Going, going, gone- Native
February 5, 2013By Nicole Juday
In my last post, I wrote about how after many years gardening I'm finally finding an enthusiasm for native plants. Not to say I haven't dipped a toe in the water, with a fondness for those woodland perennials like heuchura, tiarella, and maidenhair fern. But I admit that 'native plant' has tended to conjure either brown grass or weedy behemoths with inconspicuous flowers and marijuana-like foliage.
It took native plant expert Peggy Ann Montgomery to open my eyes to the possibility of exploiting brawny natives for their architectural presence. These robust plants are just what my vertically challenged garden needs, and here are three of her suggestions that I'm going to be using in my garden this year.
One of the few very tall woodland perennials is Actaea racemosa, formerly known as Cimicifuga before it recently underwent a name change. The five foot tall wands of white flowers seem to float above the fernlike foliage in midsummer. The foliage itself is attractive, and the overall appearance is delicate for a plant of this size. I'm going to put a couple of them behind the Annabelle hydrangeas in my shady front yard.
A plant I'm going to try sight unseen is Eryngium yuccifolium, the strangely named rattlesnake master. From photos and descriptions, this perennial looks like the horticultural equivalent of garden sculpture. The blue-green basal foliage resembles yucca, and stiff flower stalks grow to five feet. Many whitish-green thistle-like blossoms are held high, and the plant blooms from June to August, a long time for a perennial.
The fall-blooming perennial Vernonia can reach seven feet (the species) but there are more dainty varieties that top out at half that height, like the variety 'Iron Butterfly', which is still big enough to make a presence. Bright purple blossoms open in late summer, before the fall flush from asters and mums, but after most summer flowers are finished.
Oh, yeah. All these plants are tough, but particularly the Eryngium and the Vernonia. These two are happiest in dry soil, but will weather a hurricane. They don't care for compost, mulch, or rich soil, and have no other particular needs. The pollinators- bees, butterflies, other insects, and hummingbirds- love them.
Although I may have come at native plants more as a plant collector than an environmentalist, far be it from me to deny credit where it's due.