As a result of The Groton Garden Club’s effort to promote education about and increased awareness of native plants, I became curious about which plants in my yard are natives to this country. While researching I realized that many of the natives also have other features that make them valuable. Three notable examples are described here. They are all hardy down to zone 3, so hardiness to extreme cold is a common feature. I do not worry whether they will die because of a cold winter, as I do for my zone 5-hardy plants. These three also tolerate a broad range of weather and sun/shade conditions.
While photographing my three Red Twig Dogwood shrubs, I realized that it is not only the fiery red color of the stems in winter that gives them their name, but it is also their shape, which is like that of a fire with flames sprawling upward. Cornus stolonifera ‘Arctic Fire’ is a medium-sized shrub native to North America. It is known mainly for the salient red stems that can be cut in winter and added to floral arrangements, but this shrub is valuable for several other features as well.
I bought mine for use as screens between the street and my yard, because they grow to about 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide, and tolerate some shade. They do not get huge like lilacs, but have a similar density. They are just dense enough to screen out whatever is on the other side, but airy enough to let light come through their branches.They have clusters of small white flowers followed by berries for the birds in spring. They are carefree and non-demanding, easy plants to grow. Their leaves are variegated, with green and light-yellow shades.
Another Cornus, the alternifolia ‘Golden Shadows’, also called the “Pagoda Dogwood,” tree, is also native to North America, although from the name it would seem native to Japan. It is called “Pagoda” because of its unusual horizontally branching stems. There is a lot of space between its graceful stems, which gives it a unique shape. It is a very slow grower that will thrive in light shade. Its leaves are a beautiful bright lime green edged in gold, such that this little tree glows from a distance. It has little white flowers in the spring. It appears to be a delicate little thing, but with its cold hardiness down to zone 3, it has never faltered over the eight years it has been in a shady, dry spot in my yard. Its unusual shape, bright glow, and relatively short stature (up to about ten feet) make it unique.
My native grass is not like other grasses you have seen. It is a compact (growing three to five feet tall), silvery-purple grass called Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Smoke Signal’, also called “Little Bluestem,” and is a native from the Great Plains. The color is quite vibrant, and makes an exquisite combination with, for example, Spirea ‘Double Play Red,’ and Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Bobo,’ all pictured here. Pair it with your pinks, purples, and silvers, and use its straight upright shape to contrast with your mounded-shape plants.
These three plants have much to recommend them: all have toughness in common, and all are low maintenance. They provide unique shapes and colors to lend beauty to our landscape.