May 9, 2002
Grower's Six Pack:
Native Plants

By Paulus Vrijmoed, Linnaea Nurseries

Here in British Columbia, the use of native plants has grown steadily among the gardening public for a number of years now. The reasons for their increasing popularity are clear to those who like them to be a part of their urban landscape:
  • A growing environmental awareness resulting in a desire to cooperate more with nature rather than work against it.
  • The recognition of the beauty of native plants that rivals any of the introduced plant species.
  • Their ability to blend in with their natural surroundings as well as with many of the more familiar landscape plants.
  • Native plants bring back some of the natural elements lost through urban development. They also enhance habitat for higher and lower forms of wildlife, such as birds, butterflies, amphibians and insect life, which all depend on each other for survival. As such, native plants provide much more than just a pretty picture.
  • Native plants are well adapted to their local environment and therefore may thrive at reduced levels of maintenance and water requirements, particularly once they are established. Except for a limited number of native plant species, the bulk of them are propagated from seed collected from wild stock or from nursery-grown stock plants.
     Additionally, where growing from seed poses problems, some species are grown from sections of runners, e.g. Fragaria species, Linnaea borealis and Assarum caudatum. Willows are grown from stem cuttings.

     To be successful with native plants suitable for the urban backyard, it helps to become familiarized with the more common native plant species in the natural areas around you. This will tell you much about the plants' growing habit and their preferred growing environment, including soil and moisture conditions.

     Gardening with native plants provides an opportunity to discover and appreciate their more subtle characteristics, such as form, texture and often more subdued colour. Their appearance may not be as bold as many of the "exotics." However, they may be able to allow for a more natural connection between the highly artificial urban landscapes and the original landscapes from which they originate.

     The number of native plant species available from growers and retailers is growing steadily, a good number of which are well adapted to the harsher climates of central and eastern Canada. Following are six species we recommend for a wide range of growing conditions from coast to coast:

Linnaea borealis
Height 10 cm; spread 100 cm

Linnaea borealis is another creeping groundcover catching attention with its glossy, dainty leaves and trumpet-shaped, nodding pink flowers in pairs. It prefers filtered light, but tolerates full sun and a well-drained sandy loam. It also does well in the rock garden.

Juniperus scopulorum
Rocky Mountain Juniper
Height 2 to 4 m; spread 100 to 200 cm

A bushy, shrub-like evergreen tree, often with a conical shape, the variable foliage colour and pleasing form of Juniperus scopulorum make it exceedingly attractive. It grows well in exposed, dry locations but tolerates wetter conditions as well.

Vaccinium vitis-idaea
Height 20 to 40 cm; spread 30 cm

A low, trailing semi-deciduous dwarf shrub, this plant attracts attention with its shiny, dark green leaves, pink flowers and dark-red fruit. It does well in moist soils, even among rocks.

Empetrum nigrum
Height 20 cm; spread 40 cm

A low growing, freely branching type of mountain heather growing from wet bogs to dry, rocky places, the flowers of the Empetrum nigrum are not much to look at, but the colour of the berries resemble that of a crow. It grows best when in shade.

Cornus canadensis
Height 20 cm; spread 30 cm

A low, carpet forming semi-evergreen groundcover with enchanting "dogwood" flowers, followed by a bunch of bright orange-red berries in fall, Cornus canadensis possesses high shade tolerance and is quite winter hardy. This plant is very popular in Europe and is even used as an indoor centrepiece in a suitable small container.

Amelanchier alnifolia
Height 2 to 3 m; spread 1 to 2 m

A multi-branched deciduous shrub, this native is attractive for its fragrant white flowers and dark blue berries that are a delicacy to humans as well as bird and bears. It prefers a sunny location and a well-drained soil.