native goal, please click here. Now, that's an accomplishment!


Espalier


As a trained pruner, Alice is espaliering a native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) with ease. This is looking absolutely terrific. When the papery yellow blossoms appear in December, this will be magical.


Planting a Slope


Slopes in small row home gardens can pose challenges. Grass on an angle can be difficult to mow and often times, people resort to ornamental pachysandra or allow invasive ivy or vinca to take hold. Alice's front garden offers an array of alluring alternatives.


Several Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides), Allegheny pachysandra (Pachysandra procumbens), and dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) in the foreground, all ground covers that work in shade, have contrasting textures, making the small slope stunning. A redbud tree (Cercis canadensis), two summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) shrubs, and liatris (Liatris spicata) add blooms through spring and summer.



The low growing cultivar of eastern red cedar "Grey Owl' (Juniperus virginiana 'Grey Owl') is perfect for this narrow slope along the steps to the house. The shrub requires virtually no maintenance and stabilizes the slope while adding color and texture.


Editing

This garden works so well because it is perfectly edited. Gravel paths and spaces between plants allow your eye to rest. Then again, Alice forged a career as a television producer so editing might come naturally! To visit this garden in fall, click here.


Whether you are editing, espaliering or doing some armchair gardening, Alice's garden abounds with artistry, ideas and inspiration for us all.




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.

Pachysandra-procumbens.jpg

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.