29 October 2022 – Today I learned:
about even more hardy native plants for New England gardens! I watched a 47-minute video this evening on Tough Natives for the Northeast at the Native Plant Channel (YouTube) from Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, ME, a favourite spot of ours for over 20 years. Andy Brand, horticulturalist there, takes viewers on a virtual tour of favourite rugged natives in the August garden. These plants should be hardy to USDA zone 5 at least (most to USDA zone 3 or 4), and many are fantastic attractors of pollinators. Brand briefly notes their sun and moisture needs and any special aesthetic or ecological features of the plants.
The last few years I’ve been buying almost all of my new plants from a small local native plant seller to fill in empty spots throughout an already fairly crowded garden here in mid-New Hampshire. Many of these plants are included on Brand’s list (I’ll note them below, for my own record and because, who knows, maybe you’re curious what’s in my garden), but he mentioned one or two I’d not heard of and a few I’d forgotten and want to remember for next spring’s ordering.
I encourage you to watch the video. Brand is economical in his descriptions and seeing the plants — seeing them moving in the breeze! — can really give you a good idea whether it’s something that would work well in your garden in terms of size, colour, shape, and texture. There’s a quick segment from about 40 to 42.5 mins on caterpillars and a brief mention of plants for hellstrips, and then Brand finishes up with the plant recommendations.
Here’s the plant list — I think I got them all, and they’re in the order he showcases them:
Ruella humilis / Wild Petunia or Prairie Petunia. This is one I hadn’t heard of.
Schizachyrium scoparium / Little Bluestem. I planted three of these last spring (along with two Andropogon gerardii / Big Bluestem and a Sorghastrum nutans / Indian grass, which I really love. Brand recommends planting the grasses en masse for better pollinator attraction.
Two mountain mints: Pycnanthemum tenuifolium / Narrowleaf Mountain Mint and P. muticum / Clustered Mountain Mint. I don’t have either of those but last spring I planted two P. virginianum / Virginia Mountain Mint. I see that both of those other species are available at my native plant nursery so I might try to add a few.
Deschampsia cespitosa / Tufted Hairgrass. I hadn’t heard of this one by name and will look for it.
Two monardas: Monarda punctata / Spotted Bee Balm and M. fistulosa / Wild Bergamot. I planted three of the latter this year (see little bluestem photo) but I’m afraid two may not have made it through the season; we’ll see. I tried the spotted bee balm last year and neither reappeared this year. I’d really like to get the spotted species to grow here and am not sure why it’s been anything but robust.
Eutrochium sp. / Joe Pye weed. I have lots of this, it spreads around the yard (but nicely), and I highly recommend it for monarchs and other butterflies and bees.
Clethra alnifolia / Summersweet. This is a shrub I love. I planted several in the rock wall area, then got more for the side yard and I may try more somewhere else next year. As mentioned in the video, it’s very fragrant and bees love it. It fills in very nicely as it grows.
Lobelia cardinalis / Cardinal Flower. Fabulous and super hardy plant. I bought three last year and three this past season. No matter where I put them (in some shade), they thrive and attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Prefer moist soil.
Chasmanthium latifolium / Northern Sea Oats. Another I hadn’t really considered and may. Nice flower spikes. (It’s planted on NYC’s High Line.)
Ilex verticillata / Winterberry. Always a winner for its bright red berries. You need both male and female plants for the flowers and berries. (I have a Jim Dandy, male, and a Red Sprite, female.)
Aesculus parviflora / Bottlebrush Buckeye. Probably too large (wide) for my garden but if I had a bigger yard I’d get one in a flash.
Diervilla lonicera / Northern Bush Honeysuckle. Yellow-flowered, great for hot, dry, poor soil spots. He mentions that in its native habitat it’s often found in shade and that’s where I’ve seen it most around here, on the rail trail edge.
Comptonia peregrina / Sweetfern. I absolutely cannot tolerate the smell of this non-fern. If one shows up in my yard, it will find no quarter.
Adiantum pedatum / Northern Maidenhair Fern. Love the look of this fern, but I’m overrun with sensitive fern and another fern I’ve not ID’d so not sure I want to add another to the mix.
Sanguinaria canadensis / Bloodroot. A ground cover, a spring ephemeral. As Brand mentions, ants carry it everywhere. I planted one clump several years ago (from a friend) and now I find it in the strangest places.
Lindera benzoin / Spicebush. Another one that requires both male and female plants for flowers and fruits. I bought several of these — three or four so far over about as many years — and they are apparently all the same gender. Sigh. I hoped for spicebush swallowtail caterpillars but haven’t seen any so far. It is a pretty shrub, though it leafs out strangely in the Spring, from bottom to top. Fall colour is nice.
Asimina triloba / American Pawpaw. “Small” tree for native fruit (but you have to clean out the suckers all the time). I have a friend who has a few and I believe she hand-pollinates them. They don’t fully ripen until October here.
Echinacea purpurea / Purple Coneflower. All over my yard, and they spread well. As Brand says, pollinators, especially skipper butterflies, love it.
Cephalanthus occidentalis / Buttonbush. I see this one around here on the very edge of ponds and lakes. Another shrub one that needs some horizontal space. Flowers like “Sputnik” followed by nutlets.
Asclepias incarnata / Swamp Milkweed. Probably my favourite milkweed, this one has narrow leaves with maroon blotches, quite pretty, and it attracts oleander aphids and beetles, which I like. There’s a white variety that seems irresistible to great golden diggers and great black wasps.
A few other natives that Brand doesn’t mention here that I’m especially fond of in my garden:
Phlox divaricata / Woodland Phlox. A very woodland-looking ground cover (a foot or so high) with purple flowers. I’ve got three or four of them.
Carex Blanda / Common Wood Sedge. A glossy grass-like sedge, likes shade, makes a nice mat if you plant enough of them.
Hamamelis virginiana / Witch Hazel. A small woodland tree, this witch hazel species blooms in the fall. I like its crooked branches and the shape of its leaves. The flowers are not all the noticeable but interesting. I bought two last year.
Amelanchier canadensis / Serviceberry. Another smallish understory tree, seen everywhere on the edges of in NH and ME, blooming in June usually. Birds love the purple fruits. I bought one last year.
Chelone glabra / White Turtlehead. A late summer perennial that bumblebees love. I bought a few this year to try in various spots in the yard. Likes some shade.
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae / New England Aster. These are putting on quite a show now and give bumblebees, sweat bees, honeybees, flies, and others needed nectar and pollen when not a lot else is blooming.
Helenium autumnale / Sneezeweed. Also still blooming and will into November. That’s reason enough to love it! Quite attractive, quite tall.
Helianthus divaricatus / Woodland Sunflower. Tall, can take shade, spreads in place. Quite nice.
Solidago caesia / Blue Stemmed Goldenrod. All the goldenrods are worth having for pollinators but I find this one quite beautiful.
Amsonia tabernaemontana / Eastern Bluestar. A nice blue. Spring blooming, with eye-catching yellow fall foliage.
Viburnum cassinoides nudum / Wild Raisin. I bought one of these shrubs (from Fedco, I think) a few years ago and didn’t think it was that worthwhile. Until this year — it looks lush!
Featured image: Monarda fistulosa / Wild Bergamot, in a NH college permaculture garden, Aug. 2022