Garden Designers Roundtable: Underused Plants!

Garden Designers Roundtable: Underused Plants!

This month on Garden Designer’s Roundtable, the topic has been chosen by you, faithful readers, ‘Underused Plants’. So today I present the woodland native, an underused plant.

When I was young, the woods surrounding our house fascinated me. There was joy and wonder to be found everywhere. There were forts to be made, streams to be dammed, and a myriad of trails to explore. To this day, I still love being in the woods, although it is not very often I visit. From those days to these, one thing has kept my attention, the wonderful woodland plants found trail and streamside. Back in the day I had no idea whether I was looking at a native to the area, or an exotic invader, soon to render a helpless sapling lifeless. But back then, very few of us did. Today information abounds on the native species inhabiting our woodland, or at least those that are left. It does seem that as time moves forward, not only does native habitat disappear, but so does the beautiful native flora. Here are but a few of the local stars still to be found in the northeast.

Here in Connecticut, despite being a heavily populated area, we are blessed with many open spaces. And any native plant discussion should start with our state flower, Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia). The woods surrounding our house are full of Mountain Laurel, and although they are fickle about blooming every year, when they do, it is a site to behold. This was such a year!

The Mountain Laurel was amazing this year!

At the edge of our yard we are lucky to have the wonderful little Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), so named for a leaf coloration resembling the side of a brook trout, and the fact that it blooms around the opening of Trout Season each spring.

A welcome site each spring, Trout Lily!

Walking Connecticut’s woods would also reveal Lady Slipper (Cypripedium acaule), Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) or the edible Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana).

**Note: the following photos courtesy The Connecticut Botanical Society, credits on each photo. Please visit their wonderful site!**

Lady Slipper
Indian Cucumber Root

These are but a few of our many native woodland fauna, and while these plants are not suitable for every garden, within nearly every garden lays a small shaded corner in which to include one of our native beauties. So when planning your next garden or garden renovation, I hope you find the time and space to add a little native beauty. The youngster within you will be glad.



Now, please follow the links below and find out what plants my fellow Roundtable designers find Underused!

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA »
Carolyn Gail Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL »
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA »
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN »
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA »
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO »
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK »
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX »
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA »
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT »
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ »
Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold: Garden Life Home : Atlanta, GA »

34 thoughts on “Garden Designers Roundtable: Underused Plants!

  1. Scott,

    What a great post highlighting some of CT’s lesser known botanical stars. This certainly was a banner year for Kalmia, I don’t remember them looking so lovely in recent years. Not being a trout fisherman I had no idea trout lily opened at the same time trout fishing does. That’s a fun fact I’m sure I’ll be using somewhere down the line.

    1. Thanks Debbie, our woods were amazing this spring with Kalmia blossom! Those little factoids are part of what makes hortscience such a fun addiction.

  2. I grew up exploring the woods of South Carolina, Scott, much as you did, and I think it formed the gardener I am today. You have lovely natives to work with in Connecticut. Do you find them easy to obtain in nurseries?

    1. I believe my days in the woods helped me become the gardener I am also Pam, we are lucky in that respect. I am able to find these in the trade or through specialty nurseries but alas, they are not readily available in garden centers, hence their underused nature.

  3. We have friends in common. Especially the Kalmia & trout lily. The rest are farther a field.

    I’ve been unable to capture the glory of several acres of trout lily at Stone Mountain Park in pictures.

    Walking thru it is a joy I look forward to each spring.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

    1. Tara, I have been to Stone Mountain, but it was many years ago in my youth. Please post the pictures of Trout Lily if you can, they must be beautiful! Thanks for the comments.

  4. Scott, I love this post because I think highlighting what is special about our natives is not only interesting and helpful for those looking for a great plant, but also so valuable for the native insects, birds, and other fauna. That Lady’s Slipper is divine, as is the Trout Lily and the Mayapple.

    1. Thanks for the comments Gen! I agree with you regarding the native fauna, as well as keeping the beauties around for future generations!

  5. You had me with the Kalmia- love that one! But then when you added all of those fab perennials- TO DIE FOR!!!
    Made me think, thank you. 🙂

  6. Scott: you have an awesome collection of natives here. Some of my absolute favs. Thanks for the great photos and promoting these great native species.

  7. OK, so now I REALLY think you should get to Broken Arrow, because the owner (?) is a huge Kalmia enthusiast, and he’s been hybridizing them for years. There’s some interesting stuff there.

    Good choices otherwise too!

    1. Dick Jaynes is a legend in this area Andrew, for his work with Kalmia and many other genera. He is often referred to by Michael Dirr when he speaks here. I hhave made a resolution to visit Broken Arrow and Twombly’s! Interested?

  8. Hi Scott,
    You brought back memories (wonderful ones) of when I used to roam in the woods as a kid. It was mysterious and wonderful walking through the trees and other greenery. As you, I had no ideas what anything was and at that time it was not important.

    The magic continued as an adult at Rutgers University, when we would be taken on walks in the forest. Accept now I was blessed with knowledge and an even greater appreciation.

    I have always loved Mountain Laurel…especially when it appears, waking up the woods in the spring.

    Thanks for reminding us of some of the lovely natives to be used in gardens!

    1. Funny how the wonders of our childhoods remain wonders in our (shall we say) mature years. Sounds as though we are cut from the same mold! We’ll have to plan a woodland Tweetup with the group and relive those childhood memories.

  9. Ah. How many Mountain Laurels have I seen planted that failed? Many–almost all. So many natives flourish in such specific environments that are hard to replicate in a residential garden. More’s the pity.

    1. Susan, I too have seen too many that have failed. Usually sited incorrectly or neglected. If I could, I would smackdown whoever listed them as full sun tolerant. I care not to see another Laurel planted in a shopping mall parking lot ever!

  10. What a lovely post – so full of feeling for the locality. Some of these I have grown, but as pampered treasures! How wonderful to know them in their home environment!
    Thanks for the post.
    Best Wishes

    1. Thank you for the kind words Robert. It has been such a treat to let the natural areas present their gifts to us. More should allow the same!

  11. All of your plants are so foreign to me! I haven’t seen a single one out here in hot and dry California – thanks for the regional tour! You’re a lucky man to have those cute little trout lilies growing on your property!

    1. The climate really does provide for a different plant palette Rebecca, and each one of these would probably shrivel up in no time in the dry regions of the country. We enjoy these little woodland gems, but I am filled with envy upon viewing the beautiful xeric gardens you are creating out west!

  12. This palette is SO DIFFERENT than the one I work with! I love the delicate, elegant, verdant feel of your woodland plants … now I have a hankering! What will I DO with this trout lily desire I feel? Sigh. I guess I just have to remain wistful. Great post, fearless leader!

    1. Thank you Ivette! In their native setting, in the quiet of the wood, these small woodland gems do project a feeling of calm and serenity. Perhaps a terrarium might be the ticket for you left coasters!



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