Let Your Container Gardens Go Native
Choose plants that reflect the woodlands, meadows, and prairies of the American countryside for a rustic effect.
Although not listed on any big board of international assets, the United States’ pool of native plants is highly prized among gardeners and horticulturists throughout the world. And now North American plants – from asters to coneflowers, from liatris to evening primrose – are also leaping into new prominence in container gardens.Skip to next paragraph
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“These small gardens are a perfect way to use natives when space is at a premium or to try out a native species before planting it in a border.... Move mature plants to your garden where the colorful flowers will continue to attract both butterflies and hummingbirds,” Alan Branhagen, director of horticulture for Powell Gardens, wrote for the website of the Prairie & Wetland Center in Belton, Mo.
While purists grow only those species that are indigenous within 100 miles of their own gardens, other gardeners approach native plant projects in a more relaxed way. For them, it is enough that the plants are native to their general regions, and they are equally likely to choose cultivars, selected or specially bred plants derived from native species.
Finding native plants
Whichever path you choose, you will increasingly find nurseries and growers that specialize in all sorts of native plants. Organizations [see list here] dedicated to native plants exist throughout the country and an inexpensive membership in one or more of these groups will give you an inside track to finding and growing natives. Other good sources of information on native plants are state extension services.
Always remember the first commandment of gardening with native species: Thou shalt not dig wild plants – buy them from nurseries that have propagated them lawfully or start them from seed that you have gathered.
I look to people like Merv Wallace of Missouri Wildflowers Nursery for advice on species. Having grown natives for 23 years, he knows what he’s talking about. His catalog is an education on Midwestern native species. In it he writes: “Many homeowners hesitate to use native plants in their front yard landscaping because there is a myth that natives look too weedy.”
He goes on to say that many worthy natives have a refined shape, attractive foliage, and showy flowers. These are four-star plants in the rating system that Mr. Wallace is developing to help gardeners choose natives.
Although the one-star plants are the weediest, they, too, have value, often for wildlife. For example, the rambling New England aster is a wonderful nectar source for migrating monarch butterflies.