Friday, February 19, 2010

Native Plants and Plant Collecting

From In the Garden

******PSA*****Tomorrow's workshop on Tennessee Yards/Neighborhoods Done Right is CANCELED! ***

The one thing I have always valued most from blogging is learning. I am a life long learner and consider learning to be a basic principle and tenet of my life. It sounds corny but it is true and probably explains why I've attended college in some form or another for more than twenty years. Yes, you heard right-more than twenty years. Some of my close friends and family consider me a 'professional student'. I consider that a great compliment even if it is meant in a fun way instead of a serious way because learning is great!

Prior to beginning this blog in September of 2007 I knew very little about native plants. In fact, I kind of knew nothing. Yes, sure, I knew there was a native plant movement and that there were purists who espoused only native plants. I understood native plants are adapted to the their natural location and that they required less maintenance, but I just did not know enough about the plants themselves in order to really focus on native plantings so I never really paid much attention to the movement-until now.

The one thing I have always paid attention to was plant collecting. My number one goal for my garden is biodiversity. To me biodiversity means the greatest number of living organisms living together in a harmony. Specifically, I wish for a wide variety of plants (trees, shrubs, perennials, etc) for the pleasure of viewing, touching, smelling, and perhaps tasting. I also wish for these diverse plants to attract a great deal of other living creatures-insects such as butterflies, frogs, toads, and other small amphibians, and all birds-no deer, chipmunks, voles or squirrels need apply. I think a wider range of plants is more likely to attract more wildlife and so I collect plants. But let's be honest, I also collect plants to have the plants for my pleasure and to be the first one on the block with that new plant or that cool plant or the plant that no one else has or can get to grow. Yes, I will admit it all-plant collecting is for me.

I try to put all plants together in a fashion that pleases me. I envision sweeping English styled borders right next to moss carpeted woodland paths where trilliums bloom with abandon. I want the tallest oak tree, the greenest lawn, and the largest stand of brilliant coneflowers, I want it all in my garden. The reality is this, I can't have it all. After gardening here for eight years I've come to realize my dream of English styled borders will not work under the mature oaks and other trees I have on my property. I have had to adjust my vision of what type of plants and gardens please me.

It has been a struggle but one long overdue. I am now focusing more on shade plants and shade tolerant plants than any other type of plant. It is a bitter pill for me to swallow but after many failures in my garden I've decided to really work with my garden and change my focus from those English styled borders to a more natural setting. I have some spots that do receive some sun and I will still work within every square inch of those areas to grow the perennials I so love, but I am focusing more on native plants. And let me tell you why.

The biggest reason I am focusing on native plants in addition to learning about them more in depth-thanks to blogging-has been that many native plants are adapted to the shady conditions in my garden. If you think about it you will realize why. My area of the country is covered by deciduous forests. It is the primary biome of Tennessee and much of the southeastern United States. I think the term is called 'temperate deciduous forest biome' and explains why so many oaks, maples, hickories, and many other trees grow in this region. All of these types of trees make their home in my garden. I love my trees but the trade off is I have to choose more shade tolerant, and in most cases, less colorful plants to grow under the trees.

Fortunately, due to my plant collecting I have inadvertently already added many natives to my garden as well as non-natives and even some exotic plants. I am not going to stop collecting plants but I do plan to be more aware of a plant's origin when purchasing a new plant. This will give me an edge in ensuring a plant is adaptable to my climate and growing conditions regardless of whether the plant is native or non-native. Starting next Wednesday I've added another standard day posting to my monthly calender on my sidebar. Gail of Clay and Limestone posts a Wildflower Wednesday on her blog the fourth Wednesday of the month. I have learned so much from her blog regarding wildflowers and natives and for that I am most grateful to her. Since I had that Wednesday free I thought it would be an ideal 'Standard Day Posting' to add to my blog. Bear with me as I post on natives and wildflowers because I am still learning.

I am going to include not only wildflowers but natives on this Wednesday. I don't think the two are the same thing so I've taken a bit of a liberty with Gail's meme. Next Wednesday's post will see my first native plant posting. I have two Virginia bloggers to thank for identifying the plant for me and I will publicly thank them in that post. Like I said I am not too good with these natives so without the help of other bloggers-like you-I could never learn and I tell you that would not be a good thing for me-professional student or not:)

Now for a clue or two as to what this native plant might be:

1. It is evergreen.
2. It looks and smells like a Eastern red cedar but grows only 4" high.
3. It is a groundcover.
4. It grows in full shade-a bonus!

Check in next Wednesday for the answer. I could not find this plant in my books and there is scant information on the web about it. Please no guesses on this post. If you know the plant check in next Wednesday and say so then. Let's all learn together. Thanks.

in the garden....

The pictured wildflower above was identified by Gail. Thanks! It is a crinkled toothwort (Cardamine diphylla). It is so exciting seeing the stirrings of new life in the ground-native or not:)

I have been out of town on a garden learning trip, but will return later this evening and be around to visit all my blogging friends as soon as I am able to unwind and unpack. Thanks for visiting and be sure to put your thinking cap on for identifying this beautiful native plant I'll feature next week.

Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team,

In the Garden


  1. Wonderful post Tina. One I will be printing. And boy did you get my attention when you used the word "wildflower!" You know my love of wildflowers. When we travel, I try and buy a book on that regions wildflowers, as they vary some. (ie bluebonnets in Texas-other Lupines in Colorado)
    Love natives--I am always trying to learn more about them.
    Have a great weekend (we are painting! ugh!) :)

  2. Linda, You are going to have to help me as I don't know much about wildflowers. I planted some of Texas's famous Bluebonnets in a wheelbarrow out front. I so hope they come up. I loved yours last year. And my paperwhite bloomed finally. Unique smell for sure. Hubby is not liking it much. He adapts though:)

  3. Hopefully I can find a wildflower to post on for Gail too. Natives are definitely something good to put in the garden for the reasons you mentioned!

  4. Big proponent of native gardening-I like to be a friend to plants and animals in my area! Great Post:)

  5. I look forward to learning with you. I have enjoyed Gail's postings and yours will be a nice addition. Way to go Tina!

  6. Tina - your garden strategy sounds wonderful! I am a big admirer of shaded, woodland gardens with native plants. I came from that type of garden and had to switch to full sun, xeric and deer resistant!

    I agree with you that it is better to adapt to what will flourish.


  7. Hi Tina, really great post. The last 10 years have been a transition time for me too. Like you, I thought (and still think) the ideal is an English garden. Again, like you, the reality of my climate is not compatible with English plants. Now I concentrate on tough plants that survive the heat with no supplemental water and no pesticides. Of course natives fit those requirements perfectly. And there really are a lot to chose from.

    I am also a huge admirer of Gail's gardens. She has achieved a simple elegance that I love.

    Looking forward to your new topics.

  8. Interesting and informative post. I also am trying to grow more natives.


  9. You big sweetie~Thanks for the generous link and public service announcement on WW. If you read any of the native plant books they glump all indigenous native plants under wildflowers. Even some shrubs and trees...It maybe an easy way to include them in the publication!

    I love this particular toothwort...and you can look for the cutleaf one now as well.


  10. Super excited for the new post on Wed. I have been looking into using more native plants. I have a little over a half a dozen or so. So more than sum, less than most =)

  11. While I don't tend to like pundits or movements (people telling me, on any topic, what I *should* do or praising how great something is), I do love native plants. Largely because they are cute and because they will grow in my local area with minimal care from me, and that's how I roll. I'm also a lifelong learner, consider it normal and part of being alive, and am always surprised that other adults don't seem as excited about learning things. In fact, I've been called "childlike" in that regard, which I doubt was meant as a compliment, but I'm not going to apologize for having a zest for learning!

  12. Natives do make so much sense for sure and I LOVE wildflowers.

    As for being a professional student....I used to call Pete and Pamela perennial students. After Pete got his PHD and became a college professor, he still takes some courses but not as much, but Pamela is still at it. With your love of gardening I also say, above everyone else, you are a prerennial student.

  13. Hum, I dont have a clue unless maybe some type of Juniper.....

    Sunny and a beautiful day and weekend expected so out into the yard I go.... Yipeeeeeeee....

    Tina will be around to chat with y’all as soon as she returns and gets her self in order.....

    Everyone have a great weekend!!!

  14. What a great new weekly feature. I think although we gardeners love to collect plants, it is important to find out more about them, especially where they are from. Who know what other interesting information you may find in the process?

  15. I will enjoy learning more about your natives. I've always wondered if wildflowers and natives were the same thing, this is definitely an area I need to learn more about. I'm trying to do more native plants in my shady backyard under the big cedars. It's hard when you have an idea of what you want and then have to accept that it won't work easily in the yard you have.

  16. Just another learning experience. One I greatly admire. Since my new neighbor cut some trees I'm going to have to start over as to what I can plant. Not that much shade anymore.

  17. Embrace gardening in the shade - it's really magical, much more so than a full sun border where everything is out there flaunting it. I truly love my shade garden more than the sunny areas. There are so many fantastic shade plants, native & exotic, I can't imagine anyone not wanting to garden in shade. Mayapples, Bugbanes, Dicentras, woodland Phlox, Solomon's Seal, Toad lilies...I'd better stop, I'm getting carried away.

  18. great post. we should all grow more native plants

  19. I am back home now. Yeah! Snow is nearly all gone and it is warm! Garden fever is strong. Thanks everyone for stopping by. Tune in next Wednesday to see if you know what kind of plant I'll be posting on. I'll be most curious to see who knows it.

    Skeeter, Not a juniper...

    Mom, I think Pamela and Pete should be honored to be called professional students. It is a good thing to always learn and to be paid to do so is even better!

  20. Lola, The first thing you need to do is plant a tree to replace that shade. Especially living down south. Not sure which would be good but look for a smaller one and check your local nurseries.

  21. Native and shade gardens can be so beautiful, just as beautiful as English gardens imo... I love what Gail has done with her garden and the idea of Wildflower Wednesday.

  22. Welcome Back Tina...

    Oh my gosh Tina! I was in a rush this morning when I checked in and I missed the part about not guessing on this post. Opps I am so sorry and glad I was wrong :-) I should never read the blog unless I can give it my full attention. Darn, I hate when I make a mistake....

    I had to rush something to the Saint at work and the weather was so nice that he decided to take the rest of the day off! So off to lunch, a few errands and then home for me to play in the yard. I found some bulbs I dug out of a planter last year and never planted. They were sprouting so I put them into the ground and the smaller ones in pots. I must have planted 100 or more! OJ helped me and it was so much fun digging in the dirt today!

    Tomorrow is to be a nicer day so I will play with my bunny's in the woods. Think Green.....

    Everyone have a wonderful weekend....

  23. Skeeter, Don't you even worry about guessing! Who has time to read every little thing anyhow? Ha! Just kidding~! This is a tough plant and I did not know it and could not find it so I would be surprised if anyone else will be able to get it, but who knows? Some native experts might get it. Had you been right I would not have answered:) Gotta go cook now. I hope your day in the garden was fun. Mine will be this weekend. I need to get stuff done. Got a new bottle tree and found a spot for my wine bottles-two different spots. Got you all guessing? Wait and see:)

  24. Very interesting to read. I like you am a collector. I am learning that I need to be a little more discriminating and also to go to native plants more too.

  25. Love the trees, but sometimes I like having the sun for my roses!

  26. It's funny, but after spending the past year collecting sun-loving plants, I'm aiming for shade lovers as well. I still can use both...but my back yard, in particular, really has so much tree cover that I need to stop pretending it doesn't and realize some of those sun lovers don't belong back there! Plus, introducing more natives will mean less water and less 'trouble' in the long run. I'm learning a lot through blogging, and this sounds like an interesting thing you'll be doing!

  27. You're a Garden Encyclopaedia. No exaggerations here. I've learnt so much about bugs, plants, how things to be done around garden and all that stuff from you. I was scared to death to even transplant a seedling in the beginning but now I am comfortable even repotting a whole pot - all after reading your blog for more than a year now! You learning new stuff is, I learning really new stuff! I owe you a trillion thank yous, Tina. Keep them coming...

  28. Tina girl I also have been drawn to the way of the natives .. little by little and I also have the growing shade area to switch over for shade tolerant plants .. I don't mind .. our summers may be short but they are extreme with heat and humidity and if I have a shady refuge for birds etc .. and even ourselves ? LOL .. heaven knows a menopausal woman needs a bit of shade to hide in for a few moments while working in the garden .. right ? LOL
    Look forward to seeing your growing collection of native shade tolerant plants !

  29. Tina, I've learned so much about wildflowers from blogging, too. I even bought a book this year all about Illinois wildflowers. One thing I've learned, though, is that it takes a while to distinguish some of them! Who knew there were so many kinds of rudbeckia:) I am definitely a plant collector, too; every time I see a new, pretty plant on someone's post I want one, too. Looking forward to reading your wildflower/native posts and learning along with you.

  30. Dear Tina, I read this posting with a great deal of interest. That you are the 'eternal' student is absolutely to your credit. It may be a cliché, but I do believe that education is an on going part of life and is never complete.

    That you have to come to terms with the conditions of your garden seems to me to make absolute sense. There are such a wonderful variety of shade plants and, at the end of the day, I really consider trees to be the purest form of gardening.

    Thank you so much for commenting on my latest posting to which I have replied.

  31. wow, such an insightful and thorough post...although i don't have shade or deciduous trees, i enjoyed reading your post showed me that choosing natives will really work well in the environment that they are abundant in which i also agree with!

  32. Wildflowers for shade. I like the way you talk. That is right up my alley. You have my attention.

  33. I dreamed of pastel English borders and came to realize those won't work for me. I, too, am in the Southeast with a shady, rolling landscape. I believe what is most beautiful is what fits the context of the site. Hooray for natives! I'm not a purist, but natives are the stalwarts that survive. I am really looking forward to your new feature!

  34. Deb, Where are you at? I can't seem to find your blog. I'll check on Blotanical but your profile is blank. At any rate, thanks for dropping by. Sometimes we have to face reality and realize we don't live in England-though I hate to admit it:) A garden fitting the site is truly the best way to go.

  35. I think a lot of us envisioned having one of those gorgeous English borders Tina only to discover we don't have that same luscious climate. I've been in the same boat just different barriers. Not shade for me, but lack of moisture and too harsh a climate. It's good you've made the adjustment. I am slowly coming around but not completely YET. I'll look forward to following your progress and learning along with you. I also applaud your life long student status. It's great to retain that ~ and will keep your mind sharp too.
    ps I had no idea what the wildflower was you had posted. Gail is the perfect person to know this answer!