Thursday, December 13, 2012

Native Plants in My Garden

Mother nature as landscape designer, these are entirely natural and unplanned native "plantings".

This time of year it is easy to talk about the bones of a garden, its structure, or design. Walking in my garden a few minutes ago with Faithful Companion, it was easy to see a lot more, in particular the late fall natives with their seed heads that give me something to look at through the winter months.

This brought me to think about the large number of natives there are and how few many gardeners use in the design of their gardens. Natives are hard for landscape designers to put into a formal design plan. Natives are more the plant seen in a natural setting or seeded in a wild area. That many natives have a billowy form makes them a sure bed for a long border. The ephemeral nature of others makes their inclusion in anything other than a spring planting problematic.

Knowing the different genera well, a gardener who want to include natives into a formal landscape design has many to choose from that are often overlooked when developing a formal landscape plan.

I think a discussion of the pros and cons of several of the Upper Midwest's natives might aid those of you looking to incorporate more natives into planting this coming spring.

This Joe Pye weed benefits from early and often pinching of the central lead and axial leaders as they form. Pinching the central leader encourages each axial to develop a leader which will flower. If your first "pinch" is actually a 6" cutting from the main stem taken the end of May, beginning of June the cutting will root using rooting hormone. You can also easily root cuttings from turtlehead, native phlox, veronicas, and salvias, too. Multiplying your natives this way is almost easier than crown division and will increase you plants without sacrificing any bloom from the parent.

First, when thinking about plants and natives in particular, gardeners are often reluctant to pinch and dead-head natives. In any formal landscape design, a certain amount of staking, pruning, and dead-heading is a must. In my small yard one of the ways I use to manage my large collection of plants is through judicious use of my pruners. Doing so curbs many natives from their more blowsy and billowy natures. In this group that put out significantly more flower heads, develop a bushy structure, or will repeat bloom are coneflowers, tickseed, native phlox (the precursors of the tall garden phlox), most shrubs, Joe Pye Weed, asters, turtlehead, obedient plant (whether or not you consider it actually a native), salvias, and veronicas.

The not-so-obedient obedient plant is a plant that does well in mass plantings and can be pinched to encourage multiple blooming stalks.

Turtle head belongs in a group a natives that look good outside their bloom period. It has structure and a presence early in the season and is able to fill in the background of a border or formal planting.

Turtlehead in July, holding up its part in a border.

Later in the season, turtlehead seen in bloom. Blooming late,its glossy foliage and long-lasting pretty pink flowers make it a delight in the fall garden. Turtlehead suffers from few, if any pests, many times deer will not browse, or if they do, can be considered just another pinching and only serves to make it more floriferous.

Some plants straddle that line between what some call a native and other determine an early escapee, like the aforementioned obedient plant. These include filipendula, also know as queen of the prairie, echinecea purpurea (a native in much of the Midwest, but not actually here), plants that are cultivated selections of natives (think of all those colorful coneflowers and heuchera), and rudbeckia. (I will add to this list as I think of others!)

This plant is one I have seen listed in both the echinecea and rudbeckia genera, usually with the species name nitidia or lacinata. I have also seen it with a selected cultivar name 'Herbstonne' also, or referred to commonly as shining coneflower. It is a great back of the border plant sometimes reaching 7' high. It doesn't need dead-heading, it is a great fall food source for goldfinch.

As these plants are natives, they do not suffer from fungal diseases, nor insect pests overmuch. That they also serve as food for wildlife while note suffering from the forages is a clue about the pinching part of today's post.

Next entry, more on natives in formal garden design...

1 comment:

  1. I really like Joe Pye Weed, and have both E. maculatum and E. purpureum. The rest you mention I have not grown, though I have tried the Chelone glabra and not been very successful with it.