New neighbors have been asking me what native plants I recommend, and could they please see them in my garden? What a great idea! Seeing them in nearby gardens is much more helpful than consulting lists of plants native to the region, with the focus so often on benefit to wildlife rather than to garden-making.
So I was happy to show them the native plants growing well in my gardens right now, contributing greatly to the overall beauty of the scene. I found 16 of them that I can recommend, with a few thoughts about growing them.
The plants listed are all native to most of the U.S., including Maryland where I am, except where noted.
Shrubs and Small Trees
I’ll start with the plant group I recommend planting first because shrubs and small trees contribute the most to creating a garden and they take a few years to develop.
Honestly the choices in shrubs that are native in our region are slim, especially ones that are really beautiful. (I have a Fothergilla in an out-of-sight spot and also not listed here because after it blooms it’s not much to look at.)
Of the two really gorgeous native shrubs I’ve ever ever grown, the Oakleaf hydrangea is actually a near-native, as its range in the Southeast only extends as far north as the Carolinas. They’re fast-growing and stunning all year – thanks to amazing fall color and cool exfoliating bark in the winter. I have three in my back yard; this one is full-grown and I tie it up to the privacy screen in back of it.
Ninebark is a shrub I’ve fallen for big-time. The spring flowers are nice but the real impact here is this fabulous leaf color – all season long. I’ve planted several varieties, including this ‘Diablo’ at a building I adopted.
I get lots of questions and compliments about this Redbud ‘Rising Sun’ in my back yard. I first saw one at a public garden and immediately set out to find one. Redbuds may not be long-lived but this one is sure worth it.
Perennials for Sun
Butterfly Weed is another new favorite of mine, filling a need for orange in my life I didn’t know existed! (In this photo it’s sandwiched between ‘Ogon’ Spirea and Nepeta.) They take two or three seasons for them to look this good.
Maryland’s State Flower is Black-Eyed Susan and sure enough, this ‘Goldstrum’ variety, with its long-lasting, cheerful blooms, thrives in every way, including spreading like crazy. Seriously, I’ve found it necessary to segregate them from other plants.
Here it’s growing with a white Coneflower – maybe this variety, which also thrives in this sunny spot with no help from me.
The Purple Coneflower ‘Magnus’, however (seen here in a neighbor’s garden) barely survived in my garden and certainly didn’t multiply at all. I’ll keep the few that remain, though, for the show put on by Goldfinches feeding on their seeds.
Coreopsis has always been a do-er in my gardens. It thrives with no attention and has long-lasting blooms that repeat if I cut back the first flush after it fades.
Garden phlox is an old-fashioned but reliable plant in my gardens. If the leaves get mildew I’ll hack them back but so far, so good in this spot. They spread nicely – some but not too much.
Not everyone loves Spiderwort –some complain that it spreads too much – but I’m a fan. It disappears completely by mid-summer, though. So in my garden it supplements the main plants, rather than filling up the border on its own. (Photo credit.)
Amsonia hubrichtii is native to a very narrow range – just Arkansas and Oklahoma – but it does very well for gardeners here in the Mid-Atlantic. I’ve massed three of them in my back garden. (Click here to see them in a meadow with asters surrounding the Capitol Columns at the National Arboretum.)
About a year ago I planted three Little Bluestem ‘The Blues’ in an elevated, sunny spot in my front yard and they’re doing very well. Neither deer nor rabbits bother them.
Joe Pye Weed is a fabulous pollinator plant that’s so tall – 6 feet or more – that I opted for its shorter variety, “‘Little Joe’, which grows to just 4 feet here in my front garden.
Perennials for Shade
Wood Aster isn’t a high-impact plant like the others but I love how it combines perfectly with the Joe Pye Weed mentioned above. The aster comes up very early, blooms, then gradually falls over as the Joe Pye behind it finally appears and gets tall. It’s nice to see them complement each other rather than competing, as other perennial combinations will. Effectively, it’s shaded by its sun-loving neighbor. Here’s more info about it. Photo credit.
Golden groundsel has other common names – like Golden Ragwort – and is just as often called by the Latin Packera aurea. It spreads, likes dry shade, blooms for a long time, and requires no care. At first I planted them near some azaleas and hated the combination of bloom colors that resulted. I moved them to this azalea-free area.
Here’s my privacy screen covered with the blooms of ‘Tangarine Beauty’ Crossvine – aren’t they amazing? Reblooms will appear throughout the season. And just as important – it’s evergreen! – a very rare quality in native plants in our region.
Just last year I started a Coral Honeysuckle (often just ‘native honeysuckle”) and it’s not photogenic yet, but here’s a photo of one near me. My new, thinly flowering one is already attracting hummingbirds, though and I can watch them from my patio. So exciting!
It’s Okay to Want a Beautiful Result
When I recommend these plants I tell people they’re high-impact plants that will help make their yard look like a GARDEN, not just a collection of plants. And they’ll love them not just because they’re eco-friendly but also because they’re SO beautiful – especially two or three seasons after they’re planted. Patience is required, but very rewarded.
Where to find them? My answer to this question is good news – that they’re commonly sold at the regular garden centers near us. And for crissakes buy several and plant them as a group. Just one perennial is a sad sight to see.