Photos courtesy of Uli Lorimer, The Native Plant Trust, all rights reserved - see full gallery at bottom of post.
As we look to our fall and winter planting and planning windows, this week we are back in conversation with Uli Lorimer, native plantsman and Director of Horticulture at the Native Plant Trust, in New England. His new book "The Northeast Native Plant Primer: 235 Plants for an Earth Friendly Garden,"out now from Timber Press, is a great resource no matter where you garden, but by all means make sure to check out the other titles in this series, including "The Pacific Northwest Native Plant Primer, 225 Plants for an Earth Friendly Garden", but Kristin Currin and Andrew Merritt of Humble Roots Native Plant Nursery up in Oregon.
You can follow Uli Lorimer and Native Plant Trust online at https://www.nativeplanttrust.org/ and on Instagram: @nativeplanttrust or @ew.li
On Friday March 31, 2023, Native Plant Trust is hosting what is sure to be an outstanding evening conversation around native plant gardens and cultivated native landscapes with both Uli and Rebecca McMackin, Harvard Loeb Scholar formerly of Brooklyn Bridge Park. For more information and to register: https://www.nativeplanttrust.org/events/evening-uli-lorimer-and-rebecca-mcmackin/
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Speaking of Plants...and Place:
...and favorite fall garden friends, I am going to follow up on this weeks five plants recommended by Uli Lorimer of Native Plant Trust and The Northeast Native Plant Primer: asters and golden rod, also known as solidago, are all time fall favorite native plant combination in our gardens and by mother nature in meadows, slopes, and roadsides across the entire expanse of North America.
For those of you who have read Robin Wall Kimmerer‘s "Braiding Sweet Grass" you might remember that one of the questions that propelled her to study botany in college was to answer her own question of "why do asters and solidago look so beautiful together?"
Purple asters and yellow golden rod. It’s pretty close to perfection. As Uli Lorimer mentioned, both plants are in the plant family - Asteraceae. Also often called Michaelmas daisies, the native North American asters were botanically differentiated away from the genus Aster, into several other genera over the past 50 years: Doellingeria, Eurybia, Oreostemma, and Symphytoctrichum - the last one now including the majority of North American asters, although many nurseries and growers still include the older aster genus name as a synonym to the new name.
In our garden, we have two or three solidagos, a tall native, a much shorter native, and Solidago rugosa 'fireworks,' which has a fantastic horizontal branching of the flowering stem. This is useful to pollinators, this is useful to flower arrangers, this is useful to garden designers. We also have a variety of purple and white asters - North American natives, several California and western natives. My purple Aster nova angliae, and the white Aster 'Monte Cassino' play particularly nicely off one another. As their roadside family members will attest, asters and solidago like pretty full sun, and can take very low water and very lean soil and still bloom hardily come autumn.
The solidago name is from the Greek for "to make whole" for to make well which speaks to its traditional uses and it healing properties. While I can't speak to the healing properties, these two plant groups make beautifully healing bridges between our cultivated gardens and our beleaguered pollinator pathways and fragmented wild lands. Include them wherever you can!
And then sit back and enjoy their many blessings, birds, and bugs.
Thinking out loud this week:
So last week I was sitting around a fire pit with a group of gardening women in Central Ohio, enjoying a fall evening and good conversation, when one of the women looked at me, and very intently said: "So Jennifer, I have a question for you. Every week, I spend time in my garden, I deadhead, and water, plant new things, and often weed. I am not sure if what I am weeding out of my garden might be a native plant, or a non-native invasive, I just know I might not want it right there in that place, with this area I cultivate and curate. And to me it looks beautiful and it makes me and my family happy. Am I doing something immoral?”
Now, I can understand why she asked me this question, but still – it surprised me. And it got me to worrying and more importantly wondering. I don’t want to shame anybody, I really don’t. I do want to engage, and empower, and energize. And I do in fact think of our gardens as not only places, but moral and social constructs as well as contracts. They are places in which we express ourselves and we express what we value. So I was really happy to be reminded in this conversation with Uli of this word or concept proportionality.
Hearkening to balance hearkening to moderation.
I do not think it is either right or good for us as gardeners to be haphazardly or thoughtlessly using toxic chemicals, invasive plants, or too many of our worlds natural resources without considering the impact on our families, communities (including the non-human members), and environments, and weighing these kinds of choices very carefully.
The act of gardening is a powerful act. And I also believe that proportionality is a great litmus test for the weight of this act.
Not all of our gardens can host all of the plants for all of the species nor can they be the healing bridge to all of our worlds challenges. That is simply too much to ask. But if each garden does a little bit towards one or more of any of this, that is not too much to ask and goes a very long way.
So my response to this friend was in the form of questions: are there areas of your garden and yard that are more wild and less controlled? Are there big native trees in and around your community? Is there some bare dirt? Are there flowering plants most seasons of the year that the butterflies and bees and birds do visit? Is there a little freshwater in or around your garden, yard, neighborhood? If so, then your flower border that you don’t want to give over to the enthusiasm of the native hedgerow plants is likely doing no harm, and doing you a lot of good. There is no immorality in that.
I don’t have all the answers other than to keep gardening, use no chemicals, and provide for the birds and the bugs where and when you can. For me, I keep coming back to my three part harmony analogy: my garden is three parts - one part about my personal history, one part about the natural history of my area, one part about the culture in which we live. They all three have and need their place - proportionally.
And speaking of proportions - and your native plant representation: What natives were a big hit in your garden this year? Any surprise favorites?
A new friend to me while visiting Ohio was boneset or thoroughwort – Eupatorium perfoliatum. It’s bright white flowering stems were right at home in the hedgerows and woodland edges there blooming alongside – you guessed it – asters and golden rod.
If you have new or old favorites this year - I would love to hear about them or see them – send me an email or better yet pictures. @cultivating_place at gmail com or direct message or tag me on Instagram where you will find me @cultivating_place.
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