8 Great Native Cottage Garden Perennials Part I

April 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Cottage Gardening

Welcome to the first in my “8 Great” series! Each “8 Great” list will present eight plants that have something in common that’s of interest to gardeners. They might be good for shade or late summer interest or a particular set of soil conditions—the common theme could be just about anything. I’m going to get the ball rolling with a list of eight perennials that are superb cottage garden performers and also happen to be native plants.

What qualities does a plant have to have to be a good choice for cottage gardens? The plants that have done best for me withstand crowding with aplomb, grow well in rich soil, and are resistant to fungal diseases.

It turns out to be a lot easier to pinpoint what makes a plant good for cottage gardens than what makes a plant “native.” If that seems strange to you, read the sidebar What Makes a Plant Native? and you’ll see why.

In these posts, I’m going to use the term “native” fairly broadly. In general, it means that the plant is thought to have been growing in eastern North America before 1600 or, in the case of a hybrid, that its parents were. I guarantee you’ve seen some of these plants growing in the wild hundreds of times. It should be no surprise that a lot of what we think of as “roadside plants” look beautiful when transplanted to the garden and given a little TLC. After all, every plant is a “roadside plant” somewhere!

Amsonia tabernaemontana
Blooms May/June, pale blue flowers, 30-36″


img_3162Butterfly weed
Asclepias tuberosa
Blooms June/July, brilliant orange flowers, 24″


img_4110New England aster and New York aster
Aster novae-angliae * and A. novi-belgii *
Blooms August/September, many colors, 3-7′ depending on cultivar


coneflower1Purple coneflower
Echinacea purpurea
Blooms June/July, pinkish-purple flowers, 36″


heliopsisOxeye sunflower
Heliopsis helianthoides
Blooms July/Aug, medium yellow flowers, to 48″+


img_3027Bee balm
Monarda fistulosa, M. didyma and their hybrids *
Blooms late June/July and sporadically later on, many colors, 48″


img_3512Meadow phlox or wild sweet William
Phlox maculata *
Blooms July/Aug, pink or white and some bicolor flowers, 4-6′


img_3535Culver’s root
Veronicastrum virginicum
Blooms July/August, creamy white flowers, 6′

• Seek out mildew-resistant cultivars

Bloom times and other life cycle stats are accurate for northwest Connecticut. In milder areas all aspects of a plant’s life cycle may occur earlier in the year, and in colder areas, later.

What Makes a Plant “Native?”
Happily, people seem to be showing more of an interest in native plants than formerly, but they’re often surprised to learn how hard it is to define what “native” means. Native to Connecticut? New England? Eastern North America?

And if you pin down that first part, then there’s a temporal problem. Native as of when? It’s easy to assume that we should use a date somewhere in the early 17th century, when European colonists began arriving in North America in numbers, but that would be somewhat arbitrary, in part because plants migrate slowly even without any help from people (colonists or Native Americans), changing their range over time in response to all sorts of environmental factors. In some cases, we don’t even know if a plant was growing in North America when the first colonists arrived or if it escaped from cultivation and became widespread before anyone thought to record the fact.

Native plant societies and state botanical societies are often the best resources for gardeners interested in exploring plants native to their state or small region.

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