Sunday, June 25, 2017

Natives in the Garden

Black cohosh (Actaea
racemosa) in a pot
with petunias.
A friend of mine has a most beautiful garden set alongside a native woodland that is naturally rich in a diverse assortment of native plants. I have known Debbie for many years and have long enjoyed visits to her garden - an inspiring mix of native plants, non-native garden perennials, and a robust vegetable garden.

It’s one of the finest examples I’ve seen of combining these types of plants together in a pleasing and harmonious mix. I hope it will inspire you to bring more native plants into your garden.

The lot is spacious and quiet, characteristics that certainly attracted Debbie to it. During construction, she stopped by often to check on the progress. One day, one of the workers commented on what an amazing diversity of native plants were on the property, and he pointed to a fly poison (Amianthium muscitoxicum) plant, calling it a native hosta. It is a very special plant indeed.

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) naturally
grows near water so the pond is perfect
Blazingstar (Liatris spicata) is a pop of
color against the lush native ferns

She began to research native plants and found the Georgia Native Plant Society. She attended meetings and started going on plant rescues. Connections with people were made and her knowledge grew. She fell in love with native plants as many of us do and incorporated them into the garden that she created in her new place. For example, Trillium, pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia), and broad beech fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera) create a carpet underneath a Japanese maple. Daylilies mingle with tall rue (Thalictrum pubescens), native azaleas (Rhododendron sp.), and bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata).
Bowman's root (Gillenia trifoliata)

A rescued native azalea (Rhododendron sp.)

Several years ago, I featured some of her talents in a blog about container gardening with native plants. Her ability to design and implement creative containers is amazing and the garden is sprinkled with them.  It’s hard to pick favorites, but the containers with pitcher plants (Sarracenia sp.) are very creative and I like the ones where she's made the container herself.

Plants thrive in her garden. Several uncommon plants that she’s rescued from construction sites have not only survived, but they have thrived. This week there is bunchflower (Veratrum virginicum) blooming next to the pond. In some cases, beautiful plants like phlox and foamflower are seeding out - dare I say? - like weeds!  I simply must go back and help her with that ‘problem.’

Bunchflower (Veratrum virginicum)
Canada lily (Lilium canadense)

The vegetable garden stands tall next to a mixed perennial bed of coneflowers, clematis, Stokes’s aster, salvia, native lilies, and hibiscus. The insects attracted to the perennials help pollinate the edibles. She pointed out the small caterpillars turning the hibiscus leaves into intricate lace forms; hopefully the birds are feeding some of those to their chicks, but the hibiscus will soon bloom regardless.

This lacy Hydrangea arborescens is a rescued plant.
A butterfly visits her coneflowers
(Echinacea purpurea)

A robust shrub border is filled with colorful native azaleas and lacy smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens), many of them from rescues. She recently reworked the front of the house, replacing flowering cherry trees with a grouping of serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), a favorite with birds. Native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) spills happily over the brick mailbox, an invitation to hummingbirds to explore further.

American bell clematis (Clematis viorna)

If you’re thinking you’d like to add more native plants to your garden, dive in. They pair beautifully with non-native plants and vegetables too, usually helping to better attract the pollinators that you'd want for all your plants.

Adjust the mix to suit your growing preferences, as Debbie has, and enjoy it every step of the way.


  1. South of Grant Park we have a school garden. The only water source is rain and runoff from a parking lot. We have swales (ditches) that lead to ponds. We will put sand filtration systems to capture and clean water from ponds. Also we would like to put native bog plants into the ditches, swales, to further pull toxins out of water that runs from pavement to ponds. Do you know of full sun native bog plants that can be used? Also where can we get them?

    1. Pamela, I suggest you contact or visit the Native Plant Botanical garden at GSU, Decatur campus (formerly Georgia Perimeter Garden). Also research native rain gardens which can handle both wet and dry conditions (as rain comes and goes). You can use the search function on this blog (upper left corner) to find posts about the Decatur garden and rain gardens.