Natives Beyond Naturalizing

by Susan Barbier

“I thought a nice line of Boxwood flanked by Gold Mop Cypress and skirted with Blue Star Juniper would be great for this property. I pitched that to the client and they loved it. I’m sending my guy over now…”

Several years ago that could have been a typical conversation here at Planters’ Choice Nursery, but in recent years we’ve noticed a demand for a much more diverse plant palette, which thankfully includes many native plants. Education, common sense and organizations like ELA have played a large roll in getting the word out there that Native Plants aren’t only for Remediation, Retaining Basins, or Wetlands. In their recent newsletter last month there were several articles pertaining to the integration of native plants in the landscape…and we’d like to chime in with some of the favorites we grow.

Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantisima’ (Red Chokeberry)

aroniaYou’ll get two seasons of interest with Red Chokeberry (one more season than most!) White flower clusters open mid-spring and are followed by brilliant foliage; then bright red fruits appear in fall. Birds love this feature, but they’ll wait until they are fully ripened before eating them, often not until after winter. Red Chokeberry is adaptable to many types of soil, wet and dry conditions, and sun to partial shade. Large groups will give you an incredible fall show.

Carex pensylvanica  (Pennsylvania Sedge)

CAREX PENSYLVANICA Pensylvania SedgeSedges are wonderful grass-like plant to know. Many clump-forming varieties are appropriate for borders, and others, such as Pennsylvania Sedge, can even make an interesting lawn-like groundcover with its April flowers adding extra pop. Most sedges need moister soils, but this one is quite drought tolerant.

Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ (Summersweet)

CLETHRA ALNIFOLIA RUBY SPICE SummersweetWhen it comes to summer bloomers we’ll take pretty much what we can get, and summersweet is on the ‘A’ list! It has quickly become one of the go-to shrubs for wet, shade, and seashore, and it is also quite adaptable to drier sites. ‘Ruby Spice’ produces fragrant spires of soft pink flowers showcased in its glossy green foliage – surely adding a bright spot to any foundation or border planting. Oh, we should mention that it’s a late spring leafer, but who cares with a summer show like this?

Fothergilla gardenii (Witchalder)

fothergillaSpring is on the horizon so be on the lookout for swelling buds of Fothergilla. This shrub’s zig-zag branches have a nice bud display right now. The white bottlebrush flowers will open in April. It’s a long-lasting display that extends from the bare-branch stage until the leaves unfurl. The fall color is a riot of bright yellow, orange, and red on this medium-sized shrub making it a great addition to a sunny or partially shaded site. Craving an early spring? Cut some branches in February for indoor forcing – it’s a breeze!

Gaultheria procumbens (Wintergreen)

GAULTHERIA PROCUMBENS WintergreenGreat gardens are good from the ground up and this evergreen groundcover could be just what your site needs. The glossy evergreen leaves of Wintergreen begin to turn shades of red at the first sign of cold. White flowers open not just in spring but throughout its growing season developing into bright red berries lasting into the winter. They’re great in the ground and for dressing up your seasonal containers. Interesting fact: they were the original source for wintergreen oil.

Itea virginica (Virginia Sweetspire)

ITEA VIRGINICA Virginia Sweetspire.croppedThis is one graceful shrub, and like Clethra it has fragrant white flower spikes in summer, but the added merit with Itea is the fall color, often bright orange-red. Plant in full sun to partial shade at a site with moist soil, and you’ll see why we love this plant. It’s great to use in shrub borders, foundation plantings, or massed.

Myrica gale (Sweetgale)

MYRICA GALE SweetgaleMany of you are familiar with Northern Bayberry (M. pensylvanica) and Sweetgale is its shorter cousin. It has the same fragrant foliage, tolerates wet soils, and is also super cold hardy. Myrica has no showy blooms, but small reddish flowers borne in catkins make an appearance in spring. Its low and sprawling habit lends it to massing in hard-to-plant wet areas.

Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’ (Fragrant Sumac)

rhus aromaticaHere’s a low-growing Sumac that’s been a hit for tough sunny sites. It may not be suitable for foundations, but give it a go along driveways, parking lots or grouped on hard-to-mow hillsides and you’ll be rewarded with an unusual groundcover with outstanding fall color.

Natives are now easier than ever to source with more and more quality nurseries adding them to their list of offerings. Including them in your residential and commercial plant palette makes sense as long as the site conditions are favorable. So be on the lookout for native plants at your local nursery, and if you don’t see them there, give us a call!

About the Author

Susan Barbier provides customer service at Planters’ Choice Nursery, a grower and re-wholesaler located in Newtown and Watertown Connecticut.  Planters’ Choice offers an extensive, and growing, line of ornamental and native plants and is open to landscape professionals only.

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