Using Native Plants in the Landscape

Native plants of the Catskills are hardy to the region. Because they are 'of the place', they are better able (once established) to withstand seasonal fluctuations like drought, heat, cold or wet. Indigenous plants also provide food sources for indigenous insect and animals, thereby helping to maintain a healthy ecosystem. For detailed information, please consult Carolyn Summers' book Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East. These are a listing of some of my favorite native plants with whom I have had the pleasure of working. (Click the thumbnail images for a larger view.)

Dutchman's Pipe
Aristolochia macrophylla

Heart-shaped leaves of Dutchman's Pipe

A hardy vine with vigorous growth in shady moist sites. A great plant to run up the side of a cottage porch. Very cottage romantic. I've positioned two plants in full sun to grow over and arbor and growth is contained by the presence of hot sun.

Summersweet / Clethra alnifolia

Blooming summersweet

A native woodland shrub, Clethra alnifolia performs well in wet soils, in shade and in full sun. Flowering is prolific in full sun. If sited in full sun, provide adequate moisture. Scented blooms appear in July and last nearly the entire month attracting pollinators like bees and butterflies. 'Hummingbird' is a dwarf white flowering cultivar growing to 3' by 3'. Ruby Spice grows to 6' by 4' with red pink blooms. Seed head lends winter interest. Deadhead in early spring. Late to leaf out to the point where one might consider winter death. Hardy. Be patient with Clethra in the spring.

Crested dwarf iris / Iris cristata

Crested dwarf iris

A lovely groundcover for shade or part shade, Iris cristata blooms in spring. Available in purple or white blooms, while its overall stature is perhaps to 8 inches tall, the flowers are worth close inspection for their detail. Sword shaped leaves provide interest and texture during the season.

Prairie dropseed
Sporobulous heterolepis

Prairie dropseed

A lovely clump forming grass for dry sunny sites that matures to 2' high by 3' wide. In summer, long, thin inflorescence shoot up to wave gracefully in the breeze and catch the gold of the setting sun. Scented slightly similar to cilantro. Haircut in late winter before new green foliage develops.

Bowle's golden sedge
Carex elata 'Aurea'

Bowle's golden sedge

A golden colored, moisture loving sedge. The more sun it receives, the more yellow it becomes. In full sun, it requires consistent moisture. Terrific for along pond edges. I've also sited several of these plants in light shade with heavy mulch and they thrive, their color more of a light lime green — real nice against dark green backgrounds.

Fox sedge / Carex vulpinoidea

Fox sedge

Sturdy, nearly indestructible clump forming grass for wet sites and heavy clay. Long thin graceful arching fronds. Finely textured. Great filler for trouble spots. Matures to 2' tall by 3' or more spread. Difficult to transplant because of massive, sturdy root system. Full sun.

Blue indigo / Baptisia australis

Blue Indigo

Careful where you plant this gorgeous purple blooming native. It is the absolute favorite of voles who enjoy ingesting the soft, delicate new spring shoots. Foliage is an elegant blue gray. Native blooms are purple and spike-like. Cultivar blooms now come in smoke and golden. This plant dies back each winter and sends up new shoots in the spring. Grows to 4' wide and high. Full sun.

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Pagoda dogwood
Cornus alternifolia

Pagoda dogwood in bloom

Pagoda dogwood is hardy to zone 4 (as opposed to its more showy cousin, Cornus florida) and withstands a good amount of shade. Excellent horizontal branching and new cultivars that sport white and green leaves make this an exceptional specimen plant for a native woodland garden or a shady cottage home. Works well in a contemporary suburban bi-level landscape too.

Grey Owl juniper
Juniperus virginiana 'Grey Owl'

Grey Owl Juniper

A wonderful alternative to Chinese juniper, the gray tinged foliage of Gray Owl juniper is an elegant and understated flourish to any foundation planting. Spreading airy habit to 5' tall and wide. Requires full sun and excellent drainage. Dark gray berries in late summer enhance the beauty of this shrub.

Fringe tree / Chionanthis virginicus

Fringe Tree in bloom

A native and much underutilized small tree growing to 15' to 20' tall with a similar spread. Probably underutilized because it is slow to establish however each spring, before leafing out, delicate 8" long fine white petals grouped in four cover the tree. Petals have soft sweet scent. A spring site to behold.

Virginia sweetspire / Itea virginica

Virginia sweetspire in bloom

A versatile spreading native shrub that flourishes in wet spots and also does well in full sun, offers fragrant white blooms from late spring into early summer and remarkable red autumn foliage. Henry's Garnet is the dwarf cultivar (3' by 3') of the larger 6'by 6' native.

Sweet woodruff / Gallium odoratum

Sweet woodruff in bloom

A vigorous, sweet groundcover for shady spots. Foliage is fragrant and refined in a star-like manner. White early spring blooms are scented as well. If sited in part shade, make sure adequate moisture is provided.

Winterberry / Ilex verticillata


Deciduous winterberry sports lustrous dark green leaves in season. In fall and persisting through winter, clusters of vibrant red berries appear. Tolerant of wet and very wet sites. This shrub requires a male and female plant for pollination and for fruit sets. Grows to 6' by 10' tall. Dwarf cultivars like Red Sprite grow to only 4' by 4'. Spreads by suckering. Good for naturalizing wet woodland sites.

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leaf pattern