Going Native In The Garden



Going Wild Over This Idea

There are more reasons than ever to use native plants in your garden. Besides being a perfect fit for the climate, they are better for wildlife, too.

Colorful native flowers

Colorful native flowers


Ecosystem, What Is It?

An ecosystem is the cooperative interaction of plants and wildlife with the basic natural conditions of a specific place and climate.

Native plants are an important part of that balance, and some animals or insects might not survive without their partnership with certain plants and vice versa.

What is a native plant?

Just like it sounds, it is whatever first grew in an area before all sorts of exotic species were introduced. That said, it isn’t always easy to pinpoint exactly what makes a plant a native given the meandering nature of seeds. After all, they hitchhike, float on the air, and even disseminate through …ahem… more earthy means… usually from bird droppings.

Indigenous plants are those which are best acclimated to conditions where they have grown and survived over a very long period, and that means you will use less chemicals to adapt to challenges in the ecosystem.

Would you like to cut down on the amount of water you have to use in the yard? Have less of a battle with disease and lose fewer plants to droughts or cold? It may be a matter of researching some of the plants native to your area and begin adding them into the landscaping plans.

Native Plants and Ecosystems

Find The Right Plants

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded

Have You Considered Going Native?

Native Planting, That Is

Lupinus perennis

Maine Lupine would grace any garden Lupinus perennis

In my area there are areas that were originally prairie and mixed woodlands. Over the years, farming replaced the original swampy tall grass prairie with drained farm fields, and the woodlands were claimed by city homes, yards, and their suburban counterparts.

Cutting down trees, providing drainage, covering large areas with asphalt roads and parking lots, these all have made drastic changes, but the mineral makeup of the soils haven’t changed, and our climates often reflect the same circumstances of rainfall or seasonal patterns they had for times past.

That is why native plants will still thrive. And some plants that thrive in harsh conditions make them ideal for the changes man has imposed as they shade yards and divert rainwater.

The prairie plants are great for city yards and boulevard planting, for just that reason. And some coastal plants that withstand salt spray are drafted for duty near salt sprayed winter roads.

The native plants are often a better source of food for native wildlife, as well.



Native Meadow

Meadows And Prairies

These are the two types of natural places I think of when trying to put together the idea of an indigenous style of garden. It doesn’t mean we have to follow a wild look, but the colorful plants of these places have always captured the poetic imagination.

Lupines and rudbeckias are some of the very showy flowers available. There are rich selections of California natives, and I can’t help but like growing them here in Ohio, even though my climate only allows them to be grown as annuals. I suppose they are an exotic for me!

Meadows and prairies have certain requirements and it might be a challenge to get them established. At first, quite a lot of weeding is required, since invasions of thistles and dandelions, etc wil take root without vigilant efforts.

We have to help prairie plants along with a yearly mowing or burning. And not all these ecosystems are the same; some are born of wet conditions and some of dry.

The idea, I think, is to collect together the plantings to give a look of this type of garden. It is no less beneficial to bees and butterflies! I have (wild) rabbits that have found a great love of my “prairie” garden.

I confess that I do cheat. I placed some Shasta daisies in the prairie because I didn’t have other space for them and they looked pretty there. But most of the show is from the Rudbeckias and the Echinaceas.


Info Sources

Display in New York Botanic Garden

Display in New York Botanic Garden

Your library, of course, for books that cover the native plant topic.

Arboretums are wonderful places to see all sorts of plants and their proper names.

Conservation areas often have information centers, as well as many parks.

Organizations that promote the cause of environmentalism are good sources.

Every Part Of The Nation

One of the things that give a certain sense of place is the particular mix of natural features. We sometimes aren’t even aware of what brings us our sense of the East Coast beaches versus those on the Pacific side of the country. We might have a whole different experience as we travel in the mountains or simply far enough in another direction! The air smells different, the trees aren’t those we recognize, new butterflies and birds appear.

Native plants bring back some of that sense that the place you are living is different than other places, that it has its own special horticultural presence.

Annuals Can Self-seed

Eschscholzia californica

Eschscholzia californica

Many annuals will self seed in the garden for many years of flowering, given the right conditions.

When designating a plant as “native” it may mean it will grow well in a wide range of your country, but it also might mean it does well only in a certain area.

Take the example of the California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica. This is sold as an improved variety and will grow here in Ohio… for one short season. It is not native to our climate or soils, though it is native to the USA. Given its favored conditions, though, the California poppy can cover wide stretches of open grassy areas in sight of the mountains of California and nearby regions.

Should you plant annuals in your garden and give them conditions they like, you may find you develop a natural looking stand of carefree flowers. Experiment, and at least there will be a one season show, with maybe many more.

Create Your Gardened Space

Perhaps you already have a garden, you may simply wish to include more native plants or you might want to carve a space dedicated to them. I did that recently. I decided I liked the prairie plants so well that I would make a pseudo prairie space.

Some ecosystems like the prairies are very complex and difficult to exactly replicate, but we may have our own rendition in garden form.

If you live on what was a woodland, trees grow well, and giving native ferns or woodland plants a chance to delight you with their delicate blooms might be the way you introduce back into the landscape.

Just because you want to bring back the plants that originally belong in your soils doesn’t mean you have to have a wild looking place. There are many of these plants that are loved in gardens already! Today’s obsession with the coneflowers is just one example of how beautiful and garden worthy these plants are.

While I prefer perennials for the most part, don’t forget some of the best annuals are American native plants. California was blessed with innumerable kinds, but larkspurs, annual rudbeckias, biennials like the Evening Primrose are others that are equally beautiful.

Planting With Others In Mind

Butterfly Weed attracts -guess what?

Create a Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Weed

When choosing plants for the landscape, some are better than others in both attracting and nurturing butterflies, honeybees, or wildlife. Some of these fauna are struggling to survive, and our gardens can help them, if we choose the right plants, and stay away from poisoning with pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

Because insects are sometimes specialized, they need certain plants to live. There are lists of bee plants, and butterfly plants, and now a growing awareness that birds need our help in providing nutritious native berry plants and seeds.

We become caretakers of the earth – instead of just takers when we mindfully plant our gardens with a perspective of what it may mean to the survival of the animal life. We truly share this earth… and it is only when some of the species disappear that we realize how much poorer all becomes without them.

It is such a privilege to garden our spaces, especially when we view it from that perspective: our little garden , along with other little gardens makes a big difference to the health and well being of the world.

A Wildflower Garden

Foamflower,ferns, and violets grow from their mossy bed.

Foamflower,ferns, and violets grow from their mossy bed.


Woodland Plants Native To America

Anemone quinquefoliaSolomons SealAronia arbutifolia
PhloxFerns (Thelypteris noveboracensis)Clethra alnifolia
Geranium maculatumAsarum CanadensisViburnum acerifolium
Make a charming spring garden with a mix of woodland plantings.

Understory Trees

  • Cornus Florida, Dogwood
  • Amelanchier spp., Serviceberry
  • Cercis canadensis, Redbud
  • Rhus typhina, Staghorn sumac

Woodland Natives

When I think of a woodland garden, it almost always consists of plants that I call wildflowers. Yet some of the garden plants like Geranium maculatum, and Coral bells (Heuchera) are also native plants of the woodlands.

Some of the most charming lilies and bulbs are denizens of the woods, and one perennial I love, Virginia bluebells is, too.

Don’t forget the understory shrubs and small trees… many common ones are natives to North America. They often have beautiful spring bloom, fragrance, and some have absolutely gorgeous foliage ( like the Sumacs, wow!)

Honeybee Mix Seeds

Honeybee Specialty Mix (Mix HB1), 500 Certified Pure Live Seed, True Native Seed
Honeybee Specialty Mix (Mix HB1), 500 Certified Pure Live Seed, True Native Seed

Garden Styles

Some Styles Ideal For Native Plants

  • Wild Gardens
  • Bee Gardens
  • Butterfly Gardens
  • Woodland Gardens
  • Meadow Gardens
  • Prairie Gardens
  • Shrubberies
  • Xeriscape (Dry) Gardens
  • Rain Gardens
  • Rock Gardens

Spread the Love Of Flowers

Seedbombs on Flickr



Bomb Your Yard

Dune Craft Seed Bombs 6/pkg-native Perennial Mix
Dune Craft Seed Bombs 6/pkg-native Perennial Mix

Joining The Plant Revolution?

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Native Plant Information Sources

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author


I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of "Ilona's Reflecting Pool". Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. The work on "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.