The expression, “gardening with natives,” might sound like something new and perhaps tricky, yet most of us have been incorporating native plants into our gardens all along.
The term native plant is used to describe plants that have developed, occur naturally, or existed for many years in any given ecosystem, and are often the best for wildlife, butterflies and beneficial insects. These are the species that were living in your yard before you were!
I need to give a shout-out to my college professor, Holly Emmons, who introduced me to several of these plants. I have paid tribute to her enthusiasm by including such natives as the Hart’s Tongue fern and columbines in the Arboretum’s gardens.
Try growing a favorite of mine, red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis ‘Corbet’). This columbine bears pretty yellow bell-shaped flowers from early May to mid-June and is sure to bring a smile to anyone’s face. It tolerates filtered sun and is a wonderful nectar source for hummingbirds and bees. It will spread by seed if it is not deadheaded, but the seedlings make wonderful gifts for gardening friends. Once they turn dark brown, the seeds can be collected and will germinate easily.
Another great native is the Devil's Darning Needles (Clematis virginiana) sometimes confused with the introduced species Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora). This perennial will produce fragrant white flowers from August through October and grows in sun or shade. It can be aggressive and send out suckers in nutrient dense soils, however, so planting it along a fence or large trellis might be most appropriate. It will attract butterflies and bees and needs little maintenance.
A third focal point to add to your garden is any of the six native bleeding hearts, especially Dicentra eximia. Wild bleeding heart is smaller than the commonly known Dicentra spectabilis, but its delicate heart shaped flowers and leaves stand out just the same. It is a woodland ephemeral, which means that it blooms in the forest before the tree canopy shades the forest floor. The early bloom time of wild bleeding heart provides a source of much needed nectar for native bees and migrating hummingbirds.
Other natives to consider include Canadian wildginger (Asarum canadense), turtlehead (Chelone lyonii), fumewort (Corydalis spp.), dogtooth violet (Erythronium americanum), woodland anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) , and winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata).
The Landis Arboretum has long supported the use of native plants in landscapes and gardens, always offering these plants at our spring and fall plant sales. You will also find a comprehensive collection of all trees, shrubs, and vines native to New York State along the Ed Miller Native Plant Trail.