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Natives in the Cutting Garden: Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

A pollinator palooza!

swallowtail butterflies native phlox paniculata 'Jeana'
Phlox Paniculata 'Jeana'

The cutting garden at Hillwood in northwest Washington D.C. is filled with natives and so many ornamental perennials, dahlias, annuals and more! If you haven't been lately, you might be surprised to find so many perennials and natives too.

Horticulturalist and volunteer manager, Drew Asbury, told me he has added lots of perennials and bulbs over the past five years, transitioning away from blocks of warm season annuals previously featured. His goal: get to 80% perennials. Drew says the idea is "to plant fully with an array of perennials and bulbs and then interplant or seed annuals between the perennial base. Layers!"

native plants layered with ornamental perennials
Rudbeckia, Joe Pye Weed & Asters Among the Layers

Those layers are party central for pollinators. The cutting garden was a veritable disco for bugs -- well, as much as a garden in the early morning can resemble a disco. The move to perennials opened up the opportunity to add natives, most of which bloom in late summer. Drew says the spring cutting garden relies mostly on non-native perennials and cool season annuals.

path in the cutting garden at Hillwood

Drew also says the cutting garden is also 100% pesticide free and has been for the past few years. "By adding all the perennials and natives we've created some nice habitat for all the good bugs out there to control the bad bugs so we don't need traditional pesticides anymore."

Low growing wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) edges a wood chip path in the cutting garden. I recently planted this in our tree lawn, between the sidewalk and road, and so far it it is blooming steadily in those fairly harsh, full sun conditions. Mt. Cuba says it grows best in sun but can tolerate filtered shade and while it grows best in dry, well drained soils it can also do well in moist soils.

native mountain mint

Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) borders a grass path. Next to the dazzling colors of the cutting garden, mountain mint looks almost white. Such a cool contrast.

ratllesnake master

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccafolium), a taller perennial growing to five feet or so, needs full sun and can grow in a range of soils including clay, adds texture to bright flowers.

phlox paniculata 'Jeana' native perennial in bloom

The phlox 'Jeana' (Phlox paniculata 'Jeana') had so many pollinators visiting, it was hard to get a photo of just the plant! This cultivar of phlox found in Tennessee is well known for coming out on top of a Mt. Cuba trial as the best performing phlox and the top attractor for butterflies. It grows in full sun and blooms from late July through September. It seems to be widely available at garden centers this year. It is also available by mail from Plant More Natives.

native honeysuckle vine

Native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) adds a whimsical touch to formal lamp posts.

The beauty of all of the flowers and pollinators is awesome. Grab your favorite beverage at the snack bar and find yourself a favorite spot to soak it all in! Drew is all in with natives. In his spare time, he is the principal of Drew Asbury Garden Design, where he consults, designs and plants native gardens for clients in parts of DC and Maryland.

The best news ... there are more natives at Hillwood. Drew tells me Hillwood recently planted a 100% native garden in the matrix style just below the parking decks. I completely missed that! Please do check it out. Drew says his gardening colleagues "are also busy removing massive sweeps of english ivy and pachysandra in other parts of the garden and replanting eclectic combinations of ground covers and flowering perennials - some native, some not."

I feel like the phrase "this is not your father's Hillwood" should go here. But perhaps, in recognition of Mother Nature, it should be "this is not your mother's Hillwood!" The thing about gardens is they are always evolving. These changes at Hillwood are evolving and inspiring. I think Mother Nature might say "Go gardening team go. I can't wait to see what you do next!"


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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