In this blog I will write about my experiences of using North American native plants in the residential landscape in the Mid-Atlantic US. In particular, I will focus on working with Native Annuals and Biennials and how they can add surprises to the garden.
My wife and I are fortunate enough to have a friend who invites us up to their cottage in Mid-coast Maine at the end of the summer. For the botanist in me, this is a native plant wonderland, especially since I am more used to seeing invasives and exotics in my suburban landscape habitat. I would love to have this kind of native plant diversity around my home.
Most of the easily identified plants were late summer and fall blooming species; however I could pick out some early bloomers, like bluebead, Clintonia borealis. Up around the cottage and the nearby woods I found a variety of goldenrods, including silverrod, and asters and drifts of hairy Solomon’s seal, wintergreen, sweetfern, and maple-leaved viburnum.
One goldenrod I particularly like is the Blue-stemmed Goldenrod, Solidago caesia, since it grows well in shady locations – a good way to add some brightness to an otherwise dark location.
Mixed in with the Viburnum were seedlings of striped maple, Acer pensylvanicum, which has similarly shaped leaves, but they are about 4 times larger.
Along the gravel access road I spotted some indian cucumber root, Medeola virginiana, which I think is more striking in fruit than when it is actually in bloom. The plant shown is about 18" tall. Also along the road were masses of witchhazel, Hamamelis virginiana, which I had never noticed before. This is probably due to my learning more about what plants look like, than would be the sudden appearance of full-sized shrubs. Witchhazel is one of the latest blooming native shrubs, here it is mid-September and the flowers were just beginning to open. In colder climates these shrubs bloom while the foliage is still attached, in warmer places the flowers may persist until after leaf drop.
A little deeper in the woods I identified a new plant for me, round-leaved dogwood, Cornus rugosa. At first I though it was another viburnum, since it had opposite pairs of leaves, but the leaves were decidedly un-toothed, so I dug a little deeper into the field guides. This looks like it could be a nice understory shrub to grow in the shade under pines.
Next to the pond near the cottage there are thickets of winterberry holly, meadowsweet and maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina). It took me a long time to ‘key out’ the maleberry, since I had never seen it before. This shrub grows in moist and sandy places and has flowers similar to blueberries. I originally had it as different shrub, leatherleaf, but some things about the description in the guide just didn’t seem right, particularly the dried flower clusters. So I kept at it using some other guides. It is ‘dangerous’ to use just one key or a limited set of observations when identifying unfamiliar plants on your own. If you are conflicted about a plant ID, you may have it wrong. This process can be tedious, but going through the details helps me remember the plant better than just reading what it is on a tag.
Popham State Park
We also made a trip to the beautiful sandy beach at Popham State Park, not far from Bath, ME. Of course I went in search of wildflowers. Here you see the aptly named seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) growing right out to the edge of the rocks. I also found some stunted New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) growing on the rocks a little closer to land.
Back at the cottage, there is some room among all these wild native plants for a small ‘cottage garden’. I was told that it took all summer for these sunflowers to reach maturity, growing from seed, but they made it none the less. Every time I visit here I learn some new native plants. Maybe next year I will grab my fern guide and venture a little deeper into the woods to see what’s growing there.
After about 20 years working in the field of organic chemistry, I decided it was time to start a second career. I have always had an interest in things botanical, especially species that are native to a particular locale. I decided that the best way to follow this interest and educate others about the wonderful plants that grow in their own region was to train to become a landscape designer. I completed the Landscape Design certificate program at Harvard's Landscape Institute in 2009 and have since launched my own business, Adams Garden, where I do both design and residential landscape maintenance.
In 2012 I moved to Knoxville, MD where I am continuing to evaluate native plants and work on removing invasive plants from the property.
In addition to use of native plant species, I am also engaged in creating natural habitats and the use of sustainable practices in both design and maintenance.