Roots, Rocks, and Clay: Part 2

Read Part 1 here.


I love flowers. Who doesn’t? I picked several species for the front garden.

I feel I should warn you ahead of the time: the garden is currently ugly. That’s just how it is sometimes, especially if you’re starting out with plugs in the fall. I’m all right with it because I know it will grow into something special and awesome. The beautiful photos of the flowers themselves are taken from other sites, and credited appropriately.


Golden Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida-sullivante):  It’s a black-eyed susan with glossy foliage! Golden Coneflower can support 16 species of moths and butterflies, is beloved by bees and other pollinators, and birds can eat the seeds. It’s a longtime bloomer, and it tolerates average soil and full sun to partial shade.

Photo credit: Uwe H. Friese

Blazing Star (Liatris spicata): This tall, spiky purple flower is among my favorites. It can only support 4 species of moths and butterflies, but many other native pollinators love it. I love the structural contrast it provides in the garden, and the brilliant color of the petals. It loves the sun and can tolerate most soils.

Photo credit: Hedwig Storch

Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): I like these flowers for their flat tops – yet another structural element for the summer garden (and fall since once the blooms fade, the seed heads remain in place!). The foliage is fern-like. It supports 21 species of moths and butterflies, and just wait until you see all the other pollinators it attracts! A variety of wasps, native bees, ants, and flies will hang out on its lacy white blooms.

Photo credit: Isidre Blanc

Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum): This is a new plant to me. I thought it was pretty, and that was that. It supports 20 species of moths and butterflies, and it attracts hummingbirds! It’s also edible in small amounts.

Photo credit: Mark Vanaugh

Bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana): I love the mounding beauty of this plant, even as it yellows for fall. The flowers are delicate and lovely, and though they attract only one type of moth (the Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffiniis) also known as the Hummingbird Moth), I decided to use it for a tricky part of the garden where I thought the fall foliage would add some interest against the planted evergreens of bearberry and Christmas fern, and beside the red twigs and leaves of red-twig dogwood. While this plant prefers moist soil, it is easily adaptable to drier, average soil, and it doesn’t mind full sun or partial shade.

Photo credit: Kurt Stuber

Pink Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginica): Beautiful plant named for the tendency of its blooms to stay in the position you move it to on its axis. While loved by hummingbirds and butterflies, I couldn’t find information on how many species of Lepidoptera it attracts. It doesn’t mind full sun or average soil.

Photo credit: Raffi Kojian

I purchased plugs of all these plants from Earth Tones Native Nursery in Woodbury, CT. I can’t wait to show pictures of next year’s flowers!


Roots, Rocks, and Clay: Part 1

Every Connecticut gardener knows that the above three words largely comprise CT soil. It’s a testament to the tenacity of humans that we can get anything to grow in this stuff.

However, the big claim to fame for native plants is that many of them have evolved in this climate and geography. The bonus to going native is that there is very little needed amending of the soil.

Always get your soil tested. It will give you a better sense of what kind of soil you’re planting in, and therefore better able to choose the right plants for the site.

For the front of our house, we have a dry, mostly clay soil. There are roots from the nonnative shrubs and pachysandra that lived there, but very few. I hit rocks sometimes as I dig in it, but nothing insurmountable.

I’ve gone with a mix of grasses, shrubs, and flowers. I started with an order from Earth Tones, a native plant nursery in Woodbury, CT.

This is the plan:

2 evergreen shrubs: I went with inkberry (Ilex glabra), because it benefits 39 species of moths and butterflies, honeybees love its blooms, and birds eat the berries. Inkberry can tolerate full sun and average soil. I will plant two females in hopes there is a male nearby. If no berries appear, I will plant the male in place of the morrow honeysuckles on the edge of the lawn.

Image credits: Large photo is from My Garden Life, berry photo from Natural Landscapes Nursery Hollies, and flower photo from Pinelands Nursery.

A mix of grasses: Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) (benefits 9 species of moths and butterflies), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) (benefits 6 species of moths and butterflies), Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum) (benefits 25 species of moths and butterflies), and Northern Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) (benefits 0 species of moths and butterflies, unfortunately, but does provide food for birds) were my first picks. Indiangrass is very tall and gorgeous in the sunlight, so it goes to the back. When Little Bluestem is lined up, it has a sort of serried soldier look about it that is quite striking. Switch Grass has a lovely, fluffy and ethereal seedhead, and the shorter Northern Dropseed forms a green clump that provides further variety in the textures of the garden. All of these grasses provide seeds for birds and mammals.

The seasons of Little Bluestem. Photos from North Creek Nurseries.

3 deciduous shrubs: The front of our house is long. So along the side of our garage, I planted 3 red-twig dogwoods (Swida sericea). With mulch in this drier area, it can withstand partial shade (this part of the house gets some shade from tall oaks across the driveway), and it can support 118 species of moth and butterfly. The white berries provide a late fall source of food for birds, and bees also enjoy the flowers. The fall color is gorgeous, and the twigs stay a brilliant red throughout the winter, which adds interest to what can often be a drab time of year.

Image credit: Berries and red twigs from, flower photo from

More evergreens: I’ll also plant Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides), and bearberry (also called kinnikinnick) (Arcostaphylos uva-ursae). I want this to spread below the red-twig dogwoods – red and green for the winter season.

The ferns: I love the tall plumes of ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). Since the red-twig dogwood shrubs are still very small, I have the ostrich ferns to provide beauty in the summer. Bonus: ostrich fern fiddleheads are edible.

Image credit: Mature plumes from Spring Hill Nursery, unfurling plumes from Pinterest (I would love it if the photographer reached out!), and the little fiddleheads from U of Maine.

Part Two to this post will be on the specific flowers that were planted.