Wild Ideas: Sources for native plants

Native Plant Sources

Virginia Native Plant Society: vnps.org. Search on “nurseries” to bring up a list of local nurseries and plant sales. The site has a lot of other good information about native plants. You can also call them at 540-837-1600.

Piedmont Environmental Council: pecva.org. Search on “native plants” to bring up a list of local and other native-plant sources, along with related information, or call them at 540-347-2334.

Prairie Nursery: prairienursery.com, 800-476-9453.

Prairie Moon Nursery: prairiemoon.com, 866-417-8156.

Pine Ridge Gardens: pineridgegardens.com, 479-293-4359.

To see all the links to native-plant information in this and other columns in this series on native plants, go to nighthawkcommunications.net and click on the tab “Nature Resources,” then the link to “Virginia Wildlife Habitat.”  I’ll continue to add links to this page

By February, even in Virginia’s relatively mild climate, gardeners with cabin fever start looking forward eagerly to the arrival of seed and nursery catalogs to start planning their gardening projects. An increasing number are thinking what they can plant to help our ecosystems and the wildlife that are a critical component of them. Gardening with native plants is not purely altruistic. As entomologist Doug Tallamy explains in his book, “Bringing Nature Home,” the healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier we humans are.

Although I do little gardening or landscaping these days, it’s still fun in the dead of winter to envision what I’d plant when spring finally arrives. Being basically lazy when it comes to repetitive tasks, I’ve always looked for plants that I don’t have to constantly water, feed, and otherwise nurture. Natives also fill the bill on that score. Plant them in the spot in which they’ve evolved to prosper and they’ll likely do just that, with little help from us.

There’s one more reason why I’ve always loved native plants: It’s about feeling at home. While I can enjoy a brief mental journey to Holland when I look at a tulip, or a trip to the Andes when I look at a tuberous begonia, there’s nothing like seeing a vast wave of Virginia Bluebells in the Piedmont forests to make me feel like I really belong to the land and am proud to be a Virginian.

Whatever your reasons, if you want to naturalize your property, two questions are likely to come to mind first: “Which plants should I choose?” and “Where do I get them?” The subject of native plants is vast, so instead of trying to put everything I know or can find from my conservation network into one column, I plan to cover this topic in a series of columns throughout the next few months. In each I’ll include a list of resources, many of which will link to even more.

The logical way to do this is to explore first the value of native plants, then the array of species and their wildlife uses, and then where to get the plants. However, I know how itchy gardeners can get this time of year about planning for spring projects, so I’m going to be counter-intuitive and start here with some good sources for native plants and then explore other aspects of naturalizing.

VIRGINIA BLUEBELLS along the Rappahannock River.</p><p>Our earliest native plants, such as Skunk Cabbage, are already starting to send up new shoots. Before long we’ll be up to our ankles in trillium – which can lead to a serious case of euphoria among wildflower lovers.Pam Owen | Rappahannock News
VIRGINIA BLUEBELLS along the Rappahannock River.</p><p>Our earliest native plants, such as Skunk Cabbage, are already starting to send up new shoots. Before long we’ll be up to our ankles in trillium – which can lead to a serious case of euphoria among wildflower lovers.

Thanks to a growing awareness of the importance of native plants, more and more information is available about using and acquiring them. Knowing that nurseries come and go and therefore online, and especially print, catalogs can easily go out of date, I also consulted local native-plant enthusiast Bruce Jones. I had attended a great talk Bruce gave recently, sponsored by the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, about naturalizing his own property on Long Mountain.

Naturalizing more than 60 acres on his property has been no easy task, but Bruce has had great successes and some tough challenges. From butterfly gardens to meadows naturalized with warm-season grasses and native wildflowers, to woodlands filled with native orchids, his efforts have brought an amazing diversity of native wildlife to his property, and he’s always been generous in sharing what he’s learned.

USING NATIVE plants in landscaping is critical to sustaining native wildlife. Here a Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly and other native insects enjoy a Purple Coneflower, one of Virginia’s most spectacular and easy-to-grow wildflowers.Pam Owen | Rappahannock News
USING NATIVE plants in landscaping is critical to sustaining native wildlife. Here a Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly and other native insects enjoy a Purple Coneflower, one of Virginia’s most spectacular and easy-to-grow wildflowers.

I asked Bruce if he had a list of suppliers, but he said that some nurseries that had focused on natives were no longer doing so or had gone out of business. Mostly he now uses just two in the Midwest: Prairie Nursery and Prairie Moon Nursery – the latter being “probably the best mail order house on native plants anyplace.” He added that “The only other mail-order house that is in the same planting zone as we are (zone 7) is Pine Ridge Gardens, in Arkansas.”

Contact information for all three nurseries Bruce suggested are in the sidebar, along with two organizations offering lists of local native-plant nurseries: the Virginia Native Plant Society and the Piedmont Environmental Council. Their websites also offer a lot of other information about native plants, and links to more. There are undoubtedly more sources online, but these are a good place to start.

When shopping for native plants, the trick is to pick the right plant for a particular location. Along with the climate zone, variables include soil type and acidity, exposure to sun, elevation and water conditions. Trying to go against a plant’s basic requirements is likely to lead to disappointment, and to a whole lot of work and resources.

If you’re not already familiar with native plants, you’ll likely be surprised by their variety, beauty and hardiness. And you’ll get to enjoy the diverse native wildlife they attract.

Pam Owen
About Pam Owen 286 Articles

Writer, editor, photographer, and passionate nature conservationist living in Rappahannock County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Two favorite quotes: By E.O. Wilson, who coined the term “biodiversity,” “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction”; by Douglas Adams, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they pass by.”