A new year starts this week and I thought this would be a good time to let you look back at my own gardens the past year and consider it a preview of things to come. I want to prove to you that gardening with native plants is not restrictive or a hardship; that you can have sustainable gardens that are stunning, lush, diverse, bountiful, and colorful.
To those of you who don’t know me, I live near Chicago in zone 5A, with cold, snowy, windy winters to -20; hot, humid summers, sometimes with long droughts; and delightful springs and autumns that are far too short.
Snow-covered metal mesh furniture, a copper fountain filled with conifer branches, and clumps of Long-beaked Sedge (Carex sprengellii) and Northern Sea Oats (Uniolalatifolia) make a pretty picture in winter.
The ground is still covered with snow in our area in February. Note how the horizontal branches of the Black Haw (Viburnum prunefolium) catch and hold the snow. Repetition of the horizontal line that reflects the flatness of the Midwestern prairie is the strongest feature of Prairie Style landscaping practiced by Jens Jensen in the first half of the 20th century.
March-blooming catkins of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) One would not notice these golden catkins later in the year if they had to compete with other showier spring shrubs, but, in March, they are exceptionally welcome. Cut branches in February to bring into the house for forcing. Hazelnut was another shrub used extensively by Jens Jensen.
April Woodland wildflowers explode in April along the north side of my garage, as shown here. The glistening, golden-yellow Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), growing amongst Marginal Shield Fern (Dryopteris marginalis), blooms even in deep shade. Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), next to the poppies, thrive in the same kind of situation. The sky blue bells of Jacob’s Ladder (Polonium reptans) bloom within a matrix of Penn Sedge in the foreground of the garden.
May Shooting Star (Dodecatheon media) and Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) combine beautifully in my entrance garden in May and continue to bloom through most of June. They both grow well in full sun, while Shooting Star will also thrive in part shade. They like a dry to dry-mesic situation.
My side yard in June. Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) grows taller and blooms earlier than the more familiar Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). The petals of Pale Purple Coneflower are also longer, more drooping, and a lighter, brighter pink. In nature Pale Purple Coneflower is found in dry to mesic prairies; and while Purple Coneflower grows in sunny gardens, in the wild it is more likely to be found in oak savannas.
My side yard garden mid-July Candelabras of Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) contrast with the button blossoms of Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) and the yellow daisies of False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides).
My house in August Showy Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia speciosa var. sullivantii) dominates the August garden. Rare in the wild, Rudbeckia speciosa is nevertheless ecstatically happy in our gardens, cheerfully seeding itself about with the utmost abandonment.
My Savanna Garden in September
Here is last February’s Black Haw in its autumn dress. Aromatic Aster (Aster oblongifolius) blooms in front of it, while Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) is in bloom on the right.
My Savanna Garden in October
American Hazelnut, last featured in March, is stunning once more in its autumn coloration. The foliage becomes gold and tangerine mixed with green at first; then turns to an all over scarlet.
Groundcover of Common Cinquefoil in November. Little known, Common Cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex) makes an attractive, low-growing, creeping groundcover in dry prairies, savannas, and woodlands. At my house, it mixes with Penn Sedge (Carex pensylvanica) under the Black Haw. It has small flat, 5-petaled, yellow flowers in June and turns this gorgeous color in autumn.
My front porch in December
I used this photograph for my Christmas Card in 2009. The snow-covered grass is Indian Grass ( Sorghastrum nutans), while Blue Wild Indigo ( Baptisia australus) has a compelling presence next to the stairs. Stayed tuned for 2011
Though we in the Chicago region and elsewhere have been generous in supporting open space referendums, Dr. Gerould Wilhelm, author of Plants of the Chicago Region, reminds us that publicly owned open space will never be more than a small fraction of our land. Therefore, what we plant in our own yards is crucial to the health, diversity, and sustainability of our environment.