Native Plants of Merit

By Cindy Gilberg

Blue Aromatic Aster - Aster oblongifoliusAs the season winds down gardeners prepare for the fourth season – winter. It is a time to reflect and assess the year in your garden. Which plants survived, even thrived and which plants had problems or just plain gave up in our challenging Midwest climate.

Consider replacing those plants that demanded special attention. Eliminate most of the guesswork by choosing from plants that are already proven performers.

We are blessed with the world class Missouri Botanical Garden and its Kemper Center for Home Gardening. They provide and promote the Plants of Merit Program to raise the public’s awareness of beautiful and environmentally friendly plants that are proven winners for gardeners in this area. Each year, horticulturists review regional plant performance, choosing those with outstanding qualities that are dependable to be added as new Plants of Merit.

There are many native plants that have made the grade. I have chosen the following because they can all go together in a sunny location with average soil and water requirements. All of these plants can be seen, in action, in the Whitmire Wildflower Garden at Shaw Nature Reserve.

Baptisia Yellow False Indigoes - Baptisia sphaerocarpa

Baptisia Yellow False Indigoes - Baptisia sphaerocarpa

For mid to late spring color, both the blue and yellow false indigoes (Baptisia australis and Baptisia sphaerocarpa) are spectacular additions. Spires of pea-like flowers top mounds of glaucous foliage in April and May, reaching an ultimate height of 2½ to 3 feet. Beebalm (Monarda bradburniana) can be added to follow next in the succession of bloom times, typically blooming May to June. It is a bit shorter, 1½ to 2′ tall and its tubular flowers are quite attractive to hummingbirds. Its aromatic leaves were once used to make tea and because of its minty fragrance, it is deer resistant.

Rattlesnake Master - Eryngium yuccifolium

Rattlesnake Master - Eryngium yuccifolium

Wonderfully unusual are the round flowers of the rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium). In July and August these flowers stand 4 feet above large clumps of long, bluish green leaves. As the name implies, this plant was once used by Native Americans for treating rattlesnake bites as well as other poisons. Its unique texture and form make it a great perennial candidate for the garden. Consider planting purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata), a georgeous, low-growing native perennial, as a companion to the rattlesnake master.

Prairie Dropseed Grass - Sporobolis heterolepis

Prairie Dropseed Grass - Sporobolis heterolepis

In October, just when I think the show is over, the blue aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius) and the willow leaf sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius) burst into full bloom. Any plant that can do this after a long, hot and dry summer is a welcome addition to the garden. Both of these respond well to tip-pruning in late spring to produce fuller and shorter plants. Complete the garden with the soft, fine textured foliage of prairie dropseed grass (Sporobolis heterolepis). Airy flowers float atop the 2 foot plants, gently moving in the wind. Repeat clumps of this grass to visually “tie” the garden together.

What better way to spend winter days than to look forward to where these gems can fit into your garden.

Cindy Gilberg, horticulturist and Missouri native, founded and ran the garden center at Gilberg Perennial Farms with her husband Doug for 28 years, also teaching classes and workshops on gardening and garden design. She now focuses on garden design, consulting and teaching, and also works part-time in the Whitmire Wildflower Garden at Shaw Nature Reserve, emphasizing the use of native plants in home landscaping.

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About Mike Perry

Husband, Father, DIYer, Gardener, Runner, Tea-Drinker, Traditional Wet Shaver...
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