Can I have continuous bloom in my native plant garden? Part 2

In my previous article, I discussed continuous blooms for the shady garden as a response to someone’s query, so in this piece I will look at plants for the “average” garden – moist to dry soils, full sun to part shade. (Unless noted otherwise, all images are from my southwestern Ontario garden.)

Part 2 – The Less Shady Yard

When I started growing native plants in my garden, I was disappointed that for much of the early part of the growing season there wasn’t much colour in my garden. Once the spring ephemerals like trilliums and bloodroot were finished in the shade garden, nothing much happened till July. It seemed to me that Mother Nature only offered native colour in the summer and fall. So that’s when I started to dig deeper into the native plant literature. It didn’t take me long to start finding the missing pieces. In this article, I will offer up some native plant choices that will help you provide colour in your garden, and food for the local pollinators, from spring right through till the snow comes.

April/May/June – May is when some of my favourite native plants start to bloom. Geum triflorum (prairie smoke) starts to blossom in early May and continues well into June. It has an unusual pink blossom, but it’s the wispy pink seed heads that give this plant its name and is the real attraction in the garden. I have seen fields of prairie smoke in Manitoba, and it does look like smoke laying close to the ground. Planted in swaths as a foreground plant, it can provide quite a show. Another interesting foreground/rock garden plant is Antennaria neglecta (field pussytoes), with its white tufts of flowers that give it its common name. Note that Antennaria is a host plant for the American Lady butterfly.

We have a couple of very low-growing buttercups that bloom very early in the spring, too. Ranunculus rhomboideus (prairie buttercup) produces yellow flowers in late April – often one of the very first flowers to blossom in my garden – and R. fascicularis (early buttercup) starts to flower about 2-3 weeks later. Prairie buttercup keeps flowering for several weeks, too.

Zizia aurea (golden Alexander) blooms from early/mid May for about a month with wild-carrot like foliage and bright yellow flowers. This is a host pant for the black swallowtail butterfly. The first time I grew one of these, I found 7 black swallowtail caterpillars on the single plant. (I have since planted many more!). I find they do self seed quite a bit, but the heavy seeds do not seem to land far from the parent plant.

The hummingbirds love my Aquilegia canadensis (wild columbine). In my southern Ontario garden, it usually starts blossoming in early to mid-May and provides that first splash of reds/oranges for the season. This tough little perennial loves to self seed, and I let it pop up anywhere it wants in my yard – from full sun to full shade, in bone dry soil to consistently moist soil. Around the same time, my Capnoides sempervirens (pale corydalis or rock harlequin) starts to flower. This delicate little flower is an annual (sometimes biennial) that blooms right through till late fall. It, too, is a prolific self seeder, and though it doesn’t tolerate as much shade as wild columbine, it doesn’t seem too fussy about moisture. Often found in shallow soils on alvars, this plant is another with a two-tone blossom – pink and yellow.

Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf coreopsis) starts to bloom in late May/early June in my garden and is another long-lasting splash of yellow – staying in continuous bloom well into mid-summer. And if you have the right soil (sandy, well drained), Lupinus perennis (wild blue lupine) flowers around the same time, and is host for the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

Phlox also starts to bloom in May – Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox) and P. subulata (moss phlox) are Ontario natives, P. stolonifera (creeping phlox) is native just south of the Great Lakes. These range from blue, to white, to hot pink. (P. subulata is very common in garden centers – look for the true species rather than cultivars – which are denoted with a name in quotation marks, such as ‘Candystripe’ or ‘Ice Mountain’.) Be warned, though, that phlox seems to be a favourite on the menu for your local rabbits.

There are lots more late-spring/early-summer natives, like Geranium maculatum (wild geranium), Tradescantia ohioensis (Ohio spiderwort), Oenothera pilosella (prairie sundrops), and even Packera paupercula (balsam groundsel), but this list will give you a good start.

July/August – this is when all the showier native plants come into their own. I personally like the yellows of Coreopsis lanceolata superimposed with the oranges of Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed) – a combination I discovered by accident when my milkweed self seeded into another garden bed. Our lilies (Lilium canadense and L. michiganense) give great shows in mid to late summer, as do many of our sunflowers, coneflowers, mountain mints, Monardas (didyma, fistulosa and punctata), and all of our Asclepias (milkweeds). Our Allium cernuum (nodding wild onion) looks lovely in part shade.  See the table (below) for a list of several more late summer bloomers.

September to snowfall – fall is the time for goldenrods and asters. (And, no, goldenrods do not give you hayfever – it’s the wind-borne pollen of ragweed that blooms at the same time that is the culprit.) Some goldenrods are very aggressive, and should only be planted in appropriately large spaces – like Solidago canadensis (Canada goldenrod), S. juncea (early goldenrod) and Euthamia graminifolia (grass-leaved goldenrod). But many are very well behaved, and even have interesting foliage and flowers. These include S. rigida (stiff goldenrod), S. speciosa (showy goldenrod) and the more unusual white goldenrods – S. ptarmicoides (upland white goldenrod) and S. bicolor (silverrod).

As for asters – take your pick. There are so many, and they range from blues to pinks to whites, from short to tall, from full sun to part shade, from dry soils to wet. A few of my favourites are Symphiotrichum oolentangiense (sky blue aster) – a full sun, medium height plant that will be covered with gloriously blue blossoms; S. novae-angliae (New England aster) – a tall, pink to purple aster that handles being cut back in early summer by 1/3 to produce a shorter, thicker plant with a profusion of flowers; S. ericoides (white heath aster) – a smaller white aster with a lacy foliage and a profusion of tiny white blossoms in full sun; and the very tall (up to 6’ or more) Doellingeria umbellata (flat-topped white aster) which loves full sun and moister soil than many of the others.

Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke) flowers well into the fall – but be careful where you plant it as it will spread by its underground tubers. I planted mine in a plastic 45 gal barrel, cut in half and sunk into the ground. This way I get great tasting tubers in the fall and don’t have to worry about the plant taking over my yard. (This technique works well for other spreading plants, like common milkweed, the aggressive goldenrods, and others.) Helenium autumnale (sneezeweed) is another late bloomer, as is Coreopsis tripteris (tall tickseed) and Heliopsis helianthoides (false sunflower). And many of the earlier bloomers will still be blossoming well into the fall – plants like Monarda didyma (bee balm), Rudbeckia hirta (black eyed Susan), Rudbeckia laciniata (green headed coneflower), Silphium perfoliatum (cup plant), Silphium laciniatum (compass plant), and Vernonia missurica (Missouri ironweed).

Happy COLOURFUL gardening, all season long.

Virginia Mountain Mint 

The fragrant minty leaves of this plant can be used in your dinner, but I prefer it to leave it in the garden where lots of bees and other pollinators can be found on the flowers. The tiny white flowers, upon close inspection, are covered in little purple polka dots. This delightful flower is a must have in your native plant garden, and it tolerates a wide range of light, soil and moisture conditions. As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections, below, are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature. This Plant of the Month article has been adapted from our book The Gardener’s Guide to Native Plants of the Southern Great Lakes Region. 

Common Name: Virginia Mountain Mint 

Scientific Name: Pycnanthemum virginianum 

Family: Lamiaceae (Mint Family) 

Alternate Common Names: American Mountain Mint, Common Mountain Mint, Mountain Mint, Mountain Thyme, Pennyroyal, Prairie Hyssop, Virginia Thyme, Wild Basil, Wild Hyssop 

Plant description: Virginia Mountain Mint is a bushy plant with frequently branching stems that are 4-angled, green to reddish in colour and have scattered hairs along the edges. Opposite, stalkless leaves are found along the stem, the largest of which measure up to 6cm long and 1cm wide. Each leaf is toothless, hairless and has a pointed tip and rounded base. Stems terminate with numerous flat clusters of densely packed, tubular flowers. Each flower is small, at about 0.6cm wide, and features an upper lip with 2 lobes and a lower lip with 3 lobes. The upper lips often look like one lip. Both lips are white with purple spots. Flowers each mature into a dry capsule that holds 4 tiny, black seeds. 

Similar to Slender Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) which has smooth stems and narrower leaves. 

In the Garden: There are many reasons to love Virginia Mountain Mint including its copious, long-lasting blooms to its persistent seed heads that provide excellent winter interest. The minty foliage not only smells delightful but is rarely, if ever, bothered by browsing herbivores. 

Skill level: beginner 

Lifespan: perennial 

Exposure: full sun to part shade 

Soil Type: sand, clay, loam 

Moisture: medium to moist to wet 

Height: 75-90 cm 

Spread: 30-45 cm 

Bloom Period: Jul, Aug, Sep 

Colour: white with purple 

Fragrant (Y/N): Y (leaves) 

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: no serious insect or disease problems, though stressed plants are susceptible to rust 

Natural Habitat: mesic to wet prairies, edges of streams, marshes and sedge meadows 

Wildlife value: typical visitors include honeybees, and a wide variety of native bees, beetles, and seems to be a favourite of Pearl Cresecent (Phyciodes tharos) butterflies 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: none 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: none 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-7 

Propagation: No pretreatment of seeds is necessary, but the tiny seeds need light to germinate so simply press into the soil in spring. Easily propagated by tip cuttings taken in June, or by lifting the clump in late fall or early spring and dividing. 

Additional Info: Tolerates flooding early in the growing season only. Drought tolerant. Can be an aggressive spreader but is less so in drier soil. 

Native Range:  

Is it Invasive or is it just Aggressive? 

This article is NOT about invasive species, but is about the strategies I use to deal with aggressive species in the garden. But first, a note about invasive species. 

Common Reed or Phrag (Phragmites australis), Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) – these names tend to strike fear (or at least dread) into hearts of native plant gardeners.  They are all invasive species. 

What makes them so bad? All were introduced into gardens from which they then escaped into the wild. There, their ability to spread was so powerful that they soon started to exclude the local plants (and sometime even animals).  

Invasive species may spread by seed (e.g. Garlic Mustard, Phragmites, Buckthorn) or by rhizome (Japanese Knotweed, Lily of the Valley) or both. Control of the spread is difficult, at best.  

Definitions 

In the US, the USDA National Invasive Species Information Center (https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/what-are-invasive-species) defines an invasive species as a species that is: 

1) non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and, 

2) whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. 

This harm often arises because the plant (in this case) either spreads so prolifically as to exclude all or most other plants, or it uses chemical warfare to eliminate any competition. 

In Canada, the Invasive Species Centre (https://www.invasivespeciescentre.ca/learn/) states that invasive species “kill, crowd out, and devastate native species and their ecosystems”. It goes on to state that  

“A species in considered invasive when: 

  1. It is introduced to an ecosystem outside of its native range, and 
  1. It has potential impacts on the ecology, the economy, or society in its introduced range.” 

They also point out that in order for a species to become invasive, it must “possess the ability to outcompete and overwhelm native species in its introduced range.” 

Thus, an invasive species is one that is an aggressive spreader. And though we have many native species that are aggressive spreaders – Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) comes to mind – these plants are not considered invasive because they fail to meet the first criterion of an invasive species – they are not introduced to the ecosystem. They belong here. 

The analogy I like to use is that if a foreign military power attacked one of our cities and did a lot of damage – we would say they had invaded us. But if our own military did the same damage, we wouldn’t say they had invaded (because they belonged here) but that they were, instead, being very aggressive.   

Aggressive Native Plants in the Garden 

Seed Spreaders 

In my southwestern Ontario garden, with its soft, loamy soil, a number of plants behave rather aggressively. Some of these, such as Silphium perfoliatum (Cup Plant) and Rudbeckia laciniata (Green Headed Coneflower), self-seed prolifically. These garden bullies provide great shows in the summer, but tend to outcompete everything else. The only thing I might do to control them is cut off the seed heads before the seeds ripen. Except I don’t do this because I want the seeds to provide winter nourishment for the birds. So instead, I spend a fair bit of energy and time each spring thinning out the excess plants. (These get potted up and planted elsewhere, or are sold to others so I can buy more plants.) 

I have a number of other plants that also self seed prolifically, but they are welcome in the garden because they tend to play nice with others. These include the lovely little Pale Corydalis (Capnoides sempervires), Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum), and a couple of milkweeds – Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata). Although they pop up all over the yard, they are not aggressive like Cup Plant so I generally welcome their spread. 

Rhizome Spreaders 

The other way plants spread aggressively in my yard is by rhizome – underground “roots” that pop up plants where you least expect them.  These tend to be the more troublesome group. Some of these plants, like Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and Star Flowered Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellatum) can produce such a dense mat of roots that they eventually begin to exclude many of the other plants. These are the real trouble makers. But I have found a way to keep these aggressive spreaders in check. 

Vines and Vine-like Plants 

Not all aggressive plants spread by seed or rhizome. A couple spread by above ground runners, too. Wild Grape (Vitis spp) and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) are two fairly aggressive woody vines that can quickly cover fences or trees if allowed to spread. Fortunately, an quick annual pruning is all that’s needed to keep them in check. 

A perennial, vine-like plant that likes to take over garden spaces is the lovely Virgin’s Bower Clematis (Clematis virginiana). It seems that every leaf-node that touches the ground on this rapid growing and sprawling plant wants to set down roots and sprout a new plant, which then sends out its own runners (stolons) which do the same. My Clematis grows along the fence that bounds one of my flower beds. Each spring I have to follow the runners throughout the flowerbed and pull up dozens and dozens of plants. Fortunately, these are readily potted up for resale so I can buy even more plants (or to give away if you’re not as mercenary about it as I am).  

Controlling the clematis is a challenge in my garden because I like the look of it sprawling along the fence. If I wanted to keep it under better control, I would simply plant it in front of a trellis and prune it to stay there. 

Controlling the Spread of Rhizomes – Root Barriers 

My first root barrier was for Purple Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odorata). I was warned that these shallow rooted shrubs send out a lot of rhizomes, so I purchased a length of aluminum from a company that makes eavestrough. (They were installing new eavestrough on the house across the street so I just went over and asked if I could buy some.) This allowed me to “fence off” a large area.  

It took many years before the leaf litter and wood chips got deep enough to allow the roots to go over the barrier. A little maintenance once every few years would have prevented this, but where it was growing I wasn’t too worried about it. And it’s definitely an easy fix if I decide to bring it back under control. 

In order to keep plants more contained, I now grow all my aggressive spreaders in a large pot in the ground – in my case I use half of a plastic 45 gallon barrel, sunk into the garden. The barrels are cheap – you can usually pick up one for $10-20 (which gives you two pots). Sometimes you can even find them for free as I did when I volunteered to help clean up the river bank with our local conservation authority.  

After cutting the barrel in two, I then drill some 1” holes in the bottom for drainage. I dig out a hole deep enough so that only about 1” of the barrel is above the ground, set the barrel in, then put the soil back in. (This is a great opportunity to amend your garden soil if, for instance, you are putting in an acid soil loving shrub, of if your soil is heavy clay and your plant wants a sandy loam, etc.) 

I planted my Jerusalem artichokes in a half barrel 5 years ago. It has never escaped. And each fall I simply harvest as many of the tubers as I find – I always miss a few tiny ones – and the next year these missed pieces become a new crop. 

If digging a 3’ by 3’ hole in your yard is more than you can handle, I have successfully grown Common Milkweed and Grass-leaved Goldenrod in a large plastic pot – the kind small trees often come in. They’re only about 12-16” tall and a foot across. The plants grew in them for years. 

A List of Troublemakers 

The list below is by no means comprehensive, but it includes those that are the worst offenders in my garden for spreading by rhizomes. These are plants that need a lot of room to spread and may not be suitable for smaller garden spaces unless their control is kept in check with some form of root barrier.  (Listed in alphabetical order by scientific name.) 

Canada Anemone (Anemonastrum canadense

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca

Virgin’s Bower Clematis (Clematis virginiana

Grass-leaved Goldenrod (Eurybia divaricata

Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus

Star Flowered Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellatum

Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana

Prickly Gooseberry (Ribes cynosbati) 

Smooth Wild Rose (Rosa alba

Purple Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odorata

Canada Goldenrod (Solidago Canadensis)  

Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) 

You CAN grow many of these aggressive plants in a small space without them getting out of hand. I hope these suggestions help you grow some of the lovely native plants we have that you haven’t grown before because of their aggressive nature. 

Happy Native Plant Gardening. 

Book Review: Taming Wildflowers 

By Miriam Goldberger 

  • Publisher: ‎St. Lynn’s Press, 2014 
  • Paperback‏:‎ 208 pages 
  • ISBN-10: ‏0985562269 
  • Dimensions: 8.5” X 8.5” 
  • Price: $25.99 (Indigo.ca); $18.89 (Amazon.com) – hardcover 

Note: This review is adapted from the one I posted to Amazon after purchasing the book in 2020. 

There are a lot of things to like about this award winning book (The Garden Writers Association Silver Award of Achievement). The book seems to be geared primarily to introducing new gardeners to the joy of growing “wildflowers”, but it can be confusing in places for the newbie. I’ll start with what I like about it, and wrap up with the flaws, as I see them. (I will say up front that, after publishing my own book on the topic, I now have a greater appreciation for what it takes to put a book like this together – including the challenges of working with a publisher and an editor.) 

First off, the pictures, for the most part, are fabulous. Not only does Goldberger have clear pictures of the flower, but also shows a picture of what the baby plant looks like. Although not really necessary for a new gardener, once your garden is established this will really help you figure out which emerging plants in the spring are weeds, and which are supposed to be there.  

She also goes into fairly good detail in the front of the book on the importance of “wildflowers” (I will explain later why I continue to put this word in quotation marks) with a discussion about pollinators, birds and the connection to our own health. (On this subject – the best book I have read to date is Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home).  

Each flower has its own page – there are 60 of her favourite “wildflowers” (which includes some grasses) – with excellent descriptions on height, colour, light, soil and moisture needs, a germination code for when you want to start your own from seed, and some of its key strengths and weaknesses (e.g. deer resistance, suitability for containers, salt tolerance, edibility, etc.) And finally it indicates which states and provinces the plant is native to (more on this later, too).  

I originally thought I liked that she has arranged the plants based on the season they come into bloom – spring, late spring-early summer, summer, and fall – but that makes it a bit more challenging to go directly to a plant’s page in the book if you are unsure of its flowering time. At the end of the book there are great instructions, based on years of her own experience, for starting your own plants from seed, on ecosystem gardening, on composting, and more. She concludes the book with a two-page spread indicating which are the best wildflowers to grow, based on your soil type. All in all, this is a wonderful, fact and picture filled book that would be a great addition to any gardener’s library. 

Despite all these great things, I was bothered by the fact that Goldberger has a very loose definition of a wildflower. At one point, she equates wildflowers with native plants, but I don’t believe that is what most people think of when they hear the term. She even talks about her first attempt to plant a meadow by buying a package of “Northeastern Wildflower Meadow Mix” that was mostly non-native species, and the frustration that resulted. (This is EXACTLY how I got started into native plants, so I can relate.) She also has an entire section, set up in the same format as the native plant descriptions, of 19 non-natives like Chinese basil, scarlet runner beans, Mexican sunflower and zinnias. Not only are these non-natives, but it’s hard to even picture most of them as “wildflowers”.  

The second serious issue I have is that the plants are listed in alphabetic order by common name within the respective season of blooming sections. The big issue with this is that common names vary considerably by region. In the book, she calls Asclepias incarnata Red Milkweed. I’ve only ever called it Swamp Milkweed and didn’t know where for look (till I looked in the index). Slightly less annoying (till I learned to consult the index first) is that if you don’t actually know the bloom period for a plant, you can’t easily find it in the book. 

After that, my issues with the book get a little bit nit-pickier – listing the state or province the plants are native to is fine when you have small states, but Canadian provinces are HUGE, and plants native to southern Ontario, for instance, may not be (and probably aren’t) native to most of the rest of the province. A native-range map would have been far more helpful in determining if one of these flowers would survive in your garden.  

Goldberger also includes a section on cut-flower arrangements and includes a section of photos showing off her arrangements. There is even a section of wedding photos, some of which include images of her bouquets in action. Definitely not something that interested me. This is her business, after all, but it felt more like an advertisement than a book on growing wildflowers.  

My overall summary – this is still a great book for a new, or even experienced, gardener who wants to grow more native plants, despite what I see as its flaws. But if you really want to grow native plants – for all their benefits – use this book as a general guide, then check out the web to find out if that plant is actually native where you live or somewhere far away. 

© The Native Plant Gardener 2024 

Bloodroot 

Scientific Name: Sanguinaria canadensis 

This month’s plant is one of our early emerging spring ephemerals. I always love the cigar-like tube of furled leaves that unfurl after the flower has shown itself. This forest floor species is sure to brighten you shade garden in the spring.

As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature.

Family: Papaveraceae (Poppy Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Bloodwort, Indian Paint, Puccoon, Red Puccoon 

Plant Description: Bloodroot only has basal leaves. They measure up to 13 cm wide, are lobed into three to nine parts, and have a deep indent at the base. The leaf edges have shallow, rounded teeth and the leaf surfaces are smooth. Flowers open before the leaves fully unfurl in the spring. A single flower is borne at the top of each naked, 10 cm tall, reddish stem. Each flower measures 7.6 cm wide and is characterized by eight to 16 white petals surrounding numerous yellow stamens. Each flower matures into a long, tapered seed capsule that splits open to release 10 to 15 dark red seeds. 

In the Garden: The early, fleeting beauty of Bloodroot flowers is a springtime show you don’t want to miss! Each delicate flower blooms for only one to two days, but the bold leaves that emerge shortly after will persist well into late summer and make an excellent groundcover. The foliage is not often eaten by herbivores. 

Skill Level: Beginner 

Lifespan: Perennial 

Exposure: Full shade to part shade (during early to midspring, this plant should have access to some sunlight, otherwise the flowers may fail to open) 

Soil Type: Well-drained, humus-rich soils 

Moisture: Medium 

Height: 10–20 cm 

Spread: 7.5–15 cm 

Bloom Period: Apr, May 

Colour: White 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: No serious insect or disease problems 

Natural Habitat: Rich deciduous woods and forests 

Wildlife Value: Pollen of the flowers attracts various kinds of bees and other insects 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: None 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: Southern Armyworm (Spodoptera eridania) and the Tufted Apple Bud Moth (Platynota idaeusalis

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–8 

Propagation: The most reliable method of propagation is by seed, which have a double dormancy requiring two 30-day periods of cold separated by a 30-day mild period. Seeds must not be allowed to dry out and are best planted immediately following harvest. In nature they take two years to sprout, and some seeds may not sprout for two years even with artificial stratification. Plants can be propagated by rhizome division in either fall or early spring, but wear gloves and wash your hands after handling the roots as the sap is potentially toxic. Bloodroot is a challenge to germinate and grow to maturity. I have had considerable success growing new Bloodroot plants from pieces that break off when being dug in my garden, as long as there is a piece of root still attached. 

Additional Info: Bloodroot seeds are dispersed by ants, which take the seeds back to their nest to consume the energy-rich appendage called the elaiosome before discarding the seed. 

Range Map: 

On Writing a Book 

March 1, 2024 is an exciting date for me. This is the release date of my book The Gardener’s Guide to Native Plants of the Southern Great Lakes Region. I thought that for this month’s article I would share a bit of what it took to get this book to publication. 

The Original Idea 

I started growing native plants in my yard around 2006. As with many native plant gardeners I’ve met, the process got off to a slow start. I knew nothing about our native species and, as many do, I soon learned that “wildflower” was not the same as “native” and that many of our wildflowers were actually garden escapes of European origin. What I really needed was a book to help me figure it all out.  

One of my first books was Lorraine Johnson’s fabulous 100 Easy to Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens (Whitecap Books, 2005). With lovely photos and vital statistics about each plant, it was a fantastic jumping off point on my journey. I soon found, though, that many of the plants in my little book weren’t actually native to where I live, so I started buying more books on the subject. (I now have over 20 feet of bookshelf space dedicated to nature – most of which are directly or indirectly related to native plants and native plant gardening!) 

The more I read, the more frustrated I became that I couldn’t find everything I needed in a single volume. Some books provided great growing information, some had wonderful photos of flowers, some had images of the seedhead and leaf, others had great anecdotal information about the ecology of the plants, but none seemed to have it all. And only one (Gisèle Lamoureux’s Flore printanièr [Spring Flora] – published by Fleurbec in Quebec and written in French) provided any kind of native range maps. I wanted to know if the plants I was about to add to my garden were actually NATIVE to my area, not just somewhere in my province.  

The Inspiration 

Then, around 2015, I bought a copy of Manitoba Butterflies: A Field Guide (I was living in Manitoba at the time) by Simone Hebert Allard and published by Turnstone Press (you can read my review of the book at https://www.amazon.ca/gp/customer-reviews/R39JQA3T4VPF1Y?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp). That’s when the lightbulb came on. This was the format that a book for native plant gardeners needed to have. A two-page spread for each plant, photos of the plants showing the leaf, the seedhead, the flower, and of the whole plant (ideally in a garden setting). But, critically, it also should have a detailed map of WHERE the plant was native. After all, native plant gardeners want to know if the plant they are growing is actually native to where they live.  

Research, Research, Research 

When I started putting together the book, I started by simply using the spreadsheet I had created that listed all the plants I was growing in my own garden. By that time, I had over 200 species of native and near-native plants. I created a file folder for each plant and then systematically began putting everything I could find into each plant’s respective folder. This included photos, maps, scientific journal articles, and a page of links to various websites.  

I then created a template of the information I thought was needed in such a book. I started to sift through the thousands of documents I had and fill in the blanks in each plant’s template page. This template grew as I added more sections, then shrunk again as I removed some which, for various reasons, we decided to leave out (edibility and medicinal uses, for example, were two we eventually removed). 

Collaboration 

I spent about 3-4 years working on this project in my spare time. By this point, I had a mostly complete template page for about 230 species. I had no problem filling in the blanks for each plant from my research – information like plant height and width; flower colour; soil, sun and moisture needs; propagation; and so on. I realized that the book also needed a description of the plant to help people with more detail than you might see in a photo, and a description of the plant in the garden. But by this time I was running out of enthusiasm. It had been a solo effort that consumed almost all of my free time, often working late into the nights. 

That’s when I was inspired by an article I read by Shaun Booth. Shaun ran In Our Nature, a native plant nursery and ecological garden design and construction business in southern Ontario. He also launched the Ontario Native Plant Gardening group on Facebook (which now has close to 25,000 followers). I asked Shaun if he would be interested in writing up the plant description parts and he said yes.  

Bringing Shaun into the project launched a 2 year partnership that rekindled my enthusiasm for the project. It gave me someone knowledgeable to bounce ideas off of and, like me, Shaun believed the book was necessary. 

Getting the Picture 

Both Shaun and I have been photographing flowers in our gardens and in the wild for many years. But it soon became apparent that if we were going to use our own imagery in the book, we were going to need a lot more pictures than what we had (and, believe me, we had LOTS!).  

We quickly realized that we both photographed primarily the flowers. We were missing examples of the leaf and seedheads and of the whole plant in the garden for many species, and that meant we had to go back to the start and make a list of what we were missing then try to get those shots.  

While we pursued a publishing contract, we spent a lot of time getting those images. But just in case we couldn’t get good photos, we also started to approach folks who had posted the images we needed on iNaturalist and other sites. And almost every single person we approached agreed to let us use their image. Many didn’t even want the photo credit (but if we used their photo, we certainly gave credit). In the end, we managed to take most of our own pictures, and I want to acknowledge our heartfelt gratitude to all those who offered up their images. 

Making the Maps 

Mapping the native ranges for the plants was a whole other adventure. Fortunately, my background is in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and making maps is what I did for many years. However, as I say in the introduction in the book: 

“The maps in this book have been generated using all the information we could find online and through scientific journals and other publications. Some species, such as the goldenrods and asters, have been studied extensively in Ontario and elsewhere, and their native range is reasonably well documented. For many plants, however, there is little information available at an appropriate scale. In some cases, multiple sources provided similar ranges, which made mapping easy. However, in a few cases the range maps were so different that I wondered if they were even talking about the same species.” 

Fortunately, we also had the fantastic support of ecologists and state botanists who graciously looked over the maps and pointed out any egregious misinterpretations we might have made. The result is that the book contains a map for each plant that shows its approximate native range in the southern Great Lakes region. 

Finding a Publisher 

Finally, we were ready to publish. That process was a long and challenging one. In Canada, the process for getting a non-fiction book published is very different than for publishing a novel. The industry standard is to produce a multi-page proposal that outlines what the book is about, provides examples of the content, compares it to books already on the market (the competition) and explains why your new book is needed. It requires references, ideally from other authors (which means they must read it first), and then you must show the publisher how you are going to help them promote and get sales for your book.  

In our case, we sent proposals to half a dozen publishers over the period of a year (in North America, publishers, more often than not, don’t even respond if they’re not interested, and if they do it can be months later before you hear from them).  

Finally, in frustration, I put together a mock up of what I envisioned the plant pages would look like and posted to various native plant gardening groups on Facebook, asking if something like this would be of interest. I was overwhelmed with the response. In 3 days, over 600 people got back to me saying they would definitely buy the book – in some cases saying they wanted multiple copies.  

One person who saw my post, Carol Pasternak, already had a book published by Firefly Books and asked if I wanted her to show the concept to her publisher. I did, so she did, and the publisher liked what they saw, and within a week we had a contract offer. 

Once the contract gets signed, you work with an editor to polish the book. The editor I worked with at Firefly was amazing. I found the process informative, extremely helpful, and working with Julie (my editor) was a wonderful experience. We had a couple of “creative differences” during the process, but were able to quickly come to a satisfactory compromise. The result is a book that looks great and that I hope gardeners will find to be extremely useful.  

Some images from the book:

Next Steps 

By the time you read this, the book should be available at bookstores and through online sellers. The book covers 150 plants but, if you remember, at the beginning I said I had about 230 species on my list. I was informed, and rightly so, that 230 plants (at 2 pages per plant) would make a volume that was large and unwieldy and very costly to produce (and therefore expensive to buy).  That means that I’ve already got close to 100 plants ready to go for a volume 2, if demand warrants.  Hopefully you’ll find this book to be a valuable addition to your library.  

I will soon be on the road promoting the book at speaking engagements and doing book signings throughout the region – my calendar is already beginning to fill up. But I am proud of the new book. It’s the book I wish I had when I started gardening with native plants. 

Happy Native Plant Gardening! 

Book Review: Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies: Upper Midwest 

Book by Jaret C Daniels 

  • Publisher: ‎Adventure Publications, 2020 
  • Paperback‏:‎ 276 pages 
  • ISBN-10: 1591939410 
  • Dimensions: 8” X 10” 
  • Price: $36.59 (Amazon.ca – note, this book is available on Kindle for $16.32); $16.49 (Amazon.com) 

This is, indeed, a beautiful book to add to your collection. The photos are large, sharp and nicely laid out. A brief description of each plant, including its bloom period and its growing conditions, and which groups of insects it’s important to make this book stand out.  

The interesting tables at both the beginning and end of the book are helpful as well. The tables at the front summarize the information on the plant pages, while at the back of the book, tables show which plants are suitable as bird food and or for nesting, and which are good hummingbird plants. Finally there is a section called Larval Host List. All great and useful ideas. But I struggle with 3 things in particular about the book (four, if you count the lack of an index). 
 
The first problem is its organizational scheme – plants are grouped by light requirements: full sun, full sun to partial shade, and partial shade to full shade. In theory this sounds great. Unfortunately, many native plants don’t fall neatly into one of the categories. For instance, another book I recently reviewed on Amazon.ca lists Aquilegia canadensis (wild columbine) as a full sun plant. This book puts it into the part shade to full shade section. In fact, both are right as it will do just fine in all the categories. But what exacerbates the problem with this book is that there is no index, so if you want to look up a particular plant, you have to figure out WHERE the author thinks it grows. 
 
The second problem (again, no index makes it worse) is that the book lists the plants in each section in alphabetic order by common name. Using Aquilegia canadensis again as my example, the author calls it Red Columbine, whereas most folk I know call it wild columbine, but it is also known as Canadian columbine, common American columbine, Jack-in-trousers, rock lily, and even as cluckies, depending on where you’re from. This is why native plant gardeners in particular often prefer scientific names. It took me a while to find this plant’s listing in the book because I’ve never known it as red columbine. To be fair, the author is an entomologist (bug person) not a botanist (plant person) so perhaps he was unaware that native plant names can be so different depending on where you live. 
 
My final (and a somewhat minor) complaint is in what otherwise appears to be a useful introduction – under the heading Improving the Soil. Unless you are planting into an abandoned quarry or gravel pit, you probably should not add compost or animal manure as the author recommends. Native plants have evolved the ability to extract nutrients and moisture from deep in the soil profile, and fertilizing them just tends to make the plants tall, leggy and weak-stemmed (I speak from experience, as I made this mistake with the first flower bed I planted with native species – and it took years to use up the excess nutrients in the soil). 
 
However, despite my complaints about the book, I am happy to keep in on my shelf for the sheer beauty of the photography in it. Although it is paperback, I could easily see this as a hard-cover coffee table book, the pictures are that nice. On a snowy winter’s day, it’s a lovely book to browse through while I dream of spring. 

Sharp Lobed Hepatica 

Spring is just around the corner, and to help us start dreaming about spring, this month’s Plant of the Month is one of the earliest native flowers to bloom in my garden – Hepatica acutiloba – the Sharp Lobed Hepatica. This tough little perennial stays alive all winter, waiting for the first warm weather, and will often produce flowers before the snow is gone.  

As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature. Shaun is also the co-author of our new book The Gardener’s Guide to Native Plants of the Southern Great Lakes Region. The book is now available to preorder from booksellers and should be on bookshelves by March 1, 2024. The Plant of the Month articles are adapted from the book. 

Common Name: Sharp Lobed Hepatica 

Scientific Name: Hepatica acutiloba 

Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Liverleaf, Mountain Hepatica 

Plant Description: Sharp Lobed Hepatica is a low, stemless plant with three-lobed basal leaves. Leaves reach 7 cm long and wide on hairy stalks that reach up to 15 cm long. Each lobe is egg shaped with a pointy tip that distinguishes it from Round Lobed Hepatica (Hepatica americana). A solitary flower is borne at the end of each hairy, leafless flower stalk. Flowers contain five to 12 petals, measure up to 3 cm across, and are backed by three hairy bracts. The flower stalks emerge before new leaf growth. 

In the Garden: Sharp Lobed Hepatica is among the first flowers to bloom in the spring, often flowering before the trees above have leafed out. Best planted in big clumps to add a delicate, cheerful statement to a shade garden. It’s slow to establish, but it will quickly become one of the plants you most look forward to in the spring. 

Skill Level: Beginner 

Lifespan: Perennial 

Exposure: Full shade to part shade 

Soil Type: Well-drained, semi-rich calcareous soil with a neutral pH 

Moisture: Moist to medium 

Height: 15 cm 

Spread: 10–15 cm 

Bloom Period: Apr, May 

Colour: White (pink, purple) 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: No serious insect or disease problems 

Natural Habitat: Rich deciduous or mixed woods, often in calcareous soils 

Wildlife Value: Early pollen source for native bees 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: None 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: None 

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–9 

Propagation: Seeds should be sown immediately or stored moist (damp sphagnum moss works well), as they will not tolerate drying out. If starting indoors, they will benefit from 30 days of cold, moist stratification. Plants will not bloom until three years old or more. Plants may be divided in the fall, but it is important to make sure you do not break the leaves off as they are needed to keep this evergreen plant alive through the winter. Plant so the leaf buds are just at the soil surface, then mulch lightly. Divisions, however, are slow to increase. When dividing a clump, it is best to leave two to three buds in each division. 

Additional Info: Deer and rabbit resistant; it will tolerate somewhat dry conditions, but too much sun will damage the leaf edges. 

Native Range: