Athyrium filix-femina

2023 – Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)

Photo courtesy of Hirt’s Gardens

Lady fern offers great textural contrast and is more adaptable than most other native ferns. At 1-3′ in height and with a 1-2.5′ spread, this fern grows easily in rich, well-drained soils but can also thrive in somewhat drier conditions. It prefers part to full shade but can handle more sunlight if the soil is constantly moist. The yellowy-green, erect fronds form a tight vase shape that can function as a vertical accent or look stunning en masse. Finely-toothed leaflets with dark contrasting stems are vibrant throughout the spring and summer, then turn a golden yellow after the first frost before going dormant for winter. Lady fern is clump-forming, slow spreading, and deer resistant. It is widely adaptable in the landscape, making it a great low-maintenance choice for the garden. For an even more distinctive look, there are many interesting selections of lady fern available.

Sporobolus heterolepis

2023 – Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)

Photo courtesy of Prairie Nursery

Prairie dropseed is a beautiful and functional grass selection suitable for a wide range of landscapes. Naturally found in prairies, glades, and open meadows, its thin, wispy foliage is a soft complement to the upright forms and bold textures of wildflowers. It can also offer good contrast to sedge and grass mixtures in either large drifts or as an accent plant. The fine-textured foliage is punctuated by loose, airy flowering stalks from August to October before fading to a coppery blonde with streaks of red throughout. With a 2-3′ height and spread, this full-sun perennial is clump-forming and does not freely self-seed, making it easy to maintain. It is also tolerant to many landscape pressures like deer, black walnut, and dry or rocky soils. In the winter it resists flattening from snow and maintains its fountain shape. Prairie dropseed is a great choice for no fuss, year-long interest.

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium

2021 – Aromatic aster

Aromatic aster is an herbaceous perennial that is found growing on limestone glades, prairies, and open woodlands. It is a small, bushy plant that grows up to 3 feet tall and spreads to form dense colonies. This late-summer blooming wildflower features blueish-purple, daisy-like flowers from August through September. Similar to other asters, the flower center is a bright yellow that matures to a deep red once pollinated

This native plant is visited by numerous pollinators, including bees and butterflies. As its name implies, the leaves and stems are aromatic and emit a balsam-like fragrance when crushed. This is a robust plant that prefers to grow in sunny, dry conditions. In the right habitat, it is quite floriferous and will have numerous blooms decorating its foliage for weeks. Aromatic aster is a versatile plant and can be a great addition to naturalistic and formal gardens alike.

Pycnanthemum flexuosum

2020 – Appalachian Mountain Mint

Appalachian Mountain Mint is an under-used, multifaceted plant. Native to the Southern Appalachians, this plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall and spreads 3 to 4 feet in hardiness zones 6 to 9. Its aromatic, white, tuft-like flowers bloom summer to fall and attract butterflies and other pollinators. The fragrant foliage has a hint of red along the margins and is resistant to deer browsing.

Unlike many other mints, Appalachian Mountain Mint will not take over the garden. It is a clump species and spreads slowly through rhizomes, which is great for helping with soil erosion. Plant in well-drained soils with full to part-sun conditions.

Appalachian Mountain Mint looks nice in naturalized areas, meadows, mass plantings in the landscape, or near vegetable gardens to entice pollinators. Since the flower is showy, it also makes a nice cut flower. To add winter interest to your garden, resist cutting back the spent seed heads. These can add an element of texture to the landscape and are a beautiful addition to dried wreaths and arrangements.

Coreopsis verticiallata

2020 – Whorled Tickseed

Whorled Tickseed is an herbaceous perennial native to Eastern North America. It grows 2.5 to 3 feet tall and spreads 1.5 to 2 feet in zones 3 to 9. Yellow daisy-like flowers appear June through September and are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. Once Whorled Tickseed is established, it can survive tough conditions including full sun, drought, shallow-rocky soil, and deer pressure.

The foliage has an airy, thread-like appearance. Foliage may be cut back in the summer if sprawling occurs or to encourage fall rebloom. Indicative to its name, tickseed is named after the seeds’ resemblance to ticks.

Whorled Tickseed looks nice in naturalized or cottage gardens where it has room move. It self-seeds and spreads by rhizomes. It pairs nicely with other wildflowers, especially those with purple blooms. Its cheery-yellow color looks nice as a cut flower. Popular cultivars include ‘Moonbeam’, which has a paler yellow flower, and ‘Zagreb’ which is more compact and has slightly darker disks.