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Van Berkum Nursery: Members Making a Difference

by Leslie Van Berkum

One goal at Van Berkum Nursery is to provide perennials that we feel will help gardeners create more sustainable landscapes. We currently maintain three lines of native plants and one group of really tough perennials that stand the test of time.

Current and Former New England Natives

Our New England Woodlanders collection is made up of shade plants indigenous to New England, all of which are nursery propagated and grown here at Van Berkum Nursery. We also have a collection of Appalachian Woodlanders, officially native to the Appalachian area, but which do very well in New England gardens. The perennials in both of these collections are valuable additions for shade gardens and naturalizing backyard woodlands. We encourage folks to buy native plants that are nursery propagated, versus wild collected, so that we are not depleting the natural populations of our lovely native perennials.

Dodecatheon meadia

There are many wonderful native perennials that are indigenous to areas south of here, but do very well in our New England climate, too. The theory is that these plants grew in New England before the last ice age. When ice cap went down to the Delaware Water Gap, it took our plants with it…the nerve! These natives have not made it back up here yet, so we have put them on the Appalachian Woodlanders list.

Meadow Perennials

Van Berkum also grows a line of meadow plants to go along with our Woodlanders. The New England Meadows line is made up of plants, both open pollinated and horticultural selections, that are indigenous to the New England area and which grow well in meadow conditions. Since our region is not home to many indigenous meadows, consider these plants for use in garden situations.

Helenium autumnale ‘Moerheim Beauty’

In the New England Meadow line, we do use cultivars. Most of our customers are working with ornamental gardens, not mitigation projects. Since there are so many good cultivars available in the sun meadow lists (think monardas, eupatoriums, asters, etc), we felt that it would be a mistake not to include them. Most of these plants started as chance seedlings in someone’s garden and happened to have a great flower color, growth habit, or disease resistance. An attentive gardener noticed it and started propagating it from cuttings or divisions, thus cloning these traits.

These meadow plants are perennials with native genes, and once in the garden, they will flower, seed in and spread mixed seedlings. We also offer some of the American native meadow plants that originate in the west but are suited to our climate as well. They are not included on this list because they are not indigenous to our area.

Only the Toughest and Most Care Free

Recently, Van Berkum introduced a new plant collection called Wicked Ruggeds. Resulting from a brainstorm of Peter van Berkum’s, Wicked Ruggeds are a mixture of native and non-native perennials. The idea behind this series is that as more newly bred plants are introduced into our plant palette, the line between long-lived perennials and annuals is becoming blurred. Many of our customers are asking for long-lived perennials that rarely need dividing and that can be used in massing.

Astilbe chinensis ‘Visions in Red’

We have thought hard about the plants we grow, and we have been ruthless about what we have left off the list of Wicked Ruggeds. These are the really tough plants that, when given the correct conditions, will thrive over the long run, seldom need dividing, and won’t need picky deadheading. Keep in mind that a lot of the other plants we grow will last in the garden for a long time, but will need dividing every four or five years to look their best. We have not included these. Also, a lot of great plants we grow tend to be somewhat short lived, but will seed-in reliably and give a lifetime of beauty, such as Aquilegia, Corydalis lutea, and Campanula persicifolia. We have not included these either. Wicked Ruggeds are perennials that you can plant in a specific place and that will thrive with minimum care.

We feel that the plants in all four of these perennial collections help us create more sustainable gardens. When gardeners site plants correctly by using native plants in their indigenous habitats and/or by using plants that thrive for a long time with less care, then gardeners use less water, less money to replace perennials, and less time fussing over their gardens. Let’s hear it for more time to enjoy our gardens!

Van Berkum Nursery in Deerfield, New Hampshire, was begun in 1987. A long-time supporter of ELA, Van Berkum Nursery is currently forcing plant material for the ELA container garden to be featured at Boston Flower & Garden Show.