Native Plants for a Healthy (and Beautiful!) Home Garden Ecosystem

Read about the importance and beauty of native plants in my latest Garden Guru column for Seasons Style & Design Magazine. 
Click here:

Why include native plants in the home garden?
Native plants are an important part of a healthy ecosystem, but can they also be beautiful additions to our landscapes? “Absolutely,” says Steve Windham, landscape designer and owner of Root & Branch Gardens in Greensboro. “A lot of people are already gardening with natives, they just might not know it.” Many popular landscape plants are North Carolina natives, including purple coneflower, woodland phlox and cardinal flower. They thrive in Southern gardens because they have adapted to our growing conditions over thousands of years.

Noticing dwindling pollinator numbers, gardeners are enthusiastically embracing native plants. Humans need pollinators. Our food supply depends on their work to pollinate the agricultural crops we eat. Habitat loss, climate change and insecticides contribute to their decline. An earlier trend toward exotic ornamentals was also detrimental to pollinators. According to a study in the journal Nature, yards landscaped predominantly with exotic ornamentals had reduced butterfly and moth populations and fewer other insects. Now, more than ever, pollinators need our help.

Having a good proportion of native plants in the garden helps support local biodiversity. About a third of my plants are exotics like hellebores and cyclamen — two of my favorite nonnatives. In my view, exotics that aren’t invasive are fine as long as they don’t displace native species or cause harm to wildlife.

Here’s a sneak peek of a few of my favorite native plants. See the article for the complete list.

Asclepias: Both A. tuberosa and A. incarnata are essential to the pollinator garden and required host plants for caterpillars of the monarch and other butterfly species. A. tuberosa (butterfly weed) has a profusion of brilliant orange flowers. A. incarnata (swamp milkweed) bears copious clusters of pink-to-rose blossoms.

Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower): Brilliant red flowers appear summer through fall and attract hummingbirds. Occurring naturally along streams and wetlands, Lobelia thrives in a moist spot in the garden. L. siphilitica (great blue lobelia) has light to bright blue tubular blooms.

Helianthus angustifolius (swamp sunflower): Stately perennial with a multitude of yellow daisy-like flowers that bloom in late summer and into fall. Butterflies swarm the blossoms and songbirds fight over the seeds later in the season.

Chrysogonum virginianum (green and gold): The bright yellow flowers on this nonaggressive but nicely spreading ground cover light up the woodland garden as nearly evergreen leaves provide a backdrop for woodland plants.

And a few random native plant photos:

Rhexia virginica aka Virginia Meadow Beauty
Chrysogonum virginianum aka green and gold
Spigelia marilandica, aka Indian pink
Mertensia virginica aka bluebells
Lobelia cardinalis aka cardinal flower
Lobelia puberula aka downy Lobelia
Silene virginica aka fire pink
Asclepias tuberosa aka butterfly weed

Ps: Hope everyone is doing well. I am still trying to figure out WordPress and block editing. Anything new takes me a while to figure out, but I’ll get there. What are some of your favorite native plants in your garden or region? Any native plants you’ve added to your garden and wish you hadn’t? Because they can be aggressive spreaders, too!
Keep on gardening. I’m convinced it’s helping to keep me (mostly) sane in these bewildering days. Oh, and be sure to VOTE!

22 thoughts on “Native Plants for a Healthy (and Beautiful!) Home Garden Ecosystem

  1. I love your photos, Cheryl! I’ve always enjoyed gardens but have never considered myself a gardener. With the cats, I can’t have any houseplants (Wendy eats the leaves) and for years I left any yard work and outdoor beautification to my husband. He made a point of planting natives when we moved to our house 30 years ago. Now the backyard is like a mini-jungle 😉 A few months ago I started buying native plants, mainly for photography. I have several pots lining our deck, but yesterday I planted three in the front yard. The front yard needs work! I don’t have my log next to me so, of course, I can’t remember what they are, but I believe one is a blue basil (Tulsi basil). It smells wonderful and has pretty blue flowers. I have a firebush in a container for now. That one has been a real treat. We’ve had the pleasure of watching hummingbirds check out the flowers 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Marie. The garden always needs work, which is one of the reasons I love gardening! It mimics the human life cycle, as we are all in need of a little work and upkeep most of the time 😉 I had hummingbirds this year, which was a real treat. They had all but disappeared from my garden the past few years. I think it’s the increase in insecticides, herbicides, and chemical use in general. I used to have a lot of houseplants, but I gave them away because I couldn’t keep up with indoor and outdoor. I still bring one fern and one begonia inside to overwinter.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Someday, I will have both a garden of my own and the time to enjoy planting it. I often think of all the wonderful things I could plant to attract butterflies and other pollinators. My neighbor next door has a gorgeous garden, but is more into overall “look” than attracting pollinators. On WP, I am still in the older mode even though they keep trying to push me into the new one. LOL. Only so many hours in the day to learn stuff.
    Vote? Already done and in the ballot box in the town next to mine. This is not a year we can afford not to. I know we’re all struggling – me, too. Hang in there, Cheryl. We’ll get there. Jeanne

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely selection, Cheryl! Block editing feels so clunky at first – I’ve only had to use it on the art website I’m developing and that has much less text than a blog, but it might be possible perhaps for you to to install/convert over to the ‘classic editor’ – what we’re used to (you could check that out). I wish I could plant more exotic species of plants here, but I go for results and reliability these days :>) But I really wish I could see fireflies and bluebirds!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lynne, I forgot you don’t have fireflies and bluebirds! They are two of my favorite little beings. In the mountains of North Carolina there is a species of firefly called Blue Ghost Firefly. This firefly doesn’t flash, it glows constantly and looks like streamers of light ghosting around the forest floor! Isn’t that astonishing? I haven’t seen them in person, but plan to. Will this pandemic ever end? Take good care.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Cheryl! Since I’ve been walking more often in my area, I’ve noticed many native plants–both true wildflowers and those deliberately planted in butterfly gardens and such. I’m terrible at remembering plant names, even for those I know. We did plant butterfly weed this year that we got from a local native plants seller. By we, I mean my husband. 😏 I love gardens, but not gardening.

    Liked by 1 person

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