Category Archives: Native Plants

5 Virginia Native Plants with Gorgeous Fall Colors

When we think of fall foliage, there are two plants that always come to mind: The burning bush (Eyonymous alatus compactus) and Bradford pear. Unfortunately, these once-venerated plants, although beautiful, are now becoming a problem in our native woodlands. They both have a bad tendency to naturalize, taking over large territories and choking out native species. There are a few native plants, however, that can put on just as good of a show and support a sustainable landscape at the same time. 

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) typically grows as a shrub or small tree - multi-stemmed, forming a cluster. It has a very coarse stem, and it is best used toward the back of a perennial border - ideally with a number of shorter plants in front of it.

But no matter how you plant it, Staghorn sumac is always sure to please in the fall with its deep reds and burnt oranges. And when the bright foliage is gone, it produces striking fruit stalks that can be enjoyed through the winter. Continue reading

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Plants We Love: Heuchera

I admit it: I’ve got a hankering for heuchera. There’s something about this member of the Saxifrage family that gives me joy. Maybe it’s the dainty flowers, the earth-toned foliage or the adorable cultivar names like ‘Purple Petticoat,’ ‘Southern Comfort,’ ‘Tiramisu’ and ‘Cinnabar Silver,’ to name a few. Continue reading

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Mark Your Calendar for These Spring Plant Sales and Giveaways

Some of us soon might be gazing wistfully at snow out our windows, but the truth is spring is not far away. What better way is there to beat the winter doldrums than to gear up for spring planting?  Continue reading

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Plants We Love: River Birch

A recent stroll along the James River reminded me of my love for the river birch. As I neared the end of my walk in downtown Richmond, I happened upon a few stately specimens, their bark in full peeling splendor. 
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Plight of the Pollinator

I cannot live without coffee and chocolate. Therefore, I cannot live without pollinators.
This week is National Pollinato Continue reading

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Plants We Love: Turtleheads -- Snap Them Up!

Chelone, (it rhymes with phony and baloney) is a native member of the figwort family. It is more commonly known as turtlehead. It's not hard to figure out how it got its common name; those blooms shaped like turtleheads are so adorable that even someone who is not a fan of turtles can?t resist them. They remind me of kids running around in the rain with their tongues sticking out to catch the droplets. Chelone was a nymph in Greek mythology that offended the gods by not attending the wedding of Zeus to Hera. To punish her, they turned her into a turtle.

I started out having a lot of trouble growing this plant. I wasn't giving it nearly enough water. It is happy down by the waterfront where its feet stay wet most of the time. In my yard it spends most of its time in the shade with 2-3 hours of sun in the afternoon. It will tolerate sun if grown in consistent wetness. I need to warn you ? native caterpillars love this plant so its leaves are very often munched on. This plant is a host plant of the endangered Baltimore Butterfly. Hummingbirds visit this plant as well but bumblebees are what I usually see. It is fun watching the bumblebees climb into the ?turtle's head? and then back out hiney first just to hit the next bloom and do it again.

Don't dig this up if you find it in the wild. (Go to for a list of nurseries that sell only nursery-propagated plants.) It is easy to find the pink version ?Hot Lips? at local nurseries. I had a hard time finding the white variety but a nursery in my area (shameless commercial here ? English Country Gardens) was able to locate some for me.

Growing from 1-3 feet, deer generally don't bother this plant. The blooms come in pink, rose, white and purplish depending on the variety. One of this plant?s best features is the bloom time from late summer well into the fall. If turtlehead does not get enough water or if it is planted where air cannot circulate, mildew might become a problem. If planted in too much shade this plant will become leggy and require staking. If you absolutely want to plant it in an area that is too shady, minimize the legginess by cutting the plant back by one-third to half in late spring. Moving the plant to a place that better suits its needs (right plant, right place!) will rectify these problems. Divide this plant in the spring to share it with friends. If you have a damp area in your yard, give this wonderful native a shot. You won't be disappointed!

Playing with Plants: Pinch the flowers like you would with snapdragons to make them ?talk.? Plus, look inside turtlehead's mouth to find fangs!
  Continue reading

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Native Plants for Every Environment

Natives are great for many reasons. But to give them a great start, they need to be planted in the proper environment. Whether you have shade, part shade to sun, moisture or a dry landscape, there is a group of plants that would be perfect for that site.

If you have a shady area, consider planting in layers. Woodland plants are suited for shade or part sun for the edges of the woods.

Here are some examples.

Understory layer
Amelanchier canadensis (Serviceberry)
Asimina triloba (Paw paw)
Cercis canadensis (Red bud)
Chionanthus virginicus (Fringetree)
Hamamelis virginiana (Witch hazel)

Shrub layer
Cephalanthus occidentalis (Buttonbush)
Cornus stolonifera (Red osier dogwood)
Hydrangea arborescens (Wild hydrangea)
Lindera benzoin (Spicebush)
Rhus aromatica (Fragrant sumac)
Sambucus canadensis (Elderberry)
Virbunum dentatum (Southern Arrowwood)

Perennial layer
Anemone virginiana (Tall thimbleweed)
Aruncus dioicus (Goatsbeard)
Asarum canadense (Wild ginger)
Cimicifuga racemosa (Black cohosh)
Dicentra eximia (Wild bleeding heart)
Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple)
Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon?s seal)
Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot)
Sedum ternatum (Wild stonecrop)
Stylophorum diphyllum (Woodland poppy)
Tiarella cordifolia (Foamflower)
Trillium grandiflorum (White trillium)

If you have sun to part shade, low medium or very moist areas, the prairie native perennials can give you a full season of color. You can add some exciting perennial beds, make large sweeping meadows or, if space is limited, you can do an urban meadow.

Low to medium moisture
Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)
Aster novae-angliae (New England aster)
Baptisia australis (Blue wild indigo)
Baptisia tinctoria (Yellow wild indigo)
Coreopsis verticillata (Threadleaf coreopsis)
Helenium autumnale (Sneezeweed)
Liatris spicata (Dense blazing star)
Phlox paniculata (Summer tall phlox)
Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-eyed Susan)
Monarda didyma (Beebalm)

Medium to moist areas
Chelone glabra (turtle head)
Geranium maculatum (Wild geranium)
Iris virginica (Virginia blue flag)
Hibiscus moscheutos (Eastern rosemallow)
Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower)
Lobelia siphilitia (Great blue lobelia)
Physostegia virginiana (Obedient plant)

Come visit Garden Gate Landscape and Design, where all of these are available. There will be more in late summer and fall! I?d love for you to visit.
  Continue reading

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Plants We Love: Bloodroot

Warning: Bloodroot can be extremely toxic, even fatal.

I'm not going to discuss the medical uses for bloodroot. There is plenty of information on the web (and from professional herbalists, which I certainly am not) explaining its benefits and dangers. Just let me say do your research very well. Also, consider pets and children before planting it in your landscape. As beautiful as this plant is, it is not worth risking loved ones? health or possibly even lives. Continue reading

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Care To Make A Trade? Check Out Seed Swaps

The idea couldn?t be simpler. You have seeds left over from last year?s garden but, this year, would like to try some new plants. Somewhere nearby, a fellow gardener is in the same boat. The two of you attend a neighborhood seed swap organized by one very ambitious person or group and ? voil? ? you both have new seeds to plant. Continue reading

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Plants We Love: Iris Cristata

Iris is one of my favorite perennial genera consisting of over 300 species. When growing iris it is important to determine the species. Some like sun others like shade and some want wet. Others can't tolerate wet feet at all. They can be 4 inches or they can grow to be over 3 feet tall. Continue reading

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