Plant This, Not That: The Book

Many of the writers at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens have been contributing to a series of posts called “Plant This, Not That“.  In each case, we highlight a couple of plants that are invasive and/or overused and then suggest some great native alternatives.  In my most recent contribution, I focused on native groundcovers for Baltimore.

Today, I called attention to one of my absolute favorite books on native plants and one that happens to be organized along precisely the same lines.  Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants, by C. Colston Burrell, is published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and is consistently one of the most popular native plant books at local native plant sales.  This is true among both novices and experienced native plant gardeners.

You can read my post there, Plant This, Not That: The Book, for the full review.

A Native Plant Flower Show!

Kay McConnell sold me my very first native plant, a black chokeberry, shortly after I moved to Baltimore a few years ago so I suppose I should not be surprised to learn that she is co-chairing a native plant flower show! Seriously.

“Going Native: Food, Water, Shelter, Life” is a Garden Club of America Flower Show complete with everything that goes into a typical flower show: flower arrangements, horticultural prizes, photographs, judges, rules, and so forth. But, you know, with native plants!

From the rules for Division 1 (Flower Arrangement classes):

“Designers in all classes are required to include at least one native plant in their arrangement(s) and to note the plant(s) on their entry card.”

Cool, huh?

The flower show will be open the public on October 18th and 19th and is sponsored by the Guilford Garden Club, with support from Friends School of Baltimore which is also hosting the event.. Native plant aficionados from the area will know that the garden club has been working with Friends School for several years to design and install absolutely beautiful native plant gardens around the campus.  From the introduction to the Flower Show schedule:

“In partnership since 2005, Friends School of Baltimore and the Guilford Garden Club (GGC) have created a series of Native Plant Teaching Gardens throughout the campus. Conservation and education are at the heart of the project. The gardens employ Chesapeake Bay Watershed native plants that thrive with minimal care to attract pollinators and other wildlife and to absorb surface water on the school’s sloping campus.”

Friends School students enjoying a landscape filled with native grasses, trees, shrubs, and flowers.

Kay will be conducting tours of the gardens, which I STRONGLY recommend, at 2pm on the 18th and at 10am on the 19th. And, weather permitting, the Guilford Garden Club will be conducting a small native plant sale as well.

Click here for a one page PDF with dates, times, and the address.  Click here for the full schedule, with descriptions of the exhibit rules and whatnot.

Great Native Grasses for Baltimore

One of the easiest ways to make your Roland Park yard a healthy and attractive place for wildlife is to increase the number and variety of native grasses you use.  Thankfully, many of our indigenous grasses (and grass-like sedges) are lovely to look at and are also readily available at independent garden centers.

Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah', copyright American Beauties Native Plants

Many butterflies, especially banded skippers and satyrs, depend on native grasses as a food source for their young.  And many birds will use the seeds in fall or winter. Even fireflies depend on having stands of unmowed grass in the landscape.  Fireflies are active at night, and spend their days resting on blades of grass.  They are, therefore, very vulnerable to mowing if the only grasses in your yard are turf-grasses.

One excellent native grass for Roland Park is Panicum virgatum, or switchgrass.  It is a wonderful, clump-forming perennial  grass.  It grows three to six feet in height, and makes a wonderful accent planting.  Because of its robust root system, once established it can do very well in difficult site conditions (e.g. along a sunny, south-facing wall or foundation, even one sheltered from rain).  The leaves are usually bright-green when they emerge in late spring, though some cultivars turn more red in summer (‘Shenandoah’ is one of these).

Another choice for sunnier sites is Schizachyrium scoparium, or little bluestem.  It is highly attractive, especially in fall and winter, and tends to remain somewhat shorter than Panicum virgatum. It prefers sites that are on the dry side (too much water can cause it to flop over instead of remaining erect).

Chasmanthium latifolium, rights reserved by Er.We

We also have several native grasses that are perfect for shadier sites.  Chasmanthium latifolium, or Indian wood oats, is a favorite.  It has large, arching seedheads and it can reseed readily.  This makes it particularly well-suited for areas that don’t get a lot of maintenance but that you want to look attractive.  It will form a fairly dense cover when established, reducing the need to weed or mulch.

Elymus hystrix, or Bottlebrush grass, is another choice for woodland areas though it can also handle sunny spots too if they are not too dry. The graceful seed heads do resemble bottle-brushes.  Elymus virginicus, or Virginia wild rye, is related.

Another important group of plants are not technically grasses but do resemble them.  Plants in the genus Carex are sedges, and they are incredibly useful in Roland Park landscapes.  Several popular sedges do well in dry shade, where little else will grow (especially turf grass). In contrast to the true grasses (above), which are tall enough to be planted as an accent planting or in the core of a perennial border, the sedges tend to be very low-growing.  They tend to be used as an edging plant or as a ground cover.

Carex pensylvanica, copyright Prairie Moon Nursery

In fact, many homeowners are replacing lawns with Carex appalachica and Carex pensylvanica as a no-mow alternative to maintained turf.  Both have a fine texture, similar to grass, but never grow taller than 4-5”.  Carex glaucodea, or blue wood sedge, has a wider leave and is a good native alternative to liriope.  Finally, Carex stricta, or tussock sedge, is perfectly suited to wet areas or spots that flood intermittently.  If you have low spot in you yard, Carex stricta might be a good choice.

Our native grasses can be used as ornamental accents or as backdrops to perennial beds.  Increasingly, homeowners are replacing sections of their yard with meadow gardens:  a mix of native grasses and perennials to act as a place for butterflies and birds to congregate.  If you have children or grandchildren, you may also find that they love hanging out in such a meadow because there is so much more going on than a bare turf lawn.  The meadow garden has another virtue, in that they require cutting only once a year!

Carex flaccosperma is a liriope alternative

One of our favorite sources for native plants, especially native grasses and carex, is North Creek Nurseries. One of the plants we’ve ordered from them this year is this wonderful native carex.

Carex flaccosperma, copyright North Creek Nurseries

Carex flaccopserma, or blue wood sedge, is a very nice groundcover for medium to dry shade (or partial shade). Once established, it tolerates dry Baltimore summers quite well as long as it is not in full sun.

It forms clumps, and though it can spread by seed it tends to stay where it is put. Carex flaccopserma reaches a height of about six to twelve inches, with 1/2” wide foliage. It is a nice native alternative to the non-native liriope.

It is a seed source of finches and native sparrows, as well as a source of nesting material and the larval host to several species of butterflies and moths.

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