This amazing sight greeted us when we first looked out this morning.
Our first Hibiscus Moscheutos of the season have finally opened.
The huge rose pink flowers make us feel like our garden has been transported to a tropical island!
Is this what you think of when gardening friends start talking about “native plants?”
It is only in recent years that I’ve felt much interest in growing “natives” in our garden.
I didn’t know enough about the native plants of our region to realize how many truly beautiful native plants, especially flowering native plants, are both readily available and useful in garden design.
But I’m learning…
These same hardy perennial Hibiscus which light up July in our garden grow in the swamps between the James River and the Colonial Parkway.
These same flowers bloomed here long before the first Europeans set foot on North America.
Although they die back to the ground each autumn, these flowers return stronger and more full of buds each summer, blooming for more than a month during July and August.
Hibiscus prefer full sun, but will grow in partial shade. Of course one can fertilize them in spring and water them regularly to grow a larger plant.
But they will also grow beautifully on benign neglect.
These are wild plants. They crop up in unexpected places from seeds dropped the summer before. You might even pull them as “weeds” if you don’t recognize the leaf….
H. Moscheutos are also known as “Swamp Mallow” because they prefer damp soils. They are found most often along the edges of swamps and roadside ditches.
And hummingbirds love them!
We’ve begun to see hummingbirds darting around the garden now that our Rose of Sharon, or tree Hibiscus are in bloom. Imagine how excited the little hummers must feel when they see these nectar filled giants opening each morning!
If you would also like to learn more about the Native Plants of the Southeastern United States, you might enjoy Dr. Larry Mellichamp’s book, published earlier this year, as much as I have.
Dr. Mellichamp has compiled a guide to over 460 native species which he recommends for their superior performance in the garden.
This isn’t simply a field guide. He has only included beautiful, useful, and reasonably easy to grow plants in this reference.
And then he gives clear and helpful advice for how to grow each of the plants he recommends. In addition, there are helpful descriptions of the different sorts of habitats where these plants grow in the wild, and how we can best provide these sorts of conditions in our own gardens.
The guide is beautifully illustrated with photos.
There has been a lot of debate over the years about whether it is better to grow native plants or imports and hybrids. Every gardener has their own point of view on this, and not surprisingly, Dr. Mellichamp weighs in with his. And what he has to say on the subject might surprise you…
So although I am not a purist, I at least consider myself a student of native plants at the moment. I’m open to the possibilities…. especially in July, when our beautiful native Hibiscus come into bloom.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014