I was recently asked by newcomers to Greenbelt what native plants I recommend, and could they please see them in my garden? What a great idea! So much more helpful than consulting lists of plants native to our region, with the focus so often on benefit to wildlife rather than to garden-making.
So I was happy to show them the native plants growing well in my gardens where they’re adding so much to the overall beauty of the scene. I found 16 of them that I can recommend, with a few tips about growing them.
Shrubs and Small Trees
I’ll start with the plant group I recommend planting first because shrubs and small trees contribute the most to creating a garden and they take a few years to develop. So get ’em planted!
Honestly the choices in shrubs that are native in our region are slim, especially ones that are really beautiful. (I have a Fothergilla in an out-of-sight spot and also not listed here because it’s sooo dull.)
Of the two really gorgeous native shrubs I’ve ever ever grown, the Oakleaf hydrangea is actually a near-native, since it was found growing in the Southeast only as far north as the Carolinas. They’re fast-growing and stunning all year – thanks to amazing fall color and cool exfoliating bark in the winter. I have three in my back yard; this one is full-grown and I tie it up to the privacy screen in back of it.
Ninebark is a true native and a shrub I’ve fallen for big-time. The spring flowers are nice but the real impact here is this leaf color – all season long. I’ve planted several varieties, including this ‘Diablo’ at the GHI administration building.
I get lots of questions and compliments about this Redbud ‘Rising Sun’ in my back yard. I first saw one at Brookside Gardens and knew I had to have one. Redbuds may not be long-lived but this one is sure worth it.
Perennials for Sun
Butterfly Weed is a new favorite of mine, since GHI’s general manager suggested I include some in this landscape. What color!! (Here it’s sandwiched between ‘Ogon’ Spirea and Nepeta.) Now I’m growing Butterfly Weed at home, too. It’ll take two or three seasons for them to look this good.
Our State Flower is Black-Eyed Susan and sure enough, this ‘Goldstrum’ variety, with its long-lasting, cheerful blooms, thrives in every way, including spreading like crazy. Seriously, keep an eye on it!
Here it’s seen at the GHI building with a white Coneflower,– maybe this variety. There were dozens of them along the far side of this building, so I moved a few and they’ve done very well here.
The Purple Coneflower ‘Magnus’, however (seen here in Kim Rush-Lynch’s Greenbelt garden) barely survived in my garden and certainly didn’t multiply at all. I’ll keep the few that remain, though, for the show put on by Goldfinches feeding on their seeds.
Coreopsis has always been a do-er in my gardens. It thrives with no attention and has long-lasting blooms that repeat if the first flush is cut back after it dies.
Garden phlox is an old-fashioned but reliable plant in my gardens. If the leaves get mildew I’ll hack them back, but that hasn’t happened yet here at the Granite Building where I planted them a couple of years ago. (The Granite Building’s co-owner Davie Freunheim is now in charge of the whole landscape, including this small garden area.)
Not everyone loves Spiderwort –some complain that it spreads too much – but I’m a fan. It disappears completely by mid-summer, though. So in my garden it supplements the main plants, rather than filling up the border on its own.. (Photo credit.)
Amsonia hubrichtii is native to a very narrow range – just Arkansas and Oklahoma – but it’s does very well for gardeners here in the Mid-Atlantic. I’ve massed three of them here in my back garden.
About a year ago I planted three Little Bluestem ‘The Blues’ in an elevated, sunny spot in my front yard and they’re doing very well. Neither deer nor rabbits bother them.
Joe Pye Weed is a fabulous pollinator plant that’s so tall – 6 feet or more – that I opted for its shorter variety, “‘Little Joe’, which grows to just 4 feet here in my front garden.
Perennials for Shade
Wood Aster isn’t a high-impact plant like the others but I love how it combines perfectly with the Joe Pye Weed mentioned above. The aster comes up very early, blooms, then gradually falls over as the Joe Pye behind it finally appears and gets taller. It’s nice to see them complement each other rather than competing, as other perennial combinations will. Effectively, it’s shaded by its sun-loving neighbor. Here’s more info about it. Photo credit.
Golden groundsel has other common names – like Golden Ragwort – but is just as often called by the Latin Packera aurea. It spreads, likes dry shade, blooms for a long time, and requires no care.
Here’s my privacy screen covered with the blooms of ‘Tangarine Beauty’ Crossvine – aren’t they amazing? Reblooms will appear throughout the season. And just as important – it’s evergreen! – a very rare quality in native plants in our region.
Just last year I started a Coral Honeysuckle (often just ‘native honeysuckle”) and it’s not photogenic yet, but here’s a photo that Annie Shaw took of one in back garden. Though mine isn’t impressive-looking yet, the hummingbirds found them right away and I sit on my front patio just to watch them. That’s something I’ve gardened a whole lifetime to see happen.
I hope there are several plants here that catch your eye and inspire you to start that garden you’ve been lusting for. They’ll go a long way toward making your yard look like a GARDEN, not a plant collection. You’ll enjoy them not just because they’re good for the environment but also because they’re so beautiful – especially two or three seasons after you plant them. Your patience will be rewarded!
Where to find them? I found all these at regular garden centers and nurseries, where the selection of natives is expanding every year, especially of the ones that do well in gardens, like these.
Thank you for this! I was just looking for a drought tolerant shade plant. 🙂
Thanks for the info on native plants that will grow in Greenbelt. Can you recommend nurseries that sell them?
Thank you! This is such a great article. I’ve been trying to plant more natives the last couple of years. My neighbor planted an Oakleaf Hydrangea in her yard and I’ve been admiring it all spring.