Coming to a Garden Center Near You

Coming to a Garden Center Near You

  • By Cathy Caldwell
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  • April 2022- Vol.8, No.4
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If you’ve ever wandered the aisles of a garden center wishing it were easier to find the natives you’re eager to plant, you’re in for a delightful surprise.   On your next plant-shopping trip, you’ll be greeted by bright red “Virginia Native” labels on every plant that is native to our ecoregion. Those bright labels are part of the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign (“PNPN”), which is in turn part of a statewide effort — the Plant Virginia Natives Campaign — to encourage more extensive use of native plants in both public and private landscapes.  To learn more about the statewide campaign and to access lots of excellent resources, check out Plant Virginia Natives.

Look for these red stickers when you shop for plants. Photo: Cathy Caldwell

Volunteers with the Piedmont Master Gardeners have been working on the PNPN campaign along with their partners, the Virginia Native Plant Society, the Piedmont Environmental Council, and the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. A key first step was enlisting local garden centers and nurseries, an effort which was remarkably successful.  

Volunteers deliver signs to local garden centers. Photo courtesy of Bernice Thieblot.

Next, volunteers went to work on developing a list of plants that are locally native and suitable for local growing conditions. A starting point was the plants identified by the Digital Atlas of Virginia Flora as native to Charlottesville and Albemarle County, and to the counties of Buckingham, Culpeper, Fauquier, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Madison, Nelson, Orange, and Rappahannock.  To those were added certain cultivars of straight species  — sometimes called “nativars” — but only after they had been vetted to ensure they are ecologically viable, meaning their leaves and flowers contribute to the food web and do not negatively alter insect behavior. In other words, caterpillars and pollinators will not turn up their noses at these cultivars.

The cultivar-vetting process was guided by recent research, which indicates that a cultivar is ecologically viable so long as it exhibits characteristics similar to the species plant.  Thus, cultivars that have significantly changed flower color or morphology are not included, nor are cultivars that change green leaves to red, purple/brown, or blue. A number of the included cultivars were identified by formal scientific studies comparing their environmental services with those of straight species.  To learn more about this research, see The Garden Shed article Native Species or Cultivars of Native Plants–Does it Matter?.  

The PNPN list now contains over 300 plants. Volunteers with the campaign have been busy placing the red “Virginia Native” stickers at local garden centers as spring shipments arrive.  In addition, they have developed and delivered educational materials to the participating garden centers.  

Volunteers just recently completed three new brochures to guide gardeners in choosing the right native plant for their particular situation.  You’ll  find them at participating garden centers and nurseries.  With this information in hand, we gardeners will not only be able to find local natives, we’ll be able to make informed decisions about which ones to purchase for our gardens.



Plant Virginia Natives Campaign Website






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