Thursday, July 26, 2012

Favorite Native Plants, Peggy Bowers, Mount Vernon Estate

zebrast Last year I did a series of posts listing the Favorite Native Plants of some members of the local gardening community. (See bottom of this post for a listing)

Since I’m such a big fan of native plants, I decided to run a few more posts on this topic.

My first post in this years Native Plant series is from Peggy Bowers, Garden and Greenhouse Manager at Mount Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens.

Here’s what Peggy had to say about favorite native plants:

I am delighted to be able to contribute to the Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog. I have been a long time advocate on the importance of using native plants in both our home gardens and commercial landscapes. With the tremendous loss of natural habitat, incorporating native plants into our gardens is more important than ever.

During the 18th century, habitat loss was much less an issue than today, but native plants were still much appreciated and used simply for their beauty. General George Washington used many native plants in his gardens and landscape at his beloved Mount Vernon, collecting many from his woodlands and forest. Today at the Mount Vernon Estate we are still growing those same varieties of plants that George Washington so appreciated in his lifetime.

While all native plants fill a niche in nature, many also bring more to the party making them must-have garden plants. Here are a few of my favorite native plants that will make excellent additions to almost any garden.

When it comes to vines I love the well-behaved Coral honeysuckle,  Lonicera sempervirens. Blooming most of the summer, the nectar found in the red trumpet shaped flowers is a favorite of the ruby-throated hummingbird, while the red berries provide a good food source for many of our native songbirds.

Another must-have in my garden is the beautiful Echinacea purpurea or purple cone flower. Coneflowers are great food source for all kinds of pollinators including butterflies, bees and wasps while the seeds are a favorite of our brightly colored American Goldfinch. Echinacea now come in a huge array of colors and heights making them great additions to any garden.

While there are many great shrubs to choose from Itea virginica or Virginia sweetspire is at the top of my list. Well suited to either moist or average soil they are happy in both full sun and partial shade. They provide year round interest starting with beautiful fragrant white bottle brush shaped flowers in June, gorgeous red to orange fall color and dark red stems in the winter. The flowers are great for butterflies and other pollinators and the seeds are eaten by vireos, warblers and orioles. Two outstanding selections that are readily available are ‘Henry’s Garnet’ and’ Little Henry’’. “Henry’s Garnet” grows 4 to 5 feet and will have consistently brilliant red fall color while Little Henry, at under 3 feet, is very suitable to smaller spaces and looks terrific massed on a hillside.

As for trees, one of my favorite native trees which should be used more often is Asimina triloba or paw-paw. Growing naturally along river banks and in moist forests, it also adapts well to average garden soil and moisture. Growing 15 to 30 feet it has a beautiful dark maroon flowers in early spring, tropical looking 6 to 12 inch leaves, delicious aromatic fruit and beautiful yellow fall color. If all of this was not enough reason to grow it, the paw-paw tree is also the sole food source of the larvae of the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly.

I hope this helps to inspire you to incorporate even more native plants into your garden to share with our native butterflies, bees and birds.

Thanks so much for your input, Peggy. I wonder if George Washington enjoyed the hummingbirds and butterflies as much as you and I do?

Link for more information on Mount Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens.

Resources for native plant information: Native Plant Center and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflowercenter

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