Native To Know: Cardinal Flower, Lobelia Cardinalis

Cardinal Flower1 Native To Know: Cardinal Flower, Lobelia Cardinalis

Photo Courtesy of: BigDan


The Cardinal Flower is a bright, brassy North American native plant that grows up to 3 or 4 feet tall, and sports spiked torches of blood red blossoms!  In the last several years this Lobelia has gained popularity in garden centers, and home landscaping, but it’s use around the house can go much farther than just as the back row of a wildflower bed.

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Red Osier Dogwood; ‘Red Twig’

red twig branch Red Osier Dogwood; ‘Red Twig’

We all like to have winter color, and there’s nothing more Christmas-y than the bright red branches of the Red Osier Dogwood.  This great North American native bush has beautiful architectural quality to it, and the crisp winter sun will literally glow off of it’s  branches.

This great native alternative works well in soggy areas, and drainage gardens, and makes a bright addition to pond banks.

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Native To Know: Penstemon ‘Beard Tongue’

img 1629 225x300 Native To Know: Penstemon ‘Beard Tongue’

Native plants are notoriously tolerant of both the wet spring weather, and the droughts that stretch through the North American summer months, and Beard Tongue (Penstemon) is an airy example of drought tolerance that has the appearance of an English garden staple.

Penstemon comes in hundred of cultivars, but the original native varieties generally are sold under the name “Beard Tongue.” A full or partial sun perennial, this plant is easily grown from seed, or as a live plant.  It does well in naturalized areas near woodlines, or in meadow since it doesn’t need too much water to thrive, and fits in well with other formal garden plants like Lavender, Roses, Daisies, and Purple Coneflowers.

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Native To Know: The Oregon Grape Holly

img 15781 1024x768 Native To Know: The Oregon Grape Holly

Originally gaining popularity with New Englanders after the Lewis and Clark expedition brought seeds back from the Pacific Northwest, this little known plant will dazzle you with it’s unusual shape and year round color and interest.

What You’ll Love:

  • Blooms in January! The Mahonia holds on to it’s large clusters of yellow blooms, from January through March or April, adding welcome color to the winter garden.
  • In the summer and fall the former yellow flowers become heavy draping fruit clusters in bright blue and purple hues.
  • This is a great “go anywhere” shrub, thriving in full sun to heavy shade.
  • This plant is almost completely immune to all pest and disease problems, and is one of the top five plants that botanical societies recommend to plant in areas with known Crown Gall infestation, due to its imperviousness to the bacterium.

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Native Landscaping Plant To Know: River Birch

img 0482 225x300 Native Landscaping Plant To Know: River Birch

The River Birch is a wonderful native North American Tree that won widespread recognition in 2002 as the “Tree of the Year” from several several national Arborist societies.  Easily found now in most local nurseries, this riverbed native is now a favorite as a street tree in urban settings because of it’s hardy nature, and drought tolerance.  River Birch are fast growing trees, that max out in height at about 50-70 feet tall over the course of about twenty years.  They provide excellent shade in the summer and fall months, and beautiful peeling bark through the winter that varies in shade from red, to peach, to purple.  

 What You’ll Love:  

This tree is remarkably resistant to Borer insects, and a wide variety of pests and diseases.  The peeling bark of the tree lends itself to softening the appearance of urban structures, and can add a woodsy appeal to a variety of yards. 

What It Gives Back To You And Your Yard:

River Birch is an excellent choice for areas that need erosion controlling plants, be it a hillside, or a stream bed area. These thrive in drainage swales, and moist areas on your property that may drowned or be too boggy down other garden plants. If you are looking for a fast growing shade tree this also makes a great choice, and can help you cut down those summer cooling bills when planted around a house.

What It Does For The Environment:

Aside from being a “greener” ecological alternative to foreign bred plants, this tree  provides food for deer, who eat low growing foliage, while the seeds of the plant attract songbirds.

For a great, easy care tree for your yard or local park, see if the River Birch will meet your needs, and you will be amazed at all it can give back to you.

My Native Plant Spring Project



img 1326 My Native Plant Spring Project

I’ve been a little antsy for warm weather to start for some time, and this year I’ve converted a baker’s rack in my office at work into a greenhouse nursery for native plants to help me get a jump start on some habitat restoration goals I set for myself! This spring and summer I’m growing five varieties of Maryland native wildflowers from seed to begin a new wave of improvements in naturalized spots that I safeguard – many of which are in desperate need of beneficial plants, and a few aesthetic points!

The two Maryland counties that I work in require all developing properties under construction to set aside a fraction of their land as either virgin woodland, or designated  Reforestation Area.  Most of these Reforestation Areas in the suburbs happen around the borders of communities, or around sewer water retention ponds, and walking paths. At the initial time of construction, landscape architects develop these areas and fill them with native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses, and after a few years of healthy growth many of them take on a rather scruffy natural patina that many people enjoy as a contrast to the manicured lawns and gardens nearby. Like other areas after construction, Reforestation Areas are sometimes stripped of topsoil in the building and creation phases of a neighborhood, and little other than grasses end up surviving in the fill-dirt left behind. I’ve been working on and around several pockets of protected reforestation land for several years, and trying to strike a balance the desires of homeowners who want to visually improve the areas with their own garden plants, and the state law, which requires zero human interference here, and it can be a difficult balance to strike.

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Native Landscaping Plant To Know: Arrowwood Viburnum

container idea mile a minute trees and shrubs 001 225x300 Native Landscaping Plant To Know: Arrowwood ViburnumArrowwood Viburnum, is one of the plants on my “bullet-proof” list, that I recommend to everyone, no matter how green their thumb!  A native North American tree growing naturally from Canada to Texas, Arrowwood Viburnum can be used as either a landscaping tree, or a pruned hedge shrub.

What You’ll Love:

  • This is one very hardy plant, with pest and disease resistance.
  • It thrives in full sun exposure, partial sun, or total shade areas.
  • It can be planted in wet areas, or dry areas.

What It Gives Back To You And Your Yard:

  • Spring: The tree’s blooms are highly visible clusters of white flowers, that attract butterflies, and hummingbirds.
  • Summer: What were blooms in the spring, are now large clusters of blue berries, that feed birds, and look great in table arrangements.
  • Fall: The foliage darkens before it falls, in bright red, orange, and yellow color, adding beautiful color to your yard.

What It Does For The Environment:

  • Like all trees it helps remove carbon dioxide, and provide cleaner air.
  • Fulfills the growing need in developed areas to return beneficial native plants to naturalized, and backyard areas that have been disturbed by construction, and may be falling prey to invasive species.  (Exotic invasive species come from other countries, and often overtake native material, robbing local wildlife of suitable food sources, and habitat, and humans of recreation areas)
  • Provides a natural food source for everything from butterflies, and hummingbirds, to mammals.  This can lead to fewer animals hunting for food in your vegetable patch, or trash bin.
  • Provides an ecologically “greener” way to landscape, with what is consistant in, and suited for the conditions in North America.
  • Adds to the overall health, and beauty of your local ecosystem.

Your Thoughts: I’ve included a picture of my own Arrowwood Viburnum, which is doing really well this year, and is covered in berries.  Have you tried this plant and had success with it, or have you found your own favorite “bullet-proof” plant?  Let me know!

Expanding Your Arbor Choices: Trellis Blackberries

summer 08 riderwood pix 014 225x300 Expanding Your Arbor Choices: Trellis BlackberriesThis year, I wanted a change!  Instead of planting traditional arbor plants around the trellis’ in my front yard, I wanted something a little more substantial, that would feed both myself, and the songbirds I’m desperately trying to attract to my city home!  As part of my “green journey,”  one of my goals is to use multi-purpose plants to provide food, beauty, and function in my garden, while fitting into the tight space I have allotted to me.  I also want to use native plants as much as possible, to support the local eco-system, and to save myself time and money, by planting plants that are known to be hardy in my location.

When I first moved into my current house, my family brought me a tiny Blackberry plant that was a descendant from the crops of my great-grandparents farm in Maine.  Knowing how hardy the American native Blackberries are in my little section of the East Coast, I was excited that the first addition to my new fruits and veggies patch be a low maintenance plant. Happily burdened with the historical significance of the plant, I made sure it lived through the droughts of last year, and that it provided me with enough berries to top a celebratory Ice cream float!

This year, with all the rain we have been receiving, the plant was growing so fast I could hear it’s progress through open windows, so I decided to do something a little unusual with it.  I placed it in a raised planter with a square framed trellis around it, and taught it to climb up the sides, weaving it through the arched top as well, to provide me with maximum berries, with minimal thorn pricks.  Generally, Blackberries grow on sturdy stems that are covered in thorns from all sides, so harvesting berries from the interior sections of the plant can be tricky.  The stems, left on their own in the wild, will grow in three foot arches, which only means that it is a solid, woodier, and easily shaped trellis plant, than many non-native plants available in garden superstores.  Blackberries need no tying up, or excessive fiddling, to keep it attached to the trellis.

With Trellis Blackberries, I can do three key things:

  1. Provide Food: I can maintain a smaller part of the shrub for my own food harvesting, in a bed raised above the reach of mammals, and protected by netting from  birds,  while leaving the upper portions of the plant on the trellis available for birds.  This attracts the wildlife I want to my yard, providing them with natural food sources that don’t cost me a cent!
  2. Add Beauty: Spring and summer, the plant sends out clusters of small white flowers, that once pollinated, will provide fruit through the late summer. This translates into visual interest around the arbor from spring through summer.  The shrub, also is a hardy one, that provides a solid, and easily maintained green color from early spring, through late fall.  It also will attract pollinators, and songbirds to your yard, which makes gardening all the more enjoyable, and “green,” providing for the local eco-system.  This is a great way to keep your berry bushes neat and tidy too, if you are working with a small yard, or even a balcony garden.
  3. Fulfill A Function: The native Blackberry works well in fulfilling it’s roll as a an arbor plant, providing seasonal greenery, without the care that comes from “training” up other flowering-but-floppy arbor vines.  A trellis provides greater, and easier access to the fruit as well, since the plant is growing on a structure, and not just in a tangle of thorny branches.

I’m happy with what I’ve harvested so far this year, and I’m encouraged to be able to add home grown blackberries to my summer food supply.  Being an outdoorsie person too, I hope that the nutritional benefits of the berries will not only meet my dietary needs, but also fulfill a roll in my overall health, and skin care regimine.

Your Thoughts: Have you tried any new ways to incorporate fruits and veggies into your garden design?