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Going Native

What’s trending among local gardeners



The night-blooming moonflower is a popular native perennial that charms gardeners with its sweet aroma.

If you speak to local gardening enthusiasts or experts, there is one trend on which they will all agree: they’re going native. What does that mean, exactly?

Gardeners, whether they are planting for beauty, food, or environment, are choosing native plants over exotics. Similar to the slow food movement, the Bedford gardening community has shifted its focus to local, organic, and sustainable practices featuring native plants that attract the birds and the bees, require less effort, and are more environmentally conscious.

“One of the bigger trends over the last couple of years is to garden for pollinators that attract the butterflies, birds, bees, and insects,” explains Vicki Marwell, a past president and current member of Bedford’s Hopp Ground Garden Club. “We are becoming more environmentally conscious and choosing plants that aren’t so highly cultivated. We are planting things that should be planted here, including less lawn that needs to be fertilized and watered, along with more plants that are self-sufficient.”

The most popular plants among the Hopp Ground members include Asclepias (milkweed); Echinacea; Lobelia (cardinal flower); Monarda (bee balm); Solidago (a type of goldenrod), and moonflowers (vining plants that are nocturnal pollinators with big blooms).

Mary Adam Lines, owner of Mary Adams Lines Landscape Design & Installation Services in Bedford Hills, counsels her clients on environmental issues and promotes using native plants. Lines stresses that even though plants may be native, it is important to select properly for the location, taking lighting and soil conditions into consideration. 

“I have a few plants that I always use, such as Carol Mackie Daphne because it has a variegated edge on the leaves and fragrant smell, the Cotinus coggygria, commonly known as a smoke bush, and the Viburnum juddii is a good shrub,” says Lines. “I also regularly use Stewartia pseudocamellia, a medium size tree that has an exfoliating bark, so it’s even attractive in the winter.” 

Native plantings also provide for easier maintenance, which Louis Fusco, of Louis Fusco Landscape Architects in Pound Ridge, sees as a major trend. “People are concerned with sustainability issues and want to do something that is going to be easy to maintain. They are choosing more native plantings, and we are transforming large lawn areas to meadows with tall grasses or flowering meadows that don’t need to be mowed.” 

Xenia D’Ambrosi of Sweet Earth Co. regularly receives requests to plant cut-flower gardens in people’s homes, specifically butterfly gardens that benefit not just the pollinators, but also improve the biodiversity of the land. 

“You can accomplish a pollinator-friendly garden and an edible garden together,” D’Ambrosi explains. “Many of the herbs flower beautifully and can be used for culinary, medicinal, and ornamental purposes, such as bouquets. I also always mix vegetables with flowers. My number one go-to in every garden is Agastache, or the hyssop plant. It’s a perennial and a three-season plant. The birds and bees love it.”

Local food growers, such as Liz Taggart of Amba Farms in Bedford Hills, have also seen a rise in interest for locally sourced herbs and food. Taggart, whose small farm grows almost exclusively for restaurants, has seen a spike in requests for native foods. In fact, local food has become so popular that while she previously limited selling to restaurants that were no more than a 40-minute drive, she now sells out to those within a 10-minute radius. 

One of the most common trends is a request for numerous variations of the same food. For example, five years ago Taggart would grow two varieties of arugula, but she now grows seven, and her kale production has increased from two varieties to eight. 

“One consistent theme in Bedford is that this community is extraordinary in its support for carefully grown, nutritious, organic food,” Taggart says. “We have such a wonderfully educated population that discriminates about what they want to eat and feed their families. Folks are very supportive of artisanal growing.”


LEARN TO GROW  For gardeners who would like to learn more about native plantings, the Cornell Cooperative Extension and New York Botanical Garden are great places to start. 

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