Entries in landscaping plants (2)


five great native perennials

Often times we are led by our preconceptions of what is beautiful and what is appropriate in using different types of plants. I would encourage you to think beyond the box and find innovative ways to use these plants that many assume would only work in "naturalistic" settings. All of the following plants, particularly if they are massed, could be used as an effective counterpoint in a formal setting.


1.Eryngium yuccifolium   Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake master is a bold and sculptural plant with blue green foliage and pale green flowers that in one form or another persist for months. Its native range is from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Plains and south to Florida. It likes sun and well drained sites.  Try it with Little Blustem, Liatris or perhaps one of the many orange Echinacea's on the market.              Zone's 3-8.                                                                                



Rattlesnake Master in the foreground with Little Bluestem.


2.Veronicastrum virginicum    Culver's Root

The incomparable Culver's Root is an elegant understated perennial that sends up spires of white flowers in the month of June. The variety Roseum has pale pink flowers. Both Rattlesnake Master and Culver's Root are best used in mass. Considerably taller than wide I have found Culver's Root easy to grow in full sun with average moisture. 40" x 18". Zones 3-8.




The variety 'Roseum'.


The dried flowers remain intriguing during autumn.


3.Vernonia noveboracensis   Ironweed

During late summer Ironweed's riveting deep magenta flowers can be found growing along moist roadside meadows from Massachusetts to Mississippi. The height is variable depending on the moisture and fertility of the soil but averages 4' high. The variety 'Iron Butterfly' is consistently shorter at 30-36". Once the flowers are past their prime the seed heads remain of interest for 2-3 months. I have had success with this plant in average to moist conditions. Zones 5-8.





4.Amsonia hubrectii   Willowleaf amsonia 

The spring flowers are small star shaped and fairly inconspicuous. The leaves are long and narrow and turn a brillant yellow in autumn. Shrub like at 3-3.5' high and wide it is slow to mature in its first season but takes off in it's second and third. Chanticleer Gardens in Wayne Pa. has effectively massed the plant in many of their ornamental beds. Zones 6-8.



Brillant fall color contrasts.



5.Baptisia australis   False Indigo

False indigo is a long lived source of blue in late spring to early summer. Dark pods follow the flowers and decorate the foliage which remains attractive throughout the growing season. Heat and drought tolerant, I have grown False Indigo in everything from poor to outstanding soil conditions. Grows in its native range from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. 3-4' tall x 30" wide. Zones 3-8.




five great native grasses and sedges

1. Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica) 

This dainty sedge spreads slowly by rhizomes to form grass like mats and has superb textural effect. It has been used successfully as a grass substitute in a number of the gardens at the Scott Arboretum in Swarthmore Pa. At 6-12" tall it grows well in dry shade and spreads about 6-10" per year. It associates well with almost any shade loving plant. Zones 4-8




2. Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)

"Everywhere as far as the eye could reach, there was nothing but rough, shaggy, red grass." Willa Cathers words perfectly capture the beauty of little bluestem on the prairie. The grass works well as a stylized meadow or as a transition planting between a wild and cultivated area. At 2-3' tall it is commonly seen in disturbed areas along highways and edges of woodlands. The winter color is a remarkable half burnt orange. Zones 3-10





3. Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) 

Perhaps the most sublime of all the prairie grasses, Prairie Dropseed grows somewhat slowly but is well worth the wait. Eventually, the feathery clumps reach 18-24" wide by 30 or so inches tall with airy flowers appearing in late summer. The flowers have the fragrance of buttered popcorn or perhaps coriander. The fine textured deep green foliage turns an outstanding pumpkin orange in the fall. A large swath of "meadow" has been planted to Sporobolus at Chanticleer gardens in Wayne Pa. If you have not visited Chanticleer it is one of the truly innovative public gardens in the states.  Zones 3-8






4. Wild Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

This 2-4 ft. tall clump-forming grass bears drooping, oat-like flower spikelets from slender, arching branches. During autumn the blue-green bamboo-like leaves turn a bright yellow-gold, especially in sunnier sites. Chasmanthium can be used as a specimen in small groups or as mass plantings. The most effective planting I have observed is at the entrance to Longwood Gardens in Kennet Square. Beneath the lacy canopies of Honeylocust set within the parking lot islands , the grass is planted in mass presenting a dense bamboo like appearance. It will reseed but the seedlings are scratched out fairly easily if they are addressed while they are young. Zones 4-9



5. Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)

The fine textured, bright green foliage is fairly unremarkable, however, when the plant flowers it's shimmering, filmy purple to pink pannicles bring grace and drama to the garden. The grass is best used with a nurse crop around it to hide the foliage. Zones 5-10