Writer/garden designer Rick Darke, famous for his knowledge of native plants and advocacy for sustainable gardening, grows a mix of native and well-adapted nonnatives in his own garden. In an earlier post I showed off his favorite, most reliable nonnatives, the ones he recommended in his recent talk for Unity Gardens.
But what about natives? A follow-up email to Rick resulted in this great list of some of his “most favorite natives that my wife Melinda Zoehrer and I grow in our Landenberg, Pennsylvania garden. All have proved truly durable – meaning that they last for many years (or even decades) without replacement.”
White wood aster Aster divaricatus (for taxonomic splitters, this is now Eurybia divaricata) – the single most important semi-deciduous ground cover “workhorse” in our garden, also beautiful in flower. (Photo right above.)
Virginia bluebells Mertensia virginica – a true blue flower and – it has persisted for decades despite root competition from trees including river birches. plays nicely with white wood asters, Christmas ferns, snowdrops, wood tulips, many others. (Photo left above.)
Christmas fern Polystichum acrostichoides – the single most important evergreen ground cover “workhorse” in our garden many ferns are among my favorites but these especially: marginal wood fern Dryopteris marginalis – reliably evergreen, fine texture, clump forming; cinnamon fern Osmunda cinnamomea – three serious seasons of interest; maidenhair fern Adiantum pedatum – surprisingly hardy despite its apparent delicacy; New York fern Theylpteris novaboracensis – so useful as a low shade and drought tolerant deciduous ground cover. (Photo left above: Christmas fern. Photo right: Cinnamon fern.)
Witch hazel Hamamelis virginiana – four seasons of interest, can be maintained indefinitely at almost any size by continually editing out older stems. (Left photo above.)
Beech Fagus grandifolia – my favorite of all trees, anywhere in the world. the new spring green of its foliage is unequalled autumn color is also spectacular one of the best trees for wildlife. (Right photo above.)
Alternate leaf dogwood Cornus alternifolia – flowers, berries, fall color, and a pagoda-like form and horizontal structure one of THE best small trees for sustaining birds and other wildlife
Flowering dogwood Cornus florida – still a perfectly viable choice as long as it is planted with adequate sun and air movement, which usually eliminates problems with anthracnose disease.
Redbud Cercis canadensis – best local small native tree for spring flower color. (Photo above.)
Ironwood Carpinus caroliniana – overlooked because flowers are subtle, but the horizontal branching, small stature, sinuous bark make it an ideal small tree for many garden spots.
EASTERN NORTH AMERICAN NATIVES
Possumhaw Viburnum nudum (especially the cultivated variety ‘Winterthur’) – wish it was more tolerant of dry but it will take soggy soils fall color and berries are beautiful and bring numerous birds. (The photos above show its full-grown height at just 4-5 feet, and on the right, its fall color.)
Woodland wild oat Chasmanthium latifolium – tolerates full sun or dry shade, self-sows but not a problem in unless the garden is over-irrigated.
Sweetshrub Calycanthus floridus (especially the cultivated variety ‘Michael Lindsey’) – my favorite fragrant native shrub. (Photo left above.)
Sweet pepper bush Clethra alnifolia – my second favorite fragrant native shrub what a joy to have fragrance in summer. (Photo right above.)
Large flowered two-winged silverbell Halesia diptera var. magniflora – even showier than the mountain silverbell, this southeastern US native is a full-sun species, very heat-tolerant. (Photo above.)
Mountain silverbell Halesia tetraptera – this was planted in the now-100-year-old Olmsted park I grew up playing in in north ‘Jersey, and it remains my favorite of all North American flowering trees. (Top photo.)