Monday, February 21, 2011

Favorite Native Plants ~ Nature Friendly Gardener Marlene A. Condon

Native plants are wonderful additions to eco-friendly landscapes for many reasons. But which natives are right for you and your gardens? I decided to poll the local gardening community for some of their favorite native plant species to help you decide.

Today's choices are from Marlene A. Condon. Marlene is a nature writer and the author of The Nature-friendly Garden (see note below). She lives in Crozet, Virginia, where her yard has been showcased on Virginia public television.

Marlene's Favorite Natives 

My most favorite plant is the Trumpet Creeper vine, Campsis radicans. It's one of the most used-by-wildlife native plants I can think of even though it gets bad press as being "invasive". However, all outdoor gardening involves pulling out unwanted plants (I don't like the term "weeds") and in a nature-friendly yard, Trumpet Creeper is not that much of a problem.

That's because so many animals make use of its seeds and thus limit how many are available to germinate the next spring. Mammals such as Gray Squirrels feed on them from early fall to winter and birds such as Tufted Titmice, Dark-eyed Juncos, and American Goldfinches take them in winter. Sphinx Moths feed at the flowers and I have found caterpillars feeding on the seeds inside the pod in the fall (I haven't been able to identify the caterpillars yet). Many species of ants either get sap directly from the plant by chewing open a tiny spot or indirectly by tending aphids and feeding on their honeydew. 

The Sourwood tree (Oxydendron arborium) is another favorite of mine. It's lovely in the spring when it's covered with white flowers that the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and numerous species of insects feed at. In the fall, the leaves on this smallish tree turn a lovely red or maroon and still looks as if it's in bloom with its noticeable seed capsules. From fall into winter, squirrels and juncos feed on the seeds. 

And you can't beat the attractiveness of the Monarda genus of flowers for people and wildlife alike. Lilac-colored Wild Bergamot blooms (Monarda fistulosa) feed butterflies, bees, and numerous other insects. The red-colored Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) is very attractive to hummingbirds. And these plants are one of the few kinds that the White-tailed Deer does not eat.

As a fellow wildlife gardener, I can appreciate all of Marlene's choices. I was mesmerized watching a ruby throated hummingbird push itself almost all the way into trumpet vine flowers one day.

Marlene is offering copies of her book, The Nature-friendly Garden: Creating a Backyard Haven for Plants, Wildlife, and People (Stackpole Books), to readers of the Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog at a special discount. For an inscribed and autographed copy of her book at a special price of $10.00 plus shipping ($4.00) , please visit her web site at to contact her. Be sure to mention the Metro DC Blog to receive the discount.

Thanks Marlene! And happy gardening.

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