Friday, July 20, 2012

Gardening with Native Plants of the South

Gardening with Native Plants of the South by Sally Wasowski has just become my new go-to gardening book.

Live in the South?  Getting frustrated with all those fussy non-native plants that need so much babying in our hot, humid weather?  This is the book for you.

Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a beautiful native tree that flowers in late Spring.   It is said to be resistant to urban air pollution.
Tailored for gardeners that live in the Southeastern U.S., this book first talks about the importance of native plants for habitats for our native animals.  There have been staggering declines in many songbird populations, and other wildlife such as butterflies are in trouble.  Planting non-native plants may help some, but native plants are more tailored to suit the needs of native animals.

Our native Dogwood Tree, Cornus florida, supports 117 species of moths and butterflies, according to entomologist Doug Tallamy.   The Asian Kousa Dogwood, on the other hand, does not support any.
Wasowski talks about several different habitats that are found in the South and what types of plants naturally grow there.  According to the author, a native garden is much less work, especially if you want a more natural landscape.  In fact, if you want to convert to a native landscape, she recommends that one stop watering and taking care of the garden and see what plants survive as a first step!

WARNING:  Wasowski might possibly be anarchist here - she seems awfully okay with getting rid of the sacred Lawn.  I'm not sure if she's aware of how taboo that is here!  (For further information regarding the author's radical views, I refer you to another book by her and her husband entitled The Landscape Revolution.)

Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is depended on by hummingbirds as a source of early-season nectar.
The author then gives several garden landscaping plans, using all native plants.  I love this, since all the plants in the various plans work together, according to light conditions or blooming time.  She also gives you alternative plants that might work better for different soil or light conditions.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is a more commonly used native vine, beloved for its fragrant early spring blooms and its ability to cover up chain-link fence.  It is always a thrill to see some flowering in the very tops of high trees.
The last part of this book is comprised of plant profiles for the best Southern natives, divided up by type of plant.

Cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) is a native fern that a lot of people really like.  I honestly think it looks a little strange.
I love this book because it gives me so many more suggestions for plants that can be planted in the more difficult areas of my garden.  Given that one puts the plant in the appropriate site (this won't work if you put a shade plant in the sun or a bog plant in a rock garden), these native plants should be able to tolerate our weather and soil and even thrive!

Hearts-a-burstin' / American Strawberry Bush (Euonymus americanus) was blooming wild in the wooded lot next to us.
The one improvement I did think this book needed was some more inspirational photos.  Next edition, I would love to see more examples of native gardens professionally photographed.  Either way, this book is still a great tool to find suitable plants for the Southern garden.

p.s. For those of you in the Southwest, Sally Wasowski also authors several books on native Southwestern plants!

Um, so I read the book - where do we find these native plants for our garden?  
Thankfully native plants are becoming more popular and easier to find.  Not too long ago, I was having a lot of trouble finding Mountain laurel shrubs.  Last week I just purchased some from the clearance section of a local home and garden store!  You just need to know what you are looking for.

There are also mail-order nurseries that specialize in native plants if you can't find what you want in local nurseries.  Niche Gardens is a fabulous nursery not too far away here in North Carolina.  I have also been very pleased with Nearly Native Nursery in Georgia.  If you have any questions or need to find a plant for a particular site, just call them up!

For some other great gardening books, check out this month's garden book reviews over at the site Roses and Other Gardening Joys!


  1. Hi, Indie! I love vines and liked the Carolina jessamine on your photo. Big, thick and nice foliage!

  2. When we moved to Mobile, Alabama, this book became my first and most important resource on plants to use in gardening there. (It was quite a switch from the prairies of Kansas that I was used to!) I still have that book and I refuse to get rid of it, even though we moved back to Kansas over 5 years ago. I can't recommend this book highly enough for anyone who gardens in the southeast.

  3. Why are the flowers always prettier on the other side of the country? I'm trying to add a few western natives to my garden, though. I just have to get used to the look. Nice photos!

  4. I have this book - and thank you so much for reminding me about it! I need to go back through it and see which native plants would work for me in some difficult situations. It is nice that natives are finally becoming easier to find in local garden centers. But, just in case, I appreciate the mail order recommendations. Thanks so much for joining in!

  5. I don't live in the South, but have a gardening friend who would enjoy this book. Thanks for the gift idea.

  6. That American Strawberry bush is fascinating! Unfortunately, I'm not sure northern native plants are doing so well this year in southern Wisconsin. The drought has done a lot of damage both to nonnatives and natives. We'll see next spring what survives the true extremes of severe drought, extreme heat, and then cold winter. I have a feeling some of the plants will surprise me. Looks like a great book!

  7. When I purchased a native plant book for the Southwest, it completely changed my perspective on gardening. I was trying to grow plants that wouldn't work in Santa Fe. I'm fortunate there are four nurseries here that sell native plants. Looks like your book is a keeper.

  8. It is good to promote native plants. Truly fabulous pictures and I especially like the one of the Eastern red columbine.

  9. I welcome very warmly.
    You made me great joy visits and commentary

  10. These small confined areas are easy to monitor and at the same time, easy to maintain. Thank Your Garden


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