Why is Anise-scented Goldenrod so rare?

Anise-scented goldenrod blooming in my backyard.

Some native plants are lovely, and attractive to wildlife, but remain difficult to obtain.  Solidago odora, aka Anise-scented goldenrod, is an example of a real beauty that should be more readily available.  What do you think?

Look for my post next week at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens about this and other hard-to-find native plant species.

Olmsted-approved Native Shrubs

Viburnum acerifolium (maple-leaf viburum), rights reserved by milesizz

I’ve written before about “Olmsted-friendly” plants, which is the term I use to refer to plants known to have been in the palette of the Olmsted Brothers design firm at the time  it was working on Roland Park.

The awesome Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens blog, to which I regularly contribute, recently ran a slightly longer piece I wrote about some of the shrubs (including the beautiful but under-used maple-leaf viburnum pictured on the right) used by the Olmsted Brothers in a 1901 landscape design for the corner of Roland Avenue and Ridgewood Road.

Click here to read the whole article.

Native Plant Cultivars – Good, Bad, and Ugly

I’ve got a guest post up on the Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens blog on the topic of native plant cultivars.

It’s a meaty topic, and I feel I just uncovered the tip of the iceberg, but I hope you enjoy it.

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!

Viburnum prunifolium (Blackhaw viburnum)

Continuing the trend of highlighting some of the great native plants which appear in a 1913 Olmsted Brothers planting plan. for Roland Park, I want to turn particular attention to Viburnum prunifolium, or blackhaw viburnum.

Viburnum prunifolium, rights reserved by jsutcℓiffe

This is a tall, upright and somewhat slender shrub or small tree. It can reach heights of 10’ to 12’ and a spread of 6’ to 8’. In Roland Park it is the perfect size to play the lead role in a privacy screen, but it could just as easily be the background for a mixed bed. It does well in sun or part shade.

Viburnum prunifolium has multiple seasons of interest. The spring blossoms are attractively creamy, the fruit is an attractive bluish-purple, and the fall foliage is a stunningly gorgeous crimson red.

This is a great shrub to add to your landscape if you like having birds, butterflies, and other pollinators around. The birds love the fruit, it is a larval host for many butterflies, and our native bees relish its flowers.

Viburnum prunifolium is very much underused, especially relative to the more common native Viburnum dentatum (e.g. Blue Muffin viburnum) and the non-native Asian viburnums. Being so beautiful and so easy to grow, it deserves a spot on your yard.

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.

Packera aureus (Golden Ragwort) is a great groundcover

Senecio aureus, copyright North Creek Nurseries

Packera aureus, also called senecio aureus or “golden ragwort”, is a beautiful and interesting ground cover, with stunning yellow flowers in the spring.  It is one of the nicest bloomers among the true shade plants.

It is happiest in shade or part sun, but will be perfectly content in the sun if the soil is moist.  The plants attain a height of about 12 inches, and they will self seed if they like the spot.

Another bonus is that the foliage is nearly evergreen in Baltimore.  The leaves persist quite well into the winter, which is a nice bonus.

More information:  NPIN or North Creek Nursery

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