“We should do forbs!”, Post and photos by Andy Hopwood
Andy Hopwood is a native seed specialist with the Center for Natural Lands Management, South Sound Conservation Nursery and a co-manager of the Native Plant Salvage Foundation’s nursery.
“We should do forbs!”
Native Plant Salvage Foundation encourages gardening with native plants. In 2016 we were challenged to expand the foundation’s nursery’s focus to propagating our native woodies and broadly to, “do forbs”. Our herbaceous palette began with those few species we could find during our regular winter salvages in the woods. Finding plants in January and February is challenging so we extended our winter salvages into spring, beyond the emergence of Trillium ovatum. Don Guyot, plant rescuer and South Sound Prairie friend, helped us turn rescued Trillium into our first propagated native perennial. Start with the hard plants.
Trillium is an unmistakable plant in a garden but is challenging to grow. Don suggested, since we had some years to wait for the Trillium, that we make a leap and broaden our palette to South Sound Prairie plants. What should we grow? How would they fare in gardens? Would people use them? We started growing small blocks of a few showier perennials that we thought gardeners would find interesting. Aquilegia Formosa, Columbine, is a wonderful addition to sunny spots. Erigeron speciosus, Showy Fleabane, brings a summer burst of long-lasting color. Symphyotrichum subspicatum, Douglas Aster, can be grown as a seasonal privacy screen that holds color into fall.
In most instances, prairie plants fare well in a garden as long as they aren’t too shaded. Quite a few grow more robustly when afforded some shade and the extra moisture of a watered garden. All should be able to survive without watering. The variety of prairie species affords opportunities throughout a garden. The selection of native plants is an individual gardeners choice but one with advantages. Native plants are adapted to local conditions and serve as important food sources. Pollinators love them!
What started with growing a few perennials has expanded to a collection of perennials, the use of graminoids, and the introduction of annuals. Gardens can be outlined with bunch grasses, with large statement perennials, and splashes of competing and changing annuals. If you are gardening, you should try some of our forbs.