Native Plants in the ESCC Courtyard Pollinator Garden

We are delighted to report once again on the progress made this season in the new ESCC Courtyard Pollinator Garden.  From small plugs just three months ago, we now have plants that are growing strongly with some small amount of blooms.  We should explain that when you start your garden with small perennial plugs, they tend to put most of their energy the first season into developing their root systems and whatever is left into flowering.  This strategy will enable them to better weather the first winter.   The gardeners among you have undoubtedly heard of the adage about perennials: “the first year they sleep, the second year they creep. and the third year they leap.”   So, we are delighted with the small floral display and eagerly anticipate next year.

We thought that we would share the list of the natives that we planted.  They were all chosen for their high wildlife value.

  • Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) This extremely adaptable woodland spring bloomer thrives in a variety of conditions.  It handles all light conditions from full sun, to part shade, to shade..  It also will will thrive in a range of moisture conditions.  It has red and yellow bell-like flowers with backward-pointed nectar tubes, making them a hummingbird and pollinator favorite.  It will self-seed freely in optimum conditions, naturalizing to form large colonies.  It is a great choice to support early wildlife.
  • Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) Like the columbine, wild geranium also thrives in a variety of conditions, making it extremely useful anywhere in the garden.  It also works in a full spectrum of light environments and handles dry to medium soil moistures.  Lavendar blooms grace the plant in May and June and the plant works for the front of the border as it is on the shorter side (1 – 2′).    It retains is attractive foliage throughout the growing season.  It is long -lived and will spread to form nice clumps.
  • Lanceleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) What native garden does not boast Coreopsis within its borders?  The cheerful golden-yellow blooms last for weeks in the full sun garden.  It doesn’t need much water, thriving on the drier end of the moisture spectrum.  It blooms in June and July and does well near the front of the bordebluesr with it’s shorter 2 – 3′ stems.
  • Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica) Labrador violet was chosen for the shady end of the bed, handling full sun as well as part shade.  It is a tiny plant, only 3 – 6″tall and blooms from June – August.  It is a pale bluish purple.  It is beloved by cardinals and other song birds who eat the seeds and is also a larval food source for fritillary butterflies.
  • Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) Great Blue Lobelia is a late summer, early fall bloomer.  It has a spiky aspect and is covered in blue flowers that attract hummingbirds and other pollinators.  It enjoys full sun to part shade and soils on the moister side.  It is an excellent choice for a rain garden.  This is a lovely choice for those of us who love blue in the garden, usually in short supply.
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)  This popular native abounds in our local gardens, and for good reason.  It blooms profusely in mid to late summer ((July – September) and is a great nectar sources for butterflies, bees  and hummingbirds.  New Jersey’s state bird, the American Goldfinch, as well as other birds, love the seedheads, so be sure to leave them on.  They plant loves full sun, but will bloom in part shade.  It thrives in all soil types and likes it on the dry to medium side.  It is a medium/tall plant, growing 3 – 4′ tall.  The plant has been extensively hybridized with a wide array of colors.  However, their value to wildlife is questionable and we wonder “do native cultivars provide the same ecological function in nature?”  If a sterile cultivar that does not produce seeds, the straight species  undoubtedly has the best wildlife value.
  • Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) Black-eyed Susan is a garden favorite and for good reason. The bright yellow blooms are a charming and cheerful addition to any garden and the plant self seeds and blooms extravagently and lastingly.  It has great wildlife value, extended at the end of its blooming season by the seedheads which are enjoyed by finches and other birds.   It handles most soil and moisture types and enjoys full sun to part sun conditions.  It’s 1 – 3′ stems are covered in blooms from June through September.  And, if you leave the stems standing at the end of the season, they not only provide high wildlife value for the birds, but their blackened stems look fantastic against the winter snow.
  • Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) Bergamot, aka Bee Balm, is a well loved North American natives that is used extensively in our gardens, and for good reason.  The lavender pink flowers attract bees and butterflies and possibly hummingbirds.  It likes full to part sun and all soil types and moistures.  It can range from 2 – 5′ in height and blooms from July through September.  A member of the mint family, it spreads readily, but not obnoxiously.
  • Mistflower (Eupatorium coelestinum) Mistflower is one of our new favorite plants. It grows from 1 -3′ high and is covered in small blue-violet flowers from late summer until frost.  It likes moisture and does well in a rain garden.  It likes a part shaded location, but will handle full sun when given sufficient moisture.  It is a pollinator magnet and is covered in bees and other pollinators when in bloom.  It is also known as Wild, or Hardy Argeratum.
  • Blue Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) Goldenrod is a wonderful addition to the late season garden. It’s bright yellow blooms attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators in August and September.   It enjoys full sun to part shade and a full range of soil types.  Goldenrod likes soil conditions on the drier side, thriving in dry to medium soils.  There are numerous varieties which you should investigate depending upon your garden conditions.  Goldenrod does NOT cause hay fever, as reported.  Some varieties can spread aggressively, but have always been easy to pull out.
  • Sky Blue Aster (Aster azureus) Native Asters are the quintessential fall garden favorite.  The plant is covered in blue blooms from August through October and enjoys full sun to part shade conditions.  They, too, like it on the drier side.  They are a wonderful late season treat for the birds and other pollinators.  They can get a bit leggy and might be best served with a Memorial Day and Independence Day pruning.
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)  We went a little light on our grasses in the courtyard garden, opting for more flowers with our budget $.  However, Switchgrass provides excellent habitat for birds and is reputed to stand up over the winter better than all other grasses.  We will see.  It likes full sun, but a wide range of soil and moisture conditions.  It is tall, growing from 3 – 6′ and blooms in August and September.  It turns straw gold in the fall.
  • Pink Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) A flat of the Monarch Butterfly larval host plant was donated by the Farnham family.  It is very popular will all kinds of pollinators, including moths, butterflies of all types, bumble bees and even, occasionally, a hummingbird.  Asclepias prefers full sun in all soil types on the moister side making it an excellent addition to your rain garden.  It is tall, growing from 3 – 5′.  In June and July it is covered with red/pink flowers.   The plant provides late season interest from the seed pods that develop following bloom.   If you want to join in the effort to save the Monarch butterfly, be sure to plant some in your garden.

Come and take a look at our garden.  If you have any questions, please email them to

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