Sunday, January 4, 2009


This is my first blog, so it may be a little awkward. I wanted to give a quick summary of native plantings over the last couple of years and ask for some suggestions/comments.

I live close to the top of a ridge with rocky, clay soil on about 1/4 acre near Coatesville, PA and have a fairly large back yard with about half shade and half sun. I have put in a row of 21 Rhododendrons now 4 years old across the back boundary. These are now about 6 feet tall and have become pretty well established. I have also set up 2 elliptical islands in the back yard - one with a japanese maple at each end, 2 mountain laurels in the front and 3 red stem dogwoods across the back. The other is newer and has a little 2 yr. old Franklinia at one end and a gray dogwood at the other with 3 red stem dogwoods across the back and 2 new Fothergilla bushes sort of front and center. One problem I would like to solve is how to use some native grasses which I love. I'm not sure how to use them in islands and have been trying to see how others use them: as screens? as borders? as just ornamentals, or just a backdrop in large islands.

The front yard is the newest attempt to give the house some curb appeal. I planted 3 young river birch around the circular edge of the island and after mowing the grass very closely, I covered the grass with an old flannel sheet and covered the island with pine bark mulch. Right before winter came I did get 2 nice Oak Leaf Hydrangeas and 3 dwarf Sweetpepper bushes (Clethra sp.) in the island to provide interest and color. As per Catherine Smith at Redbud Native Plant Nursery on PA Rt. 352, I planted the young river birch no closer than 10 feet apart around the roughly circular island periphery. I did get all these plants in the ground before it froze and it seems that fall plantings actually do a little better than spring plantings.

Last year I was able to plant several Viburnums (Nannyberry, Cranberry viburnum, etc) Chokecherry, and Elderberry along with a Tupelo tree (Nyssa sylvatica) in the back yard, and they are all doing well although they are very small...they had a good first year. Thanks very much to Maureen Carbery of WildOnes (Our SE PA branch of Habitat Resource Network based in Michigan) who organized our plant purchase from Octoraro and Northcreek Nurseries. Thanks to her also for organizing the blog mechanism.

I would love to hear any ideas/suggestion and especially the experiences of other native plant folks.
Rich Clark


sue said...

Hi Rich,

Great blog, I can't wait to hear more about your garden.

I'm really interested in planting some river birch at our house. We had one at our old house and we loved it. It grew so fast, too.

I just put some Sporobalis (sp?) from the Wild Ones group purchase in a bed that I made in our back yard as well as some in my front yard 'butterfly garden', they'll be mostly ornamental since they are small grasses. I did remove the pachysandra from around our lamp post out front that is now part of the butterfly garden and plant Panicum around it. I'm not sure the neighbors get it, but I think it's actually providing some good winter interest.

Thanks for sharing your gardening stories!

Rich Clark said...

To Sue - Thanks for my first comment! This is my first reply too so I hope it posts ok.

I looked up the Sporobalis and now recognize them...I think they are great the way you used them and have seen them used as spacings between plants and give a different feel than ground cover. I only have a few plants that actually attract butterflies very well and need to get more. I would like to get a grass going in 4 large pot arrangements but haven't had luck with grasses in pots yet.

About the river birch, I really like the tree and in Leopold's book, "Native Plants of the Northeast" he says the river birch is his favorite medium size native tree. I always like them in groups rather than 1 and really wanted a paper bark birch, but Catherine of Redbud said they were really a NE "boreal" tree and didn't do well in SE PA. I'm still struggling with the meaning of "native" a little...native to North America I get, but to the NE, PA, SE PA??

Since I'm very partial to trees and know a little more about them, I got the recent book, "American Chestnut" by Susan Freinkel who became enamoured of the story and hopefully comeback of the Chestnut.

Thanks again for your comment and hope you write again soon.