When I visited St. Louis this past summer, I, as I usually do on my travels, looked for gardens. My sister, Susan, has a neighbor with Missouri native plant garden on a mound of soil between Susan’s driveway and her yard. In the Missouri Botanical Garden, as well as the St. Louis zoo, and in other yards, I saw gardens with an emphasis on native plants.
The Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower, in Hartford, Illinois, where the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers meet, honors the men’s contribution to the opening of the West to settlement and gives the tourist a view of the joining of the rivers a mile or so distant over flood plains. Surrounding the stark concrete structure are gardens containing plants Lewis and Clark saw on their journey. One of the men’s tasks was to catalog and to send back to Jefferson specimens of plants and animals they found on the trip, many of which were unknown to science at the time. Of course, these plants were known to Native Americans, but they were novelties to the European settlers.
|At the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower|
|In the trees is the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. In foreground is the Mississippi River.|
|Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower|
Native plants are those that are found in the wild within a particular climate. Many plants in our gardens originate in China or England, and are happiest in those climates. Gardens of primroses, tulips, delphiniums, and lilacs won’t grow in South Carolina; they need cool summers.
|View of the native plant gardens from the tower|
Some plants like our heat, cool winters, and humidity. I saw many of those same plants in the Missouri native plant gardens, although the plants were larger there than here. Maybe it’s because of the beautiful Midwestern topsoil in which they grow, or maybe it’s because of the extra hours of daylight the plants receive further west. I wonder if the plants know winter will come to freeze them soon, and so they put forth extra effort to grow large in their allotted time.
|Liatris growing much taller than it does in my garden.|
The healthiest plants in my garden are plants native to the Southern US, and many of these plants are native to Missouri. Insects such as bees and butterflies prefer these species. Fall is the perfect time to plant perennials; the plants will have the cool fall, winter, and spring to become established before they must suffer through another hot summer.
|Achillea, or yarrow, that's gone to seed, in the foreground|
If you’d like to include native plants in your garden, consider planting spring and early summer blooming plants like Achillea or yarrow, Baptista, phlox, and bee balm, and plants that bloom later in the summer and into the fall like Rudbekia or coneflower, butterfly weed (a host plant for monarch butterflies), coreopsis, Joe Pye weed, and liatris. Among these plants, numerous colors are available.
To maintain a garden of perennials, cut them to the ground after the first frost. I prefer to do this with a weed-eater, and I leave the clippings where they fall as mulch. Then over the clippings, I sprinkle a layer of mulch to provide coverage a few inches deep, avoiding the crowns of the plants. My garden-keeping chores are over for another year, besides pulling the stray weed that meanders through the mulch, or clipping spent blooms to encourage the plants to repeat their blossoms.