If you want a great-looking yard, go native

Practically Every homeowner wants a great-looking yard. But is that possible without having a bright green thumb and without spending every weekend toiling away in the yard?

Sure it is. My advice is not to worry about annuals and perennials; start with flowering shrubs and trees instead.

Plant them once and water regularly for the first three years, and they'll reward you with blooms year after year – with little or no further effort on your part. If you have the space, choose your shrubs and trees so that something is almost always in flower from spring until fall.

Have your plants do double duty by selecting ones that produce a show in more than one season. Sourwood, for instance, has bee-attracting flowers in late spring to early summer, blazing red leaves in fall, and seed capsules that persist into winter.

This recommendation to concentrate on flowering – or berried – shrubs and trees also holds true if you're fond of wildflowers. The best setting for them is among native shrubs and trees. And you have hundreds of choices – from red maples to elegant Stewartias.

A beautiful new book, "Native Trees, Shrubs, & Vines," by William Cullina (Houghton Mifflin, $40), emphasizes just how many selections are available.

Mr. Cullina is the nursery manager and plant propagator at Garden in the Woods, the Framingham, Mass., headquarters of the New England Wild Flower Society. But his advice isn't limited to the Northeast. Residents of other regions will find plenty of guidance for their gardens, too.

In addition to an encyclopedia of native trees, shrubs, and vines, Cullina includes lists of plants for various sites and uses – wet, sunny locations; dry, shady areas; plants that provide food for wildlife; plants with outstanding fall color.

Advanced gardeners will appreciate the sections that are devoted to propagation. Cullina tells how to increase your supply of every plant listed in the book – by either seeds, cuttings, or layering.

Besides being an outstanding reference, "Native Trees, Shrubs, & Vines" is fun to read. Commenting on the slow-but-steady reproduction of huckleberry, Cullina writes: "Genetic studies done on one 100-acre stand in central Pennsylvania suggest that it is one massive plant that has been patiently advancing a foot or so a season for the past 12,000 years!"

He also suggests holding a tuning fork against the anthers of St. John's wort (photo below). At the right frequency, pollen will come spurting out, mimicking what happens when bees buzz the blooms.

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