Going Native

Native Hibiscus blooming in our garden this morning.

Native Hibiscus blooming in our garden this morning.

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!

July 9, 2014 Hibiscus 003

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…

The perfect invitation for our hummingbirds....

The perfect invitation for our hummingbirds….

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.

July 11, 2014 garden 021

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.

Another native H. Moscheutos in our garden. Japanese beetles have attacked the leaves of this plant. This summer is the first time I've noticed leaf damage to our Hibiscus.

Another native H. Moscheutos in our garden. Japanese beetles have attacked the leaves of this plant. This summer is the first time I’ve noticed leaf damage to our Hibiscus.

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.

July 11, 2014 garden 008

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.

 

As soon as I would begin to focus on a flower this morning, a bumblebee flew into it. This happened again and again, much to our delight.

As soon as I would begin to focus on a flower this morning, a bumblebee flew into it. This happened again and again, much to our delight.

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.

9781604693232lbook

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.

July 7, 2014 garden 017

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.

For more on growing Hardy  Hibiscus

Another gorgeous native flower blooming now: Magnolia Grandiflora.

Another gorgeous native flower blooming now: Magnolia Grandiflora.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

5 responses to “Going Native

  1. Every summer I am astounded by H. moschuetos growing in other people’s gardens. I’ve tried them a couple of times, but have lost them. Who knows why? Maybe I should have thrown them in the field!
    Seeing your beetle damage reminds me of what’s to come. Ours are just starting to hatch out. I used to pay the kids a penny a piece to collect them in jars of soapy water at the beginning and end of day when they were easier to catch. Now it’s just me against the bugs and slugs – the gardener’s lament. 🙂

    • Great idea, Eliza! Maybe there are some neighborhood kids, who’d like a chance? I rarely spray, but pulled out my organic fungicide/ insecticide and went after the beetles earlier in the week. Some plants are whole, others lace… who can figure? Best wishes, WG

  2. How beautiful your hibiscus! They are among my favorite flowers since I remember them from my growing up years in Florida. I planted one as an annual here in Virginia but it has been decimated by foraging deer. Who knew the local deer population would love a native plant from way down south? There’s just no accounting for taste.

    • Your story is such a familiar one- thankfully, deer leave our alone (knock on wood) and just graze everything else in sight…. even ferns this year! Can you believe it? Did you plant the native perennial,or the tropical Hibiscus? The tropicals are tasty… Best wishes, WG

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