One of the most difficult aspects of creating a native plant wildlife garden can be finding the actual plants. It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing — will mainstream nurseries carry native plants before there’s a sustained call for them?
Fellow NPWG team member Ginny Stibolt recently wrote about that issue in her post on the importance of supporting the native plant industry. While there are more and more independent nurseries carrying native plants, and some devoted solely to selling native plants, it can still be a bit difficult for many gardeners to find reliable local sources for native plants.
One somewhat hidden source of regionally appropriate native plants can be your state’s native plant society or a local native plant center. They often hold a plant sale or two each year to raise money and help native plant enthusiasts buy garden-worthy but hard-to-find native plants.
I’m fortunate to live near the Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College, an affiliate of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Each spring they host a plant sale where locals can find an impressive array of native plants. If you garden in Westchester County, NY or lower Fairfield County, CT, I encourage you to attend the plant sale. I was so excited to see that this spring they are offering two native plants I’ve had on my wish-list for a few years.
In a few weeks my native plant garden will be richer with the addition of these two fairly elusive native plants…
Antennaria neglecta (Field Pussytoes)
I first heard about pussytoes during a lecture by Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home. He mentioned how he had planted pussy toes as a native groundcover in his garden and so it was immediately added to my ‘plants to research list’ and then to my official native plants wish list.
The only problem with pussytoes is that I’ve never seen them for sale anywhere remotely close to my home until I saw Antennaria neglecta on the list of plants for sale at the Native Plant Center.
Native to much of the US, field pussytoes is a low-growing and spreading ground cover that loves hot, dry, sunny spots but also tolerates part sun and average garden soil. Fluffy whitish-pink flowers cover the plant in the spring. Woolly hairs on the leaves lend a silver cast to the foliage which just adds to its overall appeal.
Senna hebecarpa (Wild Senna)
The first, and only, time I saw wild senna in a garden setting was in the garden of Brid Craddock, owner of a micro-nursery, Heirloom Gardens, and a fellow garden designer. On a visit to Brid’s garden one August, the wild senna was in full bloom and simply screaming for attention. It looked so exotic with its feathery foliage and bright yellow flowers. I was surprised and delighted to hear that this strange plant was a native to Connecticut.
I searched and searched but could only find a few online seed sources for Senna hebecarpa (I really didn’t need or want 250 seeds), but I could never find plants, until now.
Native to much of the eastern US, wild senna is considered threatened, of special concern or endangered in many of the New England states, including my home state of Connecticut.
At 5′ tall and almost as wide, this herbaceous perennial reaches the stature of many medium-sized shrubs. Give it a spot with full sun to part shade and average to moist soil and then let it do its thing. Its bright yellow flowers in mid-summer are especially attractive to bumblebees. The flowers are followed by long thin pods whose seeds are a favorite of birds. Senna hebecarpa is also a larval host plant for the cloudless sulphur butterfly.
Senna hebecarpa is ideal for use in a mixed border, especially when planted with large-leafed plants or those with dark foliage to help add textural and color contrasts.
If you can’t attend the Native Plant Center’s spring sale, take a look at the website of your local native plant organization. They’re probably gearing up for an upcoming native plant sale, too. These plant sales are a great way to support a local non-profit, get more native plants to support the wildlife in your garden and meet other native plant enthusiasts.
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