Tag Archives: native plants

Carex ‘Grayi’ and Packera aurea

As I wander through my decaying garden these days, it’s like a brown-out. All of the ornamental grasses have resorted to their buff winter color and almost all of the perennials are a mess of brown/black.

But there are two perennials that stand out in their still staying green color. Two native perennials that are not so well known and not so flashy but can be a welcome addition to the garden. That is assuming  your garden is like mine: moisture-filled (aka poorly draining) and critter-filled (aka herds of visiting deer).

Let’s take a closer look at both of these plants.


Carex ‘grayi’

Common name: Gray sedge

Zone: 5-9

Size: 3′ x 2′

Bloom time: May – October

Exposure: Full to partial sun (performs best in full sun)

Soil: Wet, bog garden plant.

Native: Eastern U.S.

Deer resistant: Yes

Origin of name: Named after famed botanist Asa Gray from the 1800’s

I purchased these in bulk a few years back and sited them in a known wet spot, in full sun.

They’ve thrived here and have quickly doubled in size in only 2 years time.

The seed heads have a club-like shape and start out yellow/green before transforming to brown as fall/winter arrives.

I welcome the semi-evergreen nature of this grass-like perennial. The green stands out in a sea of deadness this time of year.

And when the light hits them just right in winter, the seed heads are reflected in the snow in a cool and funky way. I have no photos to prove this so you’ll just have to trust me until I can prove it to you.


Packera aurea

Common name: Golden Ragwort

Zone: 3-8

Size: 2.5′ x 1.5′

Bloom time: April

Exposure: Full to partial sun (thrives in partial shade)

Soil: Wet, bog garden plant.

Native: Eastern U.S.

Deer resistant: Nibbled a bit but never fully destroyed (fingers crossed)

Origin of name: Named after famed botanist John Packer

I went nuts and ordered 50+ plugs of this native perennial two years ago from the native plant purveyor, Izel. To date, I have zero regrets.

While they were small when first planted, they have rocketed in growth ever since.

And they bloomed like mad that first spring with the buds first appearing in early April. A time when I welcome any blooms in my garden.

And do they ever bloom their little heads off. Endless yellow daisy-like flowers completely inundate the plant.


I made sure to snip off the spent blooms immediately to prevent seeding as this is a potentially heavy seeder. We’ll see if I was successful or not this spring, although I would welcome some reseeding.

After cutting them all down to their basal foliage, they remain bright green in color and thrive all spring/summer and even into late fall as seen in the photo below.

That is assuming they remain consistently moist as they do not dig the dry soil.




















Surviving my growing conditions

I almost had one of those moments this past week.
Those moments that usually hit every month or so. 
Those moments that make me want to give up, throw in the trowel and take up an easier hobby like knitting.      
I walked outside and looked at: 
2)The small puddles that never seem to dissipate:
3)And an overall lack of blooms for this time of year.
I felt myself starting to get pissed off. 
Why do I pour my heart and soul into this “hobby” only to get wickedly frustrated? Is it all worth it? Couldn’t I focus on something else that was more rewarding, both mentally and financially? 
I want to be able to walk in to the nursery and think that every plant there is an option. But I know that is a pipe dream. Butterfly bush? Not with your drainage. How about that Sambucus? Deer will destroy it. That Salvia is sweet, right? Ain’t going to work and you know it.   
I was about to have a mini-meltdown when I caught myself and stopped. Hmmmmm … maybe that ever elusive adult maturity had finally arrived? I AM going to be 40 in three weeks.     
I took a deep breath and all of my past gardening ventures passed before my eye (just a bit of hyperbole for effect here). The voices in my head screamed, “Think about how far you have come you dope” and “How much have you learned in the past decade alone?” and “Stop your bitching and keep pushing on”. 
Points taken. 
As I reflect back on how I’ve had to deal with rough growing conditions out in the garden and what it has taught me, I figured it was the perfect blog post topic. So let’s do this:
The embracing of native plants
I’m not going to lie, I’ve only started focusing on the use of native plants within the past few years. When you have a somewhat limited choice of plants because of your conditions, logic points to using those plants that currently thrive in your region. Pretty obvious stuff; just took this blockhead a few years to realize it.
As an example, when shopping for a new tree last spring, I approached it intelligently and logically and ended up choosing the native and moisture loving Serviceberry. And I’ve been thrilled with it’s multi-seasonal interest already:           

Another native that has survived wet feet and has been ignored by the deer is Joe Pye Weed:  

As I’ve mentioned in the past, it has become a regular ritual for me the past few years to scour the local native plant sales for plants that fit my conditions and I’ve learned about plants I never would have heard of before. Which leads me to my next point.

Forced research and education
For those of you lucky to have great soil and no critters, it must be great to plant shop and not have to think too much about it. I’ve learned over the years that I cannot do that. I never trust what the plant tags have to say. I get myself all educated on-line to know the truth about plants. Can they survive wet feet in winter? Are they able to withstand non stop sun throughout the year? Are they REALLY deer proof?

This “forced education” has loaded my head with great info that I can carry with me wherever I go. I even find myself offering up advice to other shoppers at the nursery or to friends and family. No more blind and naive plant shopping for this guy.

Creating an environment where wildlife can thrive
This has everything to do with native plantings and I can attest to the fact that as soon as I was forced focused on this style of gardening, the critters came … in droves:

Understanding micro-climates
Admittedly, I am twisting the definition of micro-climate a bit here but stick with me.

As certain plants have failed to thrive for me over the years, I have moved them to new locations as a desperate attempt to keep them alive and to justify the money I’ve spent on them.

As I did this, I discovered that certain areas of my yard had soil that drained better than others so I could take advantage of that.

I also found areas that were more difficult for the deer to penetrate so I could successfully grow some plants that deer typically chow down on.

And some times, the same plant was affected by both of the factors above. Like with my Sedum ‘Autumn Fire’:

I am located in zone 6B but have found more sheltered areas in the yard where I can overwinter plants that are supposed to only survive to zone 7. Again, this was discovered through trial and error and failure of plants to survive my conditions. My Carex ‘Cappuccino’ is a perfect example:

Appreciation when a plant does thrive 
It isn’t fun bringing home beautiful plants only to watch them suffer and die once they have been put in the ground. It can be demoralizing. But when a plant loves its conditions and grows like mad, you learn to truly appreciate that moment.

The discovery of ornamental grasses
Ornamental grasses were made to live in my yard. They are tough as nails and the deer always ignore them. As I’ve come to rely on them as the backbone of my garden, I’ve also realized just how many unique and versatile cultivars there are:                              

Appreciation of foliage
By addressing the deer and the poorly draining soil, I’ve created a garden that is based mostly on foliage. Plants that fit into that criteria (ornamental grasses) are generally foliage driven. And that is OK.

Gardens designed mostly by leaf shape and size look good longer and have more depth. While I love flowers as much as the next guy, it is the shape, color and texture of foliage I am after:

So, in conclusion, while I may have cursed my way through gardening over the years and complained like a baby along the way, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It has taught me more than I ever would have imagined and has allowed me to truly appreciate all that I’ve got.

Sounds like a lesson that applies to all walks of life, huh?


Scoring some native plants

This weekend was my annual trip to the Bowman’s Hill Native Plant Sale in beautiful Bucks County, PA and I actually managed to stay under control and only purchased the plants you see below:

As usual, I did my research ahead of time and focused solely on plants that are “wet tolerant”. This has worked like a champ in the past so why mess with a good thing.

I’m pretty thrilled with my choices and would love to hear your feedback on any of the plants I purchased.

Never mind, scratch that, I only want to hear positive feedback as I’m not emotionally ready to hear anything negative. Not yet at least.

Anyway, here is what I came home with (click on the photos to get to the original link) :

Chelone lyonii (Turtlehead)

Marshallia grandiflora (Barbara’s Buttons)

Aconitum uncinatum (Monkshood)

Eupatorium perfoliatum (Boneset)

So what do you think? Do you approve?


The advantages of native plants

I must admit, I have a very large lawn on my property. It takes me close to two hours a week to cut it during the growing season. Not exactly environmentally friendly, eh? Before you beat me down, I must tell you I never water it, never fertilize it and have slowly been chipping away at removing it by creating new garden beds. While a lawn provides a great play space for the kids and the green swath looks pretty damn nice in the spring, I am no longer much of a fan. The effort involved to maintain it is not worth it and for a plant lover like me, it really represents more of an opportunity to further bankrupt myself and create more garden beds.

Which leads me to a discussion on native plants. A native plant can be best defined as: a plant that occurs naturally in the place where it evolved (I took that definition from wildflower.org). There are numerous advantages to using native plants in the landscape (and you will notice almost all are exactly the opposite of what it takes to maintain a lawn):

  • Drought tolerance 
  • Minimal need for fertilizer
  • No need for pesticides
  • With minimal fertilizer/pesticides – no run-off into the water supply 
  • Disease tolerant
  • Attracts wildlife, beneficial bugs and encourages biodiversity
  • Low cost to purchase natives
  • Because natives are in their natural environment, their size and cooperation with neighboring plants is much more predictable and makes design/planning much easier.                

I didn’t intend for today’s post to be about native plants but as I was reviewing my plant photos from this prior year, I noticed how many of the “successes” were native plants. Hence, where I ended up with this post. Here are some of my native plants and please, share some of the natives you’ve had success with in the comments section so I can pretend I knew about them all along:   

Sneezeweed – Helenium autumnale 

Blue cardinal flower – Lobelia siphilitica

Turtlehead – Chelone glabra 

Purple coneflower – Echinacea purpurea

Garden Phlox – Phlox paniculata ‘David’

Boltonia asteroides ‘Pink Beauty’

When the native plant sales begin here in New Jersey around the middle of May, I begin my plan of attack and this upcoming year will be no different. I’ll just need to clear more lawn to fit in more of these low maintenance gems.

Go native or go home!

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The Natives are restless

It has become a Mother’s day tradition (OK only for the past three years) at the ONG household. We make Mom breakfast in bed (and the term “make” is a bit of a stretch) and then the kids and I go out for the morning/afternoon to give Mom a truly deserved day off from being all mom-ish. We will go out to lunch and then we head for the Bowman Hill native plant sale in New Hope, PA (click here to read more). I spend the prior week studying their catalog in great detail and I identify which native plants will work for me and I bring that list with me. Then the spending spree begins and I purchase a ton of plants I had never heard of before. Below is a photo of everything I bought earlier today;        

What are native plants and why should you buy them? Glad you asked … school is in session (and my apologies to all those who know this already).

Native plants are those plants that grow naturally in your particular region and have grown there for a long period of time. They thrive under your region’s conditions and require very little maintenance. Here are some reasons why you should go native already:
  • As previously mentioned, these plants are way low maintenance since they have existed in the wild for a long period of time without any special TLC.
  • Very little water is required in allowing these guys to thrive. Umm … hello … good thing! 
  • Natives have developed natural resistance to diseases and insects which make them even more appealing.
  • By planting native, you are keeping with the natural and unique look of your area and that will keep your garden from looking  so cookie-cutter.
  • In my simple words – you keep shit the way it is supposed to be. The whole balance of nature is not disrupted and you my friend will have good karma. The wildlife will get what they need and keep that whole circle of life thing going.

Now to keep it real, I don’t only plant native. There are just too many non-natives that rock. But by educating yourself on what the native plants are in your region, you may find that there is a native plant that will serve the same purpose, or give you the look and feel you are going for with a non-native. 

Here are some native plants I have purchased in the past that are absolutely kicking butt today:
Lobelia Siphilitica
Amsonia Tabernaemontana
Chelone Glabra
Phlox Paniculata 
Aster (Purple Dome)
Chasmanthium Latifolium (Northern Sea Oats)
Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)
OK … enough of the preaching … for your viewing pleasure here are some updated photos from the garden this afternoon:  

Peonies, Campanulas, and Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’.

Super blooms on the Ninebark ‘Summer Wine’.

Cascading branches on the same Ninebark.

Another view of a Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’.

Bloom on the Astilbe ‘Deutschland’.

Nepeta (Catmint) in near full bloom.

Close up shot of the Catmint blooms.

Nice big bud forming on the Iris ‘Snow Queen’. 

The buds are forming on the Camassia Esculenta. It worked … it friggin worked … successful bulbs!  

Amsonia is blooming for the first time. Loooove this native (wait until you see photos of the yellow fall color).

The ornamental grasses (Panicum) I butchered/divided into three a few weeks ago are all thriving. Tough little bastards.

I don’t do it enough … here are some Peony blooms brought indoors.

That’s all folks. If you’re reading this far down – thank you.