Category Archives: native new england plants

Native Shade Plants for Woodland Buffers (Or..Why To Say No to Free Vinca!)

The exotic (non-native) Japanese Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis), Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor), English Ivy (Hedera helix) and Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) have long been staples of New England gardens for their shade tolerance and ground covering habit. Go to any garden club sale or plant swap in the spring and you’ll find these plants available by the bucketload — but if you live in the northeast US and have a bit of woods separating your property from your neighbors, think twice before bringing any of these plants home.

Vinca minor forms mats under trees, but can spread into nearby woods if not contained or blocked with edging or walkways. This small wooded buffer in Boston’s suburbs is completely covered with vinca which has crowded out the lady’s slippers, lowbush blueberries and solomon’s seal which once grew here.

Vinca minor forms mats under trees, but can spread into nearby woods if not contained or blocked with edging or walkways. This small wooded buffer in Boston’s suburbs is completely covered with vinca which has crowded out the lady’s slippers, lowbush blueberries and solomon’s seal which once grew here.

Because these plants spread aggressively by their roots or stems, when they are planted adjacent to moist woods in New England, they can quickly spread into the woodlands, choking out anything else that happens to be growing there and threatening unique and fragile woodland plant communities. English ivy and Wintercreeper also climb trees and can eventually kill them (not to mention the damage the  ivy can do to your house if you allow it to climb walls).

And once these plants are established in an area to their liking, good luck getting rid of them if you ever decide you’d like to plant anything else! Pictured below is a small woodland buffer in Sudbury, MA, highly valued by the homeowner for its summertime privacy screening from neighbors. The vinca, pachysandra and English ivy planted decades ago near the house have escaped into the woods and the homeowner is frustrated that the young trees are dying, and that she cannot get seem to get any other plants established here:

This client opted for professional removal of the invasive plants using a mixture of low-impact (non-herbicidal) removal methods and looks forward to establishing a woodland garden with plants such as trilliums, bugbane, wild phlox, baneberry, wild ginger and ferns.

This client opted for professional removal of the invasive plants using a mixture of low-impact (non-herbicidal) removal methods and looks forward to establishing a woodland garden with plants such as trilliums, bugbane, wild phlox, baneberry, wild ginger and ferns.

If you drive around the leafy outskirts of Boston MA, you might be impressed at the established trees, especially in older neighborhoods (more than 50 years old).  Many of the spaces between houses are heavily wooded — in New England, trees don’t need much encouragement to grow. But take a closer look at what else is growing under those trees. You’ll quickly notice those same few species of plants in just about every neighborhood.

You won’t see these plants on New England state invasive plants prohibition lists, simply because they don’t reseed themselves the way invasives such as Asiatic bittersweet do — by birds eating and dispersing their berries far and wide. They spread mostly from being planted in favorable conditions near moist woodlands. As so much of our region is now gobbled up by roads and development, those wooded buffers between homes are often the only wildlife habitat that remains in metropolitan areas of the northeast. Although birds might utilize the trees for their nesting opportunities and insect forage, a buffer taken over by invasives will lack most of the ecological benefits provided by a diverse understory of native woodland plants. For homeowners that understand that their yard plantings have an impact on the wider environment, a little effort to search out appropriate native plants will go a long way towards increasing the biodiversity and wildlife value of suburban yards. Not to mention, the results are much more interesting!

Woodland garden at New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA.

Woodland garden at New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA, with rhododendron, wild blue phlox, bloodroot, ferns, solomon’s seal and an abundant layer of leaf litter.

So, if you do border on moist woodlands, what are some “safe” alternative groundcover native plants to look for? Try the beautiful running foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), which is (mostly) evergreen and forms a thick weed-suppressing mat under trees:

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There is also a native pachysandra called Allegheny Spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) that hails from the southeast US, but grows happily in my zone 5 central Massachusetts garden. It looks a lot like Japanese pachysandra but its leaves are not as glossy:

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Early season foliage of Allegheny spurge is bright and green, and later in the season turns to a mottled pattern. It is not evergreen in my Zone 5 Massachusetts garden.

American Yew (Taxus canadensis) is a native yew that loves the cool, damp shade of New England forests. Unlike its popular Eurasian cousins that are standard as sheared foundation shrubs in the US (T.cuspidata, T. baccata, T. x media), this yew stays low (2-3′) and spreads up to 10′ from its base:

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Canada yew growing along a stream in Spencer, MA. It loves the cool damp microclimate of this forested north-facing valley slope.

Because it’s a deer favorite, wild populations of American Yew are becoming rarer in Massachusetts, as suburbia pushes outwards and deer populations soar out of control. Unlike other conifers, however, American Yew will resprout after being pruned (by deer or hedge-clipper), so if you live where deer populations are somewhat under control (or you are willing to put up deer fencing), the evergreen Canada yew is worth growing to help preserve local populations and genotypes.

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is another native that will fill an area in moist shade. It’s growing here at Garden in the Woods along with several types of fern and Allegheny Skullcap (Scutellaria serrata).

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More native eastern ground covers suitable for moist shade include mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) which typically grows in thick patches under oak trees:

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I don’t believe Japanese pachysandra or Vinca will disappear from our home landscapes any time soon, and admittedly, as long as they are contained, they should not cause much harm. A patch CAN be useful if you have dogs. Our border collie Speck hates the heat of summer and loves to cool off in pachysandra, which appears to bring him much relief. I have left one well-contained patch as his personal dog bed…

img_0503Read about my efforts to eradicate a large patch of pachysandra that spread into a nearby moist woodland area on my property in The Year I Shall Win the Pachysandra War. Several years later, I can attest that I have finally won this war (I only pulled a few persistent bits of root this year), and I now see native plants making a comeback.

This is a reprint of an article originally published in January 2014 at the now defunct Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens.

Growing Native Perennials from Seed

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Unlike many native perennials, Purple Coneflower is quick and easy to grow from seed.

Must be easy to spread yourself around when you’re a plant that produces lots of seeds, right? After all, look at what happens when kids blow the seeds off dandelions! Dandelions pop up everywhere next year!

Unfortunately, it’s an ironic fact of gardening life that whatever you are trying to grow takes some effort, whereas the plants that you don’t want (aka “weeds”) just seem to appear without any help from you.

Now, even though regionally native plants (if sited correctly) tend to be easier than exotic plants to grow in temperate climates such as New England, that doesn’t mean that they will necessarily establish and spread without some help from us. You can buy established container plants from native plant nurseries, but this gets expensive, plus many commercially available natives are cultivars – genetically identical clones that contribute little genetic diversity and resilience to the species as a whole.

Here’s where we hands-on, DIY gardeners come in, by helping nature along a little bit!

The beautiful Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is very rare in the wild, but is easy to grow from seed from existing plants.

The beautiful Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is very rare in the wild, but is easy to grow from seed from existing plants.

In an ideal world, our plants would bloom at the right time, be pollinated by the right kind of insect or bird, form seeds and fruits that ripen and are carried (again, by bird, insect or wind) to an appropriate location to germinate when the weather is just right. Some of them do, and if they survive the first year or two, may become established plants that flower, go to seed and continue the cycle.

In the real world, though, seedlings don’t have a high survival rate. Seeds that are not picked right off the stem by hungry birds might, if they have the misfortune to blow into a lawn or roadside ditch, be mown down repeatedly or doused with weedkillers. Some seedlings are crowded right out by vigorous exotic (non-native) plants that make up about 40% of the natural vegetation in New England. Other seeds will just never germinate, no matter what. Such are the laws of life, genetics, and human-controlled landscapes.

Native plants such as Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa) are often expensive to buy because they are slow to propagate from seed. Photo used by permission of Vincent Normand.

Native plants such as Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa) are often expensive to buy because they are slow to propagate from seed. Photo used by permission of Vincent Normand.

So what’s a native plant gardener to do, if they want large quantities of native plants? Why, collect seeds and grow your own, of course! You can help support local plant and wildlife communities and have a beautiful, natural native plant garden by collecting seeds from existing natives and growing and distributing the seedlings around the landscape via friends, family and fellow citizens.

Collect seeds from plants that are as locally native as you can find — in Massachusetts this usually means buying mature flowering plants from nurseries at New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden in the Woods (Framingham and Whately) or our small nursery at Turkey Hill Brook Farm (Spencer). Try to find local plant suppliers that propagate from local seed banks. Avoid buying seeds from foreign suppliers or even other areas of the country–-seeds may not be adapted to grow in your particular climate. You can also collect seeds from native plants that you’ve seen growing and blooming locally – but never take more than about 10% of a plant’s seeds for your own use.

If you don’t have a cold frame, sow native seeds in recycled clear plastic containers with lids and place outdoors for the winter to protect them from critters or floods.

If you don’t have a cold frame, sow native seeds in recycled clear plastic containers with lids and place outdoors for the winter to protect them from critters or floods.

Best Way to Sow Natives?

The easiest way to grow from seed is by simply allowing plants to go to seed and letting nature do the seeding, but you may have little success with this if your gardens are heavily mulched or lots of critters are present to dine on the seeds. Because most native plant seeds need an extended period of time (sometimes several years) before they will germinate,  you’re usually better off sprouting native seeds in a protected area outdoors, such as a cold frame or greenhouse, and letting them take the time they need.

Learn Your Seed’s Needs

Do some homework to find out whether your seeds have any special requirements for germination. For example, our native milkweed and bee balm seeds require at least one winter outdoors in a moist environment before they will sprout. Wild cranesbill seeds are hydrophilic and should not be allowed to dry out in storage. Seeds from wild senna and goat’s rue require scarification/scraping of the seeds to loosen their hard seed coats to allow for germination. I use William Cullina’s book Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada from New England Wild Flower Society, which lists germination requirements for each plant native to North America. Miriam Goldberger’s new book Taming Wildflowers also lists germination requirements for plants along with other tips for growing wild plants from seed. Prairie Moon Nursery has online germination requirements for the various native seeds that they sell.

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At Garden in the Woods, Trilliums and Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis) are sown in raised nursery beds where seeds can sit through several winters and grow until plants reach their flowering stage. At that time, the best selections are transplanted to the garden or potted up for sale in the nursery.

Rudbeckia and Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) are easy to grow from seed sown when they ripen on the plant.

Rudbeckia and Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) are easy to grow from seed sown when they ripen on the plant.

Easy Native Perennials from Seed

For your first attempt, try growing the following eastern natives from seed — fresh or dried seeds usually germinate easily without any special treatment (cold exposure or scarification) in New England:

  • Aster
  • Lobelia
  • Helianthus
  • Rudbeckia

Native Seeds that Require At Least 1 Full Winter Before Germination:

Most of our northeast natives will only germinate after being exposed to several months of cold, snowy weather….in other words WINTER. As moisture-filled seeds freeze and thaw through winter and into spring, their outer seed coats break up, signaling seeds to germinate when temperatures get warm again. Locally-evolved plants are smart — their seeds know better than to germinate too early and have their babies get zapped by the cold.

  • Liatris seeds readily germinate in spring after a winter outdoors in moist soil.

    Liatris seeds readily germinate in spring after a winter outdoors in moist soil.

    Asclepias (also needs light to germinate, sow seeds on soil surface)Aquilegia

  • Echinacea
  • Eupatorium
  • Eutrochium
  • Geranium (hydrophilic seeds, do not let dry out)
  • Goldenrod
  • Liatris
  • Monarda
  • Phlox
  • Pycnanthemum
  • Tiarella
  • Verbena
  • Vernonia
  • Viola
  • Zizia

Some native plants only germinate after multiple winter/spring cycles of freezing/thawing:

  • Trillium
  • Actaea
  • Senna*
  • Polygonatum* (hydrophilic seeds, do not let dry out)

If you start early by sowing seeds in fall or early winter after collection, you might be able to coax seedlings from these the first spring after sowing.

img_1422-300x265Winter Sowing in Containers

On our farm, my free-range chickens love to pick at seeds and scratch up seedlings in my plant beds, so I collect seeds from my best plants in fall and germinate them in recycled plastic containers with lids, to protect them until they can germinate and grow a little bit.

Here is the native plant nursery that lives on our patio from early winter and spring each year — by late spring, I transplant seedlings into individual containers or directly into the garden:

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To sow seeds in plastic produce containers, poke holes in the bottom and top of the container, sow seeds on a few inches of moistened seedling mix, water well, and place the containers outdoors for the winter. When warm temperatures arrive in spring and seeds begin to germinate, open the lids on warm days. When seedling roots reach the bottom of the containers, you can transplant them, either right into the ground, or into containers to grow on until they are larger.

Winter sown seedlings grown in containers will be tiny in their first spring, but very hardy! Unlike seedlings grown indoors, they need no hardening off after lids have stayed open for several days and nights.

More Info on Native Plants and Winter Sowing:

WinterSown.org

Winter Sowing FAQs at GardenWeb 

How to Germinate Native Seeds from Prairie Moon Nursery

This article is reprinted from its original posting in May 2014 at the now-defunct Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.

As Drought Continues…

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Our farm pond is the lowest we have ever seen it and most of the fish are gone. The continued drought is unprecedented in our own lifetimes.

We’re winding up another hot and dry growing season here on the farm, and the continued drought conditions have been a serious challenge. Despite a few storms that gave us a few inches of rain and filled the empty rain barrel, our barn well has been dry since July and our farm pond is more of a large puddle than a pond.

The pond is backup water for our farm animals, and a primary irrigation source for our vegetable gardens and my native plant nursery, so needless to say, we have tried to conserve as much as we can. The vegetables have needed frequent watering in this hot year, but the perennials, shrubs and trees all had to get by with what fell from the sky — not much!

So what’s a gardener to do to maintain lush gardens and landscapes in this new climate? As towns and cities begin imposing bans on the use of outside water and irrigation systems, choosing the ‘right plant for the right place’ is more important than ever now. Drought does provide opportunities to assess drought tolerance and resilience in our garden plants.

Here are a few of the drought-tolerant superstars of our own central MA gardens — native plants that seem to shrug at the heat, humidity, and lack of rain! These Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are still looking fabulous in mid-September:

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People scoff at this plant because it’s so commonly planted, but what else blooms for so long and requires such little care and attention?!

Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) also appears impervious to the drought, blooming along with White Wood Aster in partial shade and generally moist soil on the edge of our stream:

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This eastern native doesn’t require moist soil though — it’s also happily blooming on a high and dry hillside in full sun:img_5573

 

Canada Windflower (Anemone canadensis)

A 2-year-old patch of Canada Windflower (Anemone canadensis) (blooming at right in June) is spreading nicely despite the drought in a dry, shady spot. It makes an excellent alternative to Japanese Pachysandra or Vinca minor as a ground cover that grows in shade (read my thoughts on Japanese Pachysandra here).

Canada Windflower does spread by underground roots, so it’s best planted where it won’t interfere with nearby perennials. Under a tree or shrub is perfect:

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Canada Windflower growing in dry shade as a native ground cover, to replace the Japanese Pachysandra next to it.

The orange/yellow Helen’s Flower (Helenium autumnale) hasn’t skipped a beat since it began blooming in July, proving that this beautiful native perennial that grows naturally on pond shores does not require moist or wet soils to thrive:

helenium pond

Another name for Helenium autumnale is Fall Sneezeweed. Despite its name, its pollen is not allergenic for people, it is so named because it a dried powder of the plant was used by Native Americans to ease congestion by inducing sneezing.

The plant shown above is Helenium ‘Moorheim Beauty’, which is a hybrid of the native Helen’s Flower bred in Europe. Until recently, this and other cultivars such as ‘Mardi Gras’ were the only Helen’s Flower plants available in the nursery trade.

Seed-grown Helenium autumnale grown from seeds collected from central MA plants

Seed-grown Helenium autumnale grown from seeds collected from central MA plants

This year I am happy to offer the true New England native Helenium autumnale from my native plant nursery in Spencer, MA. These are seed-grown from seeds collected at Breakneck Hill Conservation Land in Southborough, MA, where we are in the process of planting several Pollinator Gardens. Their pure yellow blooms are so cheerful!

I’ll have some of these native lovelies for sale at this Saturday’s Harvest Fair on the Common in Leicester, MA. Look for the Turkey Hill Brook Farm tent next to the booth for Common Ground Land Trust!

 

 

Drought? No Problem. We’re Native.

Late-season-blooming New England Aster, central MA, September 25th

It’s been a challenging summer for gardeners in central MA, where we’ve barely had a drop of rain in months. In my own garden, (with the exception of vegetables and annuals), I only water plants during their first season in the ground — after that, they’re on their own to live on rainfall alone. So it’s been interesting to observe how my garden plants have done in this year’s severe drought. We’ve had dry years in our 11 years here at THB Farm, but this spring and summer’s drought has been unprecedented, with the underground well at our barn dry since July now.

Not surprisingly, most of the eastern native plants did just fine. They’re well-adapted to the vagaries of the New England climate, with some summers a washout and others dry as a bone. The late-blooming New England Aster (pictured above) grows wild in the moist meadows of the eastern US, but apparently it does not require moist soil to bloom and thrive!

Earlier this summer, the Monarda cousins (Wild Bergamot and the red-flowering Bee Balm) both appeared oblivious to the drought conditions:

Pink blooms of Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) in a summer with almost no rain

Pink blooms of Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) in a summer with almost no rain

We are so grateful for our farm pond, which we use to irrigate our vegetable plants (which are NOT native and NOT happy to live on rainfall alone!). But the native bee balm and Helen’s flower (Helenium autumnale) growing on the pond banks don’t receive a drop of irrigation other than rain, and they bloomed just fine:

Red Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) is native to moist, open areas in the northeast, but will thrive in ordinary dry soil, and attracts hordes of hummingbirds to its bright red summer flowers!

Red Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) is native to moist, open areas in the northeast, but will thrive in ordinary dry soil. Bee Balm attracts hordes of hummingbirds to its bright red summer flowers!

The Canada Goldenrod covered itself in its bright yellow flowers for almost a month, keeping a variety of small butterflies, bees and beneficial insects very busy foraging for pollen and nectar!

Canada Goldenrod is too aggressive for planting in gardens, but if you have a space where it can grow on its own, it's one of the best plants for pollinators, beneficial predator insects, and birds! Goldenrod does NOT cause hay fever, it is falsely accused for the wind-blown, allergenic pollen of RAGWORT, which is the real culprit in fall allergies!

Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is too aggressive for planting in gardens, but if you have a space where it can grow on its own, it’s one of the best plants for pollinators, beneficial predator insects and birds! Goldenrod does NOT cause hay fever, it is falsely accused for the wind-blown, allergenic pollen of RAGWORT, which is the real culprit in fall allergies!

Rudbeckia and Great Blue Lobelia (in the background behind the vegetable bed) are asking Drought? What drought?

Vegetables are still going strong well into September (even tomatoes and cucumbers) BUT they do receive irrigation from our farm pond.

Vegetables are still going strong well into September (even tomatoes and cucumbers) BUT they do receive irrigation from our farm pond.

Fall is here and I’m hoping all my garden friends have had a bountiful and successful season!  It’s not over yet though…fall bloomers are still providing late-season color and nectar for pollinators! Here’s our mist flower/hardy ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum, formerly classified as Eupatorium coelestinum) blooming cheerfully in late September without a drop of rain since late July:

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Conoclinium coelestinum is native to moist meadows from New Jersey southwards, but grows well in New England too. It forms stands from a spreading root system, so plant it where it can have a bit of room.

Fall is a great time to plant perennials and shrubs in southern New England — plant roots will have a few months to establish before the ground freezes. Consider including some drought-tolerant native beauties into your garden now for next year’s blooms, wildlife value and reduced watering needs!

 

 

 

Sneezeweed growing in the kitchen gardens at Salem Cross Inn, West Brookfield MA

Sneezeweed: All Smiles, No Sneezes

If you enjoy growing new and unusual perennials, take a look at the yellow-flowering Fall Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) for cheerful late-season blooms. Actually not new at all (only at nurseries), sneezeweed is a native plant that grows wild in wet areas across most of New England, providing nectar and pollen to butterflies and late-season pollinators.

Fall sneezeweed grows right on the edge of the pond at Garden in the Woods in Framingham MA

Fall sneezeweed grows right on the edge of the pond at Garden in the Woods in Framingham MA

Although a wetland plant in the wild, sneezeweed doesn’t require wet soil, and really shines in decent garden soils that aren’t too terribly dry. Long-blooming, sneezeweed (also called Helen’s Flower) begins blooming in August and continues right until a killing frost here in central MA (Zone 5).

And despite its name, Sneezeweed does NOT cause hay fever! Its pollen is heavy and pollinated by bees rather than wind (which carries lighter-weight allergenic pollen dust).

The native yellow-flowering Helenium autumnale is still very hard to find at nurseries (at least in New England), available only at Project Native (please hit Reply if you know of others!), although hybrids bred in Europe are beginning to become widely available in nurseries. The hybrids are bright and showy, usually with flaming orange-yellow flowers.

A note on hybrids and cultivars: On my own Massachusetts habitat farm, I’m moving from growing cultivars of natives (nativars) to growing locally-native plants — this is helping to maintain native strains with adaptations to local climate and co-evolved wildlife. Most sneezeweed cultivars such as ‘Mardi Gras‘ and ‘Moerheim Beauty‘ originate from European breeding programs. Depending on their seed provenance, they may contain some native genetic materials, but because they’re selected from plants growing in faraway garden climates, they may not be best adapted to local conditions, and there is no guarantee that they have the characteristics that local wildlife rely upon. Read more about the complicated issues of choosing native plant hybrids for wildlife value.

Sneezeweed growing in the kitchen gardens at Salem Cross Inn, West Brookfield MA

Sneezeweed growing in the kitchen gardens at Salem Cross Inn, West Brookfield MA

 

Native New England Shrubs for Pollinators: New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)

Thriving in lean soil and attracting the good bugs, New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) is a low flowering native shrub for full-sun areas of the garden.

Click below to read my profile of New Jersey Tea on Houzz:

Taming Wildflowers

IMG_3534On St. Patrick’s Day today, our farm is still buried in snow with not a bit of green to be found! Except for one bowl of lettuce greens under lights in our sunroom, and some mini-greenhouses sown with perennial and shrub seeds “cold stratifying” outdoors  (left), the only gardening going on here is in the dreams of the gardeners.

IMG_2632So last week when this beautiful book arrived in the mail, crammed with gorgeous photos of wild flowers … well, let’s just say it made this winter-weary gardener’s soul very happy!

Taming Wildflowers: Bringing the Beauty and Splendor of Nature’s Blooms Into Your Own Backyard (written by my friend Miriam Goldberger who runs Wildflower Farm in Ontario), is a beautifully-illustrated guide to growing a garden filled with (mostly) native North American plants from seed.

This book is a treat for garden book lovers who value style and substance. IMG_2643Open it to any page and you’ll find stunning photos of distinctive beautiful native plants that will make you long for summer’s color and abundance — along with detailed instructions how to grow 60 American native plants that don’t just look pretty, but also support dwindling populations of butterflies, pollinators and birds. Wonderfully designed, bound and produced using recycled paper harvested from sustainably managed forests, it was also printed in Canada, not in China like most illustrated gardening books — including my own!

Taming Wildflowers is a great resource for gardeners learning to grow plants from seed, with valuable information about specific germination requirements of each plant. If you’ve ever tried growing swamp milkweed or orange butterfly milkweed (pictured below right) from seed, for example, you’ll know that it’s not easy to get seeds to germinate — milkweeds seem to sprout only after the seeds have experienced an extended cold period. This book guides you through the whole process.

IMG_2637 butterfly weed

The photos of each plant at the young seedling stage are also very useful to natural-style gardeners — learning to ID young seedlings makes it easy to recognize the good guys (plants you want to encourage or propagate) from the weeds when you work in your own gardens.

I am generally skeptical of garden books that span the entire North American continent with their plant recommendations. Here in New England we garden in a totally different climate than other parts of the country, and plants that are native to other areas might be totally inappropriate for our changeable climate, OR potentially become invasive and spread out of control. For the 60 native American plants that Taming Wildflowers profiles, each plant description lists the states where the plant is considered native, so readers can choose plants that work in their own region. For eco-savvy gardeners that want to attract beneficial insects and pest predators, each plant also lists the variety of short and long-tongued bee pollinators, predatory insects, and even birds attracted by the plant’s flowers or foliage.

profusion zinnia container

Dwarf Zinnia ‘Profusion’, easy to grow from seed.

One chapter encourages the growing of “Non-Native Must Haves” — exotic easy-from-seed annuals such as Zinnia, Mexican Sunflower and Larkspur that are not currently considered invasive but are worth growing in North American gardens for their beauty and function. Native plant purists won’t approve, but as a self-professed ‘color junkie’, I enjoy adding colorful annuals in and around my veggie and flower beds to add visual impact and attract lots of butterflies and hummingbirds.

Miriam’s book is filled with inspiration and ideas for nature-scaping your gardens using wild plants and will appeal to wildlife gardeners, herbalists, and organic farmers looking for cheap and easy plants to attract predatory insects to their crops. One chapter shows brides-to-be how to plan a DIY Wildflower Wedding, with photos and ideas for using wild flowers in stunning bouquets, boutonnieres, baskets and table arrangements. I so wish this book had existed when we planned our (mostly DIY) wedding many years ago!

IMG_2636No matter where you live in North America, Taming Wildflowers will inspire you to recreate a bit of natural beauty in your own space. Although it looks as though we probably won’t see bare ground here in central MA until April, in the meantime, Miriam’s gorgeous book will continue to feed my dreams of sunny summer days and meadows filled with butterflies, birds and dragonflies…

 


 

 

Book Details:

Taming Wildflowers: Bringing the Beauty and Splendor of Nature’s Blooms into your Own Backyard

Author: Miriam Goldberger

Published by St. Lynn’s Press, Pittsburgh PA

194 pages

Published 6th March 2014

Available for $18.95 (US) at bookstores, or directly from the author at Wildflower Farm.

Disclosure: I received this book from St. Lynn’s Press as a review copy. I received no payment for reviewing the book, and my opinions are entirely my own! I’m always happy to spread the word about inspiring books that help DIY gardeners fill their space with site-adapted plants to feed their bellies, souls, and wildlife too!

 

Norcross Sanctuary – Hidden Jewel of Monson, MA

The small south-central Massachusetts town of Monson (population 3,800) is home to a nature lover’s dreamland, Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary. Free and open to the public – Norcross has over 1000 acres of fields and trails, beautiful vistas and an education center that offers free classes, tours and lectures throughout the year.norcross-little-bluestem-meadow-october-IMG_1016

I’ll be doing a free talk on Pollinator-friendly Landscaping at Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary on Saturday, February 23rd at 1.30pm. Reservations are required because space is limited – please call 413-267-9654 or email Leslie Duthie to reserve a seat.

It’s worth coming back to Norcross during the warm season though. Norcross covers an area of over 1000 acres, containing a variety of different natural habitats found across New England, including wet and dry meadows, ponds and streams, upland and wet woods, plus cultivated culinary, herb and rose gardens near the visitors’ center. If you’re looking for plant combination ideas and inspiration for your own garden conditions, a trip to Norcross is definitely worth the drive!

This white-flowering Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) grows in a wet meadow with the grass-like wetland sedge (Carex). This calming, pollinator-friendly combination is easy to replicate in a small area with moist to wet soil and sun:

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 Norcross is home to the biggest patch of black bugbane (Actaea racemosa) that I’ve ever seen.:

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A large old millpond on the property is being encouraged back into native shoreline plant communities. In summer, you can see the beautiful blooms of Plymouth gentian (Sabatia kennedyana), a plant native to freshwater ponds near the coast — now very rare in the wild due to development on New England’s coastline.

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In a small sandy garden near the visitors’ center is a stand of spotted beebalm aka horsemint (Monarda punctata), with its interesting pink/yellow stacked blooms:

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I long to grow this plant for its impressive blooms, but it prefers sandy soil, which we do not have here on our farm. If I can find seeds for it, I may try growing it on a sunny hillside where drainage is good, but I don’t have high hopes that it will ever look this good.

Because Norcross’s founder established it in 1939 as a wildlife and plant sanctuary, no hunting is allowed at Norcross, which puts the sanctuary staff in the awkward position of trying to try to protect native understory plants from being grazed out of existence from the abundant population of white-tailed deer.

Unfortunately, deer fencing in certain wooded areas has been the only solution to allow native “deer candy” such as trilliums, lilies, Canada mayflower and most woody native shrubs to flourish. In the rest of the sanctuary, deer have grazed most of the native understory layer out of existence, and careful management is needed by sanctuary staff to ensure that these areas don’t fill with invasive non-natives such as barberry,  burning bush and Asiatic bittersweet.

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Come visit the sanctuary, walk the trails, attend a free class or even take a free van tour of the sanctuary (pre-booking required). Afterwards, visit the town of Monson and stop for lunch. They’ll appreciate the business. Monson was hit very hard during the Tornado that blew a terrifying path across southern MA on June 1st, 2011. The photo below was taken over a year after the tornado hit — all the houses and trees on this hillside were destroyed. The homes have now been rebuilt, but it will be many years until the woods will fill in again.

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Use Your Weeds! Violets as Groundcover

IMG_9896_2It’s funny how people tend to hate violets so much..maybe because they seed into lawns? I know that violets can be voracious growers in some soils, but if violets grow in your yard, instead of scorning them as an unwanted weed, why not find a use for them? Violets are a native plant, pretty in bloom and beneficial to wildlife (it’s the sole host plant for fritillary butterfly caterpillars), so why not encourage them to grow in a spot where you need something low-maintenance to cover the ground?

DCF 1.0Common blue marsh violets (Viola cucullata) love the moist soil on parts of our farm and in places, they grow to epic size.

So….I use their weedy nature to my advantage…I transplanted clumps to use as a no-fuss edging plant for my raised vegetable beds:

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They bloom early in the year before the veggies are planted, but grow so quickly that by mid summer, as you can see, they cover the wooden edges completely:

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Another useful spot I found for blue violets is on the very edge of our horse paddock, just above the pond – I can’t take credit for this idea because nature planted the violets on her own, but it makes a perfect “filter” buffer to intercept horse waste (nutrients from manure and urine) and prevent it from leaching into the pond. I’m sure I couldn’t cultivate anything here and have it survive so a violet “border” is perfect – thanks mother nature!violets paddock weed

 

Later in the summer, the violets start to extend well into the gravel pathway but once a season we hack them back to keep the path open. I love when problems solve themselves with very little effort from me! That’s my kind of gardening..

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Common blue marsh violets mingle beautifully with other spring bloomers in moist soil near our pond. Whatever your soil type, there’s a type of native violet that probably thrives in your garden…