Local Sources for Native Plants
Native plants are increasingly available in the nursery trade, but the selection is limited. The more popular wildflowers like echinacea (coneflower) and small native trees like Cornus florida (dogwood) are easy to find, but if you have your heart set on something a bit more exotic, you will need to hunt it down.
I’m currently on a quest for Fothergilla gardenii (dwarf fothergilla). It is a small shrub topping out at around 5 feet. It has Fuller Brush type white flowers in the spring and traffic-stopping fall color — yellow, orange and red. The flowers attract various bees in the spring. The seed pods are quite tough, and I was unable to find references to any animal using them for food. Strictly speaking, F. gardenii isn’t native to the Piedmont area but grows along the coast from North Carolina south to Georgia. Those wishing to stick to a strict interpretation of what is native will probably skip it because it does not inhabit any local ecosystem. On the other hand, it is easily grown in moist, acid soil in part shade to sun along with Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel) and the native rhododendrons. It will bloom more prolifically in full sun. But I couldn’t find it last year.
Sales run by local chapters of the Virginia Native Plant Society are good sources for native plants. The Alexandria chapter sponsors a sale which includes vendors from native plant nurseries. I have never attended this sale but have high hopes. To view the colorful online brochure, go to N. Alexandria NPS Sale 2015. This plant sale has a Facebook page, so you can stay updated that way, FB/Alex.NativePlantSale.
Another D.C. area native plant sale is held at Earth Sangha, a D.C. area nonprofit nursery/ecological restoration organization. Their public sale and nursery open house is on May 1st from 10am-2pm. The website is www.earthsangha.org. Click on the “Buy Native” button for sale details. Earth Sangha is very strict about growing only ecotypes local to the D.C. area, so I won’t be surprised if they don’t have my F. Gardenii. I’m sure I’ll be able to find something else to fill the void — and my trunk.
The Jefferson Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society also holds a spring plant sale. The chapter’s website is vnps.org/jefferson. In the “News” section, there is a link to their facebook page where the sale information and date will be listed later in the year. Anyone interested in learning more about native plants would enjoy the monthly meetings held at the Ivy Creek Educational Center. Check the chapter’s facebook page for dates and times. FB/JeffersonChap.VirginiaNativePlantSociety
Hill House Native Plants Nursery near Culpepper is another stop I will make this spring. I had hoped to go out this month but weather keeps getting in the way. The nursery is open by appointment and they also sell at local native plant sales. Check their website’s calendar at hillhousenativeplants.com for spring sale information. They will be selling at numerous locations including the Alexandria Native Plant Sale. I’ve already called them and they have my F. gardenii as well as Oxydendrum arboreum (sourwood), a small, flowering tree I’ve been coveting.
Disclaimer Time! I have not attended past sales sponsored by any of these organizations. In the future this column will contain sale reviews, but for now I’m only listing a few that look good to me. If you have suggestions for us native plant hunters, please use our “Comments” section to communicate with us.
Keep in mind that as a matter of policy, the Cooperative Extension Service does not recommend these or any other sales or vendors. Extension provides science-based advice to answer your garden questions, but it avoids recommending specific nurseries, landscapers or any commercial operations.
Happy Shopping! Let me know about your favorite plant sales.