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Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana) lights up the early spring understory with sweet-scented blooms that draw buzzing bees awakened from the cool winter. See more photos of early spring bloomers on page 10.

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12 Thinking outside The Box(wood)


Versatile native plants add contemporary approach to formal landscapes. By Pam Penick


On The Cover

A 2014 Wildflower Photo Contest winner shows the

moon and Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) from an unusual nighttime perspective. PHOTO BY TRACY JONES





From the Editor-In-Chief Letters From the Executive Director Field Notes The latest notes and news from the Wildflower Center 5 IN DEPTh • Waller Creek redeveloped as urban nature interface 7 FRoM ThE FIELD • Wildflower Center news 9 CoMMUNAL GARDEN • Restoring Badlands National Park 10 FoR ThE PICkING • Early spring blooms that captivate 11 FIELD SAMPLER • Products from the Center’s store In Bloom Up-to-date news about native plants in your world 18 FEATURED NATIvE PLANTS • Adaptable sedges fit garden niches 20 RooT oF ThE MATTER • Ball moss studied for green roofs 22 NATIvE PEoPLE • Nanette Whitten 23 FoR EvERY SEASoN • Soil testing basics Wild Life Bibi Wein contemplates the meaning of warmer springs



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{ from the editor-in-chief

Spring Awakening THERE IS NO TIME MORE exciting than spring for gardeners and nature lovers. Every season holds its own beauty, of course, but spring is unique in the wondrous way that life unfurls before us. Marvel as tiny green seedlings emerge from the ground and flower buds pop open to reveal pinks, reds, blues and yellows. Tender leaves sprout on trees in a bright green frenzy, ready for hungry young caterpillars. Birds arrive in an explosion of song, and bees emerge from their slumber to fill our landscapes with a comforting hum. Ah, spring. It’s hard not to wax poetic… In honor of the season, the theme of change can be found running throughout this issue of Wildflower. Pam Penick aims to change our perception of native plants as we consider them for formal gardens on page 12, and we learn about a landscape designer on page 21 who sees ball moss as a panacea instead of a pest. You’ll also read about the Center’s work to transform Waller Creek in downtown Austin and to help restore landscapes and cultural resources in Badlands National Park. Wrapping things up is a thoughtful essay by Bibi Wein about spring coming earlier and what that means for plants and animals. Speaking of rebirth and change, you may notice that this letter is no longer being written by Christina Procopiou. After almost 14 years at the helm of this magazine, our former editor has embarked upon a new challenge in life as an editor for a startup online magazine. Chris brought a vision and voice to these pages that we all came to love and will miss dearly, but we also wish her the best of luck on her new adventures and look forward to seeing her byline in new places. When you gaze up from reading this magazine, are you looking out of your window to watch a fall or winter project come to fruition as the temperatures warm? Do you eagerly await the results of your hard work planting a new bed? Did you scatter wildflower seeds on your property or in a nearby park that might pop up any day now? Whatever dreamy spring awaits you, I hope you enjoy this issue and that the season treats you well. Happy planting. a — LEE CLIPPARD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF


Lee Clippard

managing editor

Barbra A. Rodriguez

horticulture editors

Andrea DeLong-Amaya, Julie Marcus science editors

Joseph Marcus, Matt O’Toole photo editor

Joanna Wojtkowiak


Yo!Media Inc. contributing writers

Julie Bawden-Davis, Karen Bussolini, Pam Penick, Bibi Wein contributing photographers

John Hart Asher, Michelle Bright, Karen Bussolini, Marya Fowler, Cisco Gomes, Saxon Holt, Tracy Jones, Pierce McConnell, Pam Penick, Jo Ann Santangelo


Lady Bird Johnson & Helen Hayes ADvISORY COUnCIL

Jeffrey Howell Jeanie Wyatt SECRETARY Alexandra Prentice Saenz CHAIR ELECT Chris Caudill CHAIR


executive director

Patrick newman

director of communications

Lee Clippard

director of development

Robin Murphy

interim director, ecosystem design group

Matt O’Toole

& operations Mike Abkowitz

director of finance

director of horticulture

Andrea DeLong-Amaya

& visitor services Lori Bockstanz

director of membership

Materials are chosen for the printing and distribution of Wildflower magazine with respect for the environ-

ment. Wildflower is printed in the United States by Times Printing, Random Lake, WI.

The Wildflower Center is a member of EarthShare of Texas.



director of product marketing

Joseph Hammer

volunteer services manager

Carrie McDonald

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{ reader mail Before I starting coming here for this [Sprouts preschool] program, I never noticed or thought about plants before; now my eyes are open and they’re everywhere! OLGA STAN The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and its Native Plants Database provide a valuable resource, and we thank you again for your willingness to share it. We are excited to be part of the combined effort … to help the public understand the important role native plants play in creating a yard that is in harmony with the environment. THE TENNESSEE SMART YARDS TEAM (RUTH ANNE HANAHAN, DR. ANDREA LUDWIG, KATIE WALBERG AND JOY STEWART)

ibly complex restoration site, and implies that little to no maintenance is being done, which is far from the truth … The Mission Reach project is meeting expectations, and in some ways it is actually exceeding expectations … SARA utilizes an adaptive management strategy to maintain the Mission Reach that is flexible and changes to the demands the environment brings us, just as the article suggests as a requirement for these types of restoration projects … All of this is pointing to an incredibly successful Mission Reach project, which unfortunately, Ms. Gaskill’s article does not reflect.” Read more from Shauer at can-cities-save-nature. And a correction:

The “Can Cities Save Nature?” article in the winter 2015 issue stirred up a little dust:

A paragraph in “Can Cities Save Nature?” included an incorrect spelling of Frederick Law Olmsted’s surname and paraphrased Dr. Fritz Steiner incorrectly. The corrected paragraph is below:

“The cover poses the question ‘Can Cities Save Nature?,’” wrote Karen P. Tarlow. “I would ask the inverse, perhaps: Can nature save cities? A recent article on the Brooklyn canals and using wetlands to clean up the mess does make you think ... perhaps cities need nature so we can survive. Not to mention the complex ways nature enriches city life. I love both cities and nature, so I find the work of the Wildflower Center indispensable.”

“The landscape industry is set up to manage landscapes that reflect a pastoral aesthetic championed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the founding father of landscape architecture perhaps best known for designing New York City’s Central Park. Steiner says that aesthetic is often defined by clusters of trees and large green swaths, among other elements suited to the site.”

Steven Shauer, manager of external relations for the San Antonio River Authority (SARA), said, “Unfortunately, this article takes the maintenance of the Mission Reach project, which is an incred-

FOLLOW US: @WildflowerCtr

Wildflower (ISSN 1936-9646) is published quarterly by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Avenue, Austin, Texas 78739. Telephone: 512.232.0100;; E-mail: Copyright ©2015 by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. No part of this periodical may be reproduced without the written consent of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and requests to reprint material appearing in Wildflower must be made in writing. Members of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center receive a subscription to Wildflower as a benefit of membership. If you are interested in becoming a member, or have a question about an existing membership, please contact the membership office Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (Central) at 512.232.0137 or 512.232.0163. You may also e-mail Single issues may be ordered for $5 (U.S. residents). Change of Address: Postmaster: Please send address changes to: Wildflower, 4801 La Crosse Avenue, Austin, TX 78739-1702. 512.232.0100. Members: Please notify us of your address in advance of your move (the post office does not ordinarily forward magazines) and include your old address. The opinions expressed herein may not necessarily reflect those held by the Wildflower Center. Wildflower is printed by Times Printing, Random Lake, WI. Please direct any inquiries or letters to



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{ from the executive director

Hello, It’s Me

I COULDN’T BE HAPPIER to write my first letter to you as the new Executive Director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. As a recent transplant from Salt Lake City, Utah, where there is probably still snow on the ground, I am glad to be here for my first Central Texas spring. I can’t wait to see the first blooms of the redbuds and mountain laurels (I hear they smell like grape soda), my first big wildflower season and the crowds of people that enjoy our gardens during Wildflower Days.


I’m also looking forward to all of the great things that this coming year holds. The Wildflower Center has achieved so much greatness throughout its history. As an expression of the foundational work and vision of Lady Bird Johnson, it has played a pivotal role in the national native plant and sustainability movements. It has successfully encouraged the conservation and use of native plants, evidenced by their abundant use throughout Texas and U.S. landscapes. The Center is also well-known for its innovation in landscape restoration and sustainable design, and its programs in those areas have changed the field of landscape design. As a member of the Wildflower Center community, I hope that you are proud of everything that we have achieved to date. I join this organization at an exciting time and am committed to enhancing its critical role as a botanic garden and education and research organization. We live in a rapidly changing world where no corner of the Earth seems outside of the influence of human activity, but our message is one of hope and inspiration. We know



that we can inform those activities so that they have positive impacts on our planet and its ecosystems. One of the most important things we can do is really quite simple: We must plant more of the right plants in the right places. This will create healthier landscapes that will improve the world for people, for wildlife and for every other living thing. And while that sounds easy enough, it will take a concerted effort on our part to provide inspirational educational programs for children, adults, college students and professionals. It will require us to intensify our efforts in plant conservation – to save the parts of our ecosystems so that we can restore them in the future. And it will require us to dig deeper with research and apply our findings to solve problems in our cities, on our highways and in our neighborhoods. I’m so excited to join you in these efforts and to forward Mrs. Johnson’s vision into the future. Please feel free to reach out to me at any time, and enjoy the beauty of spring.a — PATRICK NEWMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

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Waller Creek Rising

field notes

An urban creek in Austin preps for a facelift WRITTEN BY LEE CLIPPARD


HEN EDWIN WALLER ARRIVED in Austin in 1839 to draft a plan for the city, his future eponymous creek was still a wild Central Texas waterway, cutting through a landscape of oak and juniper savanna before reaching the Colorado River. Today, Waller Creek is squeezed between the eastern edge of downtown Austin and Interstate 35, and it is not what it used to be. A walk along the narrow creek reveals night herons and sunfish but also concrete, garbage, invasive species and steep banks sheared by intermittent flash floods. That’s all about to change, as a multimillion-dollar project led by the Waller Creek Conservancy and the City of Austin transforms the moribund creek into a pulsing artery of nature and human activity. An enormous underground tunnel now diverts floodwater into Lady Bird Lake, protecting surrounding property. And a recirculating pump system helps maintain relatively natural water levels. These recently completed engineering feats mean Waller Creek is poised to become a vibrant chain of parks for tourists and locals alike.

Pedestrians will be able to experience the restored Waller Creek near its entry into Lady Bird Lake from walkways that crisscross above the creek bed.



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Photo by Michelle bright

rendering by MVVA

Photo courtesy MVVA

field notes }

FROM THE TOP A view of part of Waller Creek today, with walls and similar structures used to stabilize the banks because of intense flash flooding. • A rendering of the same section shows how the new creek plan will stabilize slopes where possible with shade-providing trees and other natural elements found along healthy central texas waterways. • A storm-eroded stream bank along Waller creek being evaluated by intern clair osborne and center staff Michelle bertelsen and dick davis in July 2014.


sPring 2016 • WildFloWer

"We have the opportunity to create a new kind of public space for Austin – a beautiful corridor of nature in the middle of the city that invites people to contemplate, congregate and celebrate," says Peter Mullan, CEO of the Conservancy. Wildflower Center ecologists have been providing plant and restoration expertise as part of a project team overseen by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) Inc. “With this project, we have an opportunity to both enhance the ecology of the creek and make it more accessible to people,” says Michelle Bertelsen, a Center ecologist. “This is Austin growing in a way that I’m really excited about.” In December 2015, project collaborators released the Creek Corridor Framework Plan that provides a cohesive development guide for individual parks and development projects as they come online over the years. Bertelsen and other Center staff helped to set design priorities so that the landscapes reflect Central Texas ecosystems. Some of the landscapes will require preservation, others need restoration and still others will require complete reconstruction. “It’s interesting because we aren’t trying to bring this back to a pristine, predevelopment ecosystem,” says Bertelsen. “We will use native species, but it’s an urban creek and the plants we choose will have to handle that new reality.” The first projects to move forward are the Lattice and Palm Park projects at the mouth of Waller Creek and Waterloo Park located 1.5 miles upstream. Center staff are working with MVVA, with whom they worked on the Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, on plant recommendations, construction oversight and a long-term maintenance plan. a

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{ field notes

Taste of Place PHOTO BY JOAnnA WOJTkOWiAk

eating local produce matters, but edible native plants are often overlooked. With a University of Texas at Austin Green Fee grant, the Center and UT’s Green Corps is helping undergrads raise traditional Texas edibles such as chili pequin (Capsicum annuum), devil’s claw (Proboscidea louisianica, shown at left) and Canada wild onion (Allium canadense). eleven students interested in native plants broke ground last fall on a new edible native garden (not open to the public) at the Center. The hope is the students will expand their palates and their appreciation of nature’s local gifts by this summer, while the garden’s tasty offerings continue to boost the stature of natives as food.

Rx for Land Regeneration


For 15 years, staff ecologists have set fires on 26 acres of Wildflower Center land as part of research to understand how land management practices affect landscapes. A new outdoor classroom to be constructed from donated concrete forms will offer a ringside view of these prescribed fires and learning opportunities about regenerative landscapes. The project honors the late Mark Simmons and is made possible by $250,000 from the Lebermann Foundation and several gifts made in Simmons' memory. The classroom is being designed with Cisco Gomes and his architecture students at UT Austin. More at


Sustaining Monarch’s Reign

Many Americans want to help monarchs, whose numbers have declined precipitously in recent years. But seeds can be scarce for milkweed species needed by monarch caterpillars. With a $50,000 grant last fall from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Wildflower Center began to refine large-scale propagation approaches for favored milkweed species, to collect wild seeds and grow milkweed plants from Texas for local schools (Center staff talk with Austin-area teachers at left), and to develop webinars where citizens will learn to propagate local milkweed. Austin-area school gardens have 500 plants already, and 100,000-plus seeds await sharing.

WiLDFLOWer • SPrinG 2016


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Bettering Badlands


{ field notes



Photo by John hart asher

hen six WilDfloWer Center staff traveled to south Dakota last fall, they joined students in surveying the stunning sites at badlands national Park, including rocky spires, bighorn sheep, prehistoric fossils and immense stretches of prairie. Center experts were there helping University of texas at austin school of architecture faculty teach a dozen architecture students as part of a studio class formed to help the national Park service (nPs) revitalize the historic development and landscape at badlands’ headquarters. as part of the class, the team visited with park staff and local lakota sioux members. they also toured the Cedar Pass headquarters for five days, learning about a visitor center describing fragments of badlands’ story, and a lodge and other buildings added piecemeal since the 1930s. those buildings rest in maintained lawns rather than the iconic, mixedgrass prairie blanketing windswept vistas in less-trafficked parts of the park. “as our agency celebrates its centennial in 2016, this project exemplifies our engagement with the next generation,” says Patty trap, nPs Deputy regional Director in the Midwest region. "these graduate students have brought new thinking about the management of historic places within larger natural ecosystems to help ensure Cedar Pass is preserved so future generations can enjoy this amazing place.” south Dakota’s extreme weather doesn’t help. severe storms sometimes pulverize rocky plateaus near buildings, creating streams of sediment and causing flooding.

Photo by John hart asher

Landscape, sustainability experts help revive national park’s cultural connections

ABOVE the rugged rock spires at Badlands National Park, where bison and other wildlife enjoy thousands of acres of nearby mixedgrass prairie. BELOW LEFT Matthew O’Toole (center), interim director of the Center’s research and consulting program, talks with Ut graduate students amy Grossman and Warner Cook (far left), with Center colleagues Michelle bright, Jonathan Garner and Michelle bertelsen, and with Dr. Milt haar from nPs (immediate right of o’toole).

Meanwhile, dozens of invasive species, such as garlic mustard and knapweeds, can swamp out sightings of natives such as hopi tea (Thelesperma megapotamicum) and hairy clematis (Clematis hirsutissima). the good news? With guidance from Center experts and University faculty, the students devised straightforward enhancements such as replacing monoculture lawns with prairie. they also created a modernized design concept for the visitor center that would better showcase the cultural value of the 242,756-acre park. the students’ design would allow guests learning about the landscape to immediately step into the prairie from a nearby doorway. “that prairie will naturally provide an improved sustainability aspect to the landscape that dovetails with federal landscape guidelines and is supported by the sustainable sites initiative,” says Matthew o’toole, the Center’s interim director of research and consulting, “and it would become part of telling a more meaningful, larger story about this national treasure.” a WilDfloWer • sPrinG 2016


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field notes }

Early Bloomers THERE’S NOTHING QUITE LIKE the sight of early bloomers to put a spring in one’s step. Their splashes of gold or purple stand out among the lingering browns and beiges of winter and offer us hope for what’s to come. Rejoice in the sweet smells of Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana)! Revel in the glorious pink blooms of native redbuds (Cercis sp.)! Enjoy this taste of the spring to come, and identify other beauties you encounter at

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP RIGHT Golden groundsel (Packera obovata) occurs in shady spots. It can become a groundcover in shady woodlands, particularly in Southern states. • Giant spiderwort (Tradescantia gigantea) prefers moist soils, with purple among its many natural color options. • More drought-tolerant than its eastern counterpart, Texas redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis) extends from southern Oklahoma into northern Mexico. 10



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@ The WiLdfLOWer CenTer

Linda Calvert Jacobson’s art on a colorful umbrella for spring showers! Opens to 36” across and 22” tall, folds to 9”.

Mountain Meadow Umbrella $39.95 (Members $35.95)

2016 Wildflower Days™ Art Print $15.00 (Members $ 13.50) Anna Lisa Leal created this stunning painting of the Lady Bird centaury (Centaurium texense). Print measures 22” x 28”. 2016 Wildflower Days™ Women’s T-shirt $15.95 (Members $14.35) Leal’s Lady Bird centaury image on a 100 percent cotton short-sleeved T-shirt in pale pink with a modified crew neck. Ladies sizes from S to 2XL. The Eyes of Texas CD (A Tribute to Lady Bird Johnson) $17.95 (Members $16.15) exclusive! Willie nelson and don Cherry, two Texas legends, present 12 classic Texas songs to benefit the Wildflower Center. Songbirds Indoor/Outdoor Pillow $32.95 (Members $29.65) Colorful birds flock together to brighten this pillow. Made with durable all-weather fabric that is moisture- and fade-resistant. Measures 18” x 24”. To order these products or others from the Center’s store, call toll-free 877-WILDFLR (877.945.3357) or shop online at

WiLdfLOWer • SPrinG 2016



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Thinking Outside The Box(wood) Going native in a formal garden




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An allée of American hornbeams (Carpinus caroliniana) makes for a strikingly minimalist formal landscape in this Pittsburgh, Pa., garden. The sustainable garden’s gravel yard is a rainwater collection and storage system.



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ICTURE A FORMAL GARDEN neatly defined by clipped hedges and arranged in perfect symmetry; native plants may not leap to mind. Formal gardeners often rely on traditional exotics like boxwood, privet and roses, leaving native plants to those who prefer naturalistic gardens or wildscapes. Why are native plants readily adopted for one garden style but not the other? After all, plants are plants, and well-chosen natives can shine in formal designs too.





Native plants may be shunned for the common misperception that they look weedy or too wild for a more structured garden. Tradition also plays a role. When boxwood has been used successfully in formal gardens for hundreds of years, it can seem unnecessary, even risky, to try a native shrub instead. Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Wildflower Center, points out, “We’re still experimenting with natives to learn what works well under cultivation and what doesn’t.” Even so, native plants benefit gardens – and the larger environment – in many ways: by creating habitat for native wildlife, which increasingly depends on the sanctuaries of home gardens; by thriving in local conditions without heavy applications of water or chemicals; and by fostering a strong sense of place. Since there’s no rule saying you must use only traditional exotics for a formal garden, why not update this classic style with a contemporary focus on sustainability? To select native plants for a formal garden, it’s helpful to consider what that style emphasizes: balance, repetition, strong lines that lead the eye and a sense of the gardener’s control. The only criteria for selecting a native plant is whether it can be used to achieve these goals. Take hedging, for example, a technique commonly used to define space and create lines as visual guides. Through regular pruning, rows of shrubs – typically boxwood – are turned into space-defining walls and low parterres, as well as topiary balls or pyramids that create rhythm when repeated and symmetry when echoed on each side of a path. To find a native alternative, consider a plant’s natural form – its three-dimensional shape – and whether it responds well to pruning. Upright native shrubs with dense, small leaves, such as cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) and flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii), can be good choices for hedging. Plants with a naturally spherical form, such as dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’), can replace traditional ball-shaped topiary with minimal pruning. Surprisingly, even bamboo muhly grass (Muhlenbergia dumosa) can be trimmed into hedge-like form. Imagine a parterre outlined in its shaggy, Cousin Itt-like texture!

ACROSS natives such as this Texas redbud (cercis canadensis var. texensis) can be trained on an espalier. ABOVE this California garden uses blocks of hedges to create a formal entrance. at the garden entryway is a groundcover of california lilac (Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis) backed by a hedge of manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.). RIGHT Many native shrubs and small trees can be sheared into topiaries and hedges. this flame acanthus at the livestrong headquarters in austin attracts hummingbirds and provides a formal, controlled look to the landscape.

Photo by Pam Penick

Photo by Saxon holt

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WilDFloWeR • SPRinG 2016


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Though just slightly north of their native range, these U.S. native bald cypress trees (Taxodium distichum) are used to create a beautiful allée leading to a focal point at Reiman Gardens in Iowa. Allées and focal points are standard formal garden techniques.



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Structure is hugely important in formal gardens, and evergreens provide it year-round. Whether trimmed into hedges or planted in symmetrical pairs, evergreen shrubs and trees help form the “bones,” or underlying structure, of the garden, which is especially pleasing in winter when other plants die back. Houston-area designer Cherie Foster Colburn, who specializes in native plant gardens, suggests choosing native evergreens with a rounded or pyramidal form to give well-defined shape to a garden. Her favorites for southeast Texas include American holly (Ilex opaca), cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana) and Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem,’ a small cultivar better sized for typical residential lots than the house-dwarfing Southern magnolia. Most formal design techniques rely on plant arrangement, not form, freeing the gardener to choose almost any native plant to good effect. A formal garden is generally laid out in straight lines and geometric shapes, with symmetrical arrangements of plants on either side of a central axis, repeating as they guide you to a decorative focal point. With the bones of the garden established through hedging, topiary and a selection of naturally spherical or pyramidal forms, you can select virtually any natives to fill in the rest of your plant palette. To create the serene, green look that these gardens are known for, choose native plants with handsome evergreen leaves, such as wax myrtle (Morella cerifera), or, if deciduous, with an attractive branch structure and winter interest, such as American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), both of which have berries that attract birds. Mass smaller shrubs and perennials, such as aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) or cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), in your borders to create calm, unfussy blocks of color. Strongly defined hardscape also adds formal structure to a garden of native plants. Straight edges precisely outlined with stone block or brick convey formality by emphasizing the geometry of the layout, and they dress up an otherwise informal gravel path. Strong, defined lines allow you to be freer with plant choice too, which may be desirable for those who prefer to maintain natives in a looser, less clipped style. With these guidelines in mind, you can use native plants to convey a formal style just as well as traditionally used exotics. And they do so while marrying the garden to its native region and “giving back” by providing food and shelter for wild creatures. A formal garden filled with native plants is as feasible as a wildscape. “One of the goals of the Wildflower Center is to show the diversity and malleability of native plants,” DeLong-Amaya says. “I don’t want people to ever think they can’t use native plants because they want a different style of garden.” Native plant style is, it turns out, a mere formality. a Pam Penick is the author of “Lawn Gone!” and the forthcoming “The Water-Saving Garden” (February 2016).

Formal gardening techniques Formal gardens can seem contrived and artificial to some people, but others view them as elegant or even as horticultural art. delong-amaya notes, “tightly sheared plants can be not only architectural but surprising and humorous, especially amid looser, more naturalistically maintained plants.” if you enjoy this sort of garden play, here are ways to incorporate formal elements into your native plant garden. Line up axis views if your house is symmetrical, with the front or back door centered in the middle, you have a perfect opportunity to create an axis view that starts indoors and runs straight out through the garden, tying home to garden in a powerful way. But even an offset side door can work as the beginning point of a garden axis. align your axis precisely in a straight line and define its borders with hedges or crisply edged paving. create “rooms” along the axis by delineating “doorways” with arbors or symmetrical topiary. cross axes add additional interest, especially in larger gardens. Create symmetry echo plantings on each side of your axis to create a pleasing symmetry. this is especially effective when matching plants flank a garden entrance or a focal point. Be sure that light conditions are the same on both sides of your axis. if one side is in shade and the other in sun, paired plants will likely grow at different rates, or one side will thrive while the other withers. tight clipping may help keep shrubs at the same size. otherwise use paired garden ornaments instead to create the desired symmetry. Get rhythm repeat plants in symmetrical pairs along the axis to set up a rhythm that moves the eye through the space. if you have enough room, you might wish to plant a double row of evenly spaced trees along part of your axis to create an allée. they needn’t be the size of live oaks. a small ornamental tree such as mexican plum (Prunus mexicana) keeps an allée in scale with a typical house. Focus on focal points a garden axis draws you irresistibly to the distant view, but don’t let that be the neighbor’s garage or a board fence. Place a focal point at the end to give the eye something to land on – a bench, a potted plant on a pedestal, a piece of sculpture. emphasize the focal point with a symmetrical arrangement of plants on each side. You can also place a focal point along your axis to mark where it widens into a garden “room” or where another axis crosses. try a sundial, birdbath or tuteur (a four-sided pyramid- or obelisklike trellis designed to help train climbing plants) as a smaller focal point.

WildFloWer • sPring 2016


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in bloom }



Sedges Have Edges

Plant true sedges for a natural solution to tricky niches WRITING AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY KAREN BUSSOLINI



EDGES ARE ALL AROUND US: holding stream banks in place; populating meadows, prairies and wetlands; carpeting woodlands; tufting rocky slopes; and feeding and sheltering wildlife. Their adaptability makes true sedges (Carex spp.) a natural fit in sustainable landscapes, and their varied textures are attractive as accents or background plantings. These grass-like perennials usually have solid triangular stems with sharp to rounded edges. Leaves range from short and fine-textured to big, bold and wide-bladed, and flowers and seed heads from modest to showy bristles or mace-like capsules. Although it’s the largest genus of flowering plants in North America (about 500 species), plant biologist and Carex expert Dr. Robert Naczi says sedges are poorly understood in nature and few have been cultivated. “When people catch on to the diversity of colors, growth forms and growing conditions, they will embrace them in a big way,” he predicts. “There’s a sedge for every spot.” Naczi, the Arthur J. Cronquist Curator of North American Botany at New York Botanical Garden, says, “Nearly every North American habitat hosts sedges. Although some sedges have large ranges, they tend to be very specific to habitat. There are relatively few generalists.” In nature, sedges may mingle or dominate specific niches that match their moisture, light or other needs. Life is easier in tended landscapes, where many species tolerate wider growing conditions. Naczi applauds the recent introduction of tricky-to-propagate plantain sedge (C. plantaginea). It grows from Minnesota through eastern North America, in a narrow deciduous forest niche with rich, moist, relatively neutral-to-alkaline soils. But in the garden, this fairly broad-leafed beauty with shiny dark-green puckered leaves and black-tipped spring flowers thrives in light to deep shade, relatively acidic to alkaline

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soils, and moist to somewhat dry conditions. Michael Hagen, curator of NYBG’s Native Plant Garden, likes the way its tidy 1to 2-foot clumps make room for trilliums and other woodlanders. Fine-textured 8- to 12-inch Pennsylvania sedge (C. pensylvanica) grows through underground stems (rhizomes), occurring sparsely in dry upland woods throughout the East alongside wild geraniums and shade-dwelling asters. It grows more densely on moist, sunny edges and can become a groundcover. Slightly coarser 1- to 2-foot semi-evergreen C. amphibola inhabits moist woods from Texas through the East into Canada. This clumping

sedge colonizes beautifully by seed that ripens in spring. Diminutive tufts of heat- and drought-tolerant ivory sedge (C. eburnea) inhabit sandy limestone outcroppings and riparian zones from the Atlantic Coast to the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, growing well under junipers and giving a “lawn look” to shady spots with low foot traffic. Wildflower Center Director of Horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya praises the local heat-tolerant species some call Hill Country sedge (C. perdentata). “It’s bright green, really pretty and lush. I could see it as a lawn if you like the soft, mounded look. It’s a great substitute for monkey grass (or liriope), good lining a border where the brighter green really stands out and as a groundcover in shade.” Senior Horticulturist Julie Marcus finds C. cherokeensis useful for rain gardens. Common in well-drained woodlands, it takes occasional inundation, while Texas sedge (C. texensis) prefers dry shade, such as well-drained caliche soils under junipers. Taller sedges for wet places abound. Palm sedge (C. muskingumensis), a curvy, cold-hardy Midwesterner, is an exotic-looking replacement for invasive dwarf bamboo, suppresses weeds in normal to moist soils, works well in shrub borders and rain gardens, and in sun or light shade. Super-aggressive C. emoryi, a widespread wetlander, doesn’t play well with others, but its strong rhizomes bind alluvial soils to reduce flooding and rapidly colonize. Southeastern native C. oklahomensis takes standing water and makes a bold accent in Texas and Oklahoma water gardens. With such diversity, the list of useful sedges seems limited only by availability. Luckily, experts like landscape designer Claudia West are devoted to promoting sedges. Co-author with Thomas Rainer of “Planting in a Post Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes” (Timber Press) and the ecological sales manager at Pennsylvania’s North Creek Nurseries, she considers ecological, functional and aesthetic concerns together. “We need to move away from mulch and fill gaps in the landscape with plants to provide habitat and hold the soil. Sedges provide essential soil-building function and support wildlife. They may not be the showiest, but many are evergreen so you see them in winter – green, lush and gorgeous.” a Karen Bussolini is a garden photographer, writer, speaker and ecofriendly garden coach who treasures the sedges that appear in her yard.

ACROSS Pensylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) fills in cracks between rocks in a dry New York garden. ABOVE Emory sedge (Carex emoryi) initially provided good weed-suppression in a wet northwestern Connecticut yard, but its aggressiveness worked better when transplanted to a wet meadow and eroded streambank.



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a flowering plant – not a moss

BALL MOSS Tillandsia recurvata

absorbs water, nutrients through leaves – no soil required!

an epiphyte, not a parasite

Having A Ball Researcher investigates ball moss for green roofs 20

spring 2016 • wildflower


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OOK IN THE DAPPLED SHADE of trees across the southern half of Texas and you’re likely to find exquisite little pom-pom plants known as ball moss attached to the limbs. Look further and you might also find this native Texas plant affixed to power lines, fences and rock walls. Ball moss’s versatility comes from its unique ability to harness all the nutrients and water it needs from the air. Tillandsias, also called “air plants,” are having their moment right now – look for them in hip terraria and placed just so on mod coffee tables across the country. Ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata), however, remains on many folks’ list of pesky plants, and some still assume they are parasitic. All William Niendorff sees in ball moss is the future. “I’m fascinated by ball moss physiology, ecology and their untapped potential in the Texas landscape,” says the landscape designer. “They have unique characteristics that make them space-saving, hardy, easily attachable and water-absorbent plants for growth in the air.” Niendorff started considering how these rootless plants that don’t need soil could work in designs while a student at The University of Texas at Austin. Ball moss seemed ideal for vegetated roofs, where the weight of soil is an engineering challenge. He found the perfect space to study them at the Wildflower Center, where staff have been studying and developing green roofs for hot climates for more than a decade. Green roofs in Texas and the Southwest are particularly challenging because high temperatures require more of soil and water to keep roots cool and plants thriving. To study the capabilities of ball moss, Niendorff constructed 6-foot-tall structures that look like baker’s racks filled with trays of the fuzzy orbs. The structures hold about 700 plants in layers of hog wire. Gauges check temperatures every 15 minutes. To work for green roofs, T. recurvata will need to regulate temperature better than standard roofing materials while handling harsh rooftop conditions. He’s also investigating plant mortality. “Because ball mosses grow naturally in the dappled light of the tree canopy, I want to


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see what types of densities they can tolerate in a green-roof setting,” he says. So far, Niendorff has confirmed that this member of the bromeliad family (which includes pineapples) is extremely hardy. Despite no irrigation since his six-month study began, a time that included a full hot Texas summer, few plants have died.



“I hope this ecological design project can help unveil the unknown about Tillandsia recurvata,” says Niendorff. “Its full story is yet to be told.” If ball moss succeeds on green roofs, the flowering plant could be tapped for its ecosystem services in urban environments, such as providing insulation, habitat and lowering the heat island effect, while also improving aesthetics. Stay tuned. Perhaps ball moss is about to have its moment as well. a

ACROSS Ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata) is native to Texas, Florida and a few counties in other states in the southern half of the U.S. It is one of approximately 16 species of Tillandsia native to the continental U.S. ABOVE Landscape designer William Niendorff shows off one of the structures he constructed to study the viability of ball moss for green roofs.



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Putting Down More Roots Texan grows grasses that help restore endangered prairie IVE YEARS AGO, NANETTE WHITTEN purchased 6 acres east of Temple, Texas, that consisted of Johnson grass and a few natives surrounded by corn and cotton fields. The retired 66-year-old set out to restore the land to a blackland prairie and have some fun along the way. Whitten recently supplied grasses for two Fort Worth restoration projects involving the Wildflower Center: Bluestem Park in Alliance Town Center and the Trailhead at Clearfork. I sat down with her to learn more.


First, tell us what it’s like where you live. Where I live is very peaceful and open, and I’m surrounded by nice folks. When I moved here, there was a 12-by-24-foot storage shed. I converted that to my house, and it’s really nice, with a full bathroom and kitchen. I recently bought a 16-by-10foot building that has a long porch – that’s my exercise room. I do cardio or weight training five days a week. If I don’t stay healthy and strong, I can’t do what I do, and I would go nuts.


Why are you interested in grasses and prairies? I’ve been interested in environmental things for most of my life. We’ve done so much to alter the landscape in ways that aren’t good. For biodiversity and with the water situation upon us now, things need to change. So growing these plants and getting them out there seems like a good thing. Most people don’t have awareness of these plants. The farmers think I’m an odd duck. Final words of wisdom? I do not have a television and have not for years, and I read for two or three hours daily. a

How is your restoration project going? I have 1.5 acres planted with prairie, and I’m going to expand that every year. It’s a lot of work, but good work. This piece of property is going to be the “rest of my life” work.

When did you start growing grasses? I started growing grasses just a couple of years ago. I grow them in raised rings made from used tree pots and syrup tubs. I’ve grown little bluestem, Indian grass, Texas cup grass and sideoats grama. Last fall, Alliance bought 400 plants from me. Then Michelle Bright [Center environmental designer] bought plants for the Trailhead’s Fitness Center project in Fort Worth.




I hear you are using some interesting restoration techniques. Could you describe them? I lay down a couple of layers of cardboard in an area and then about 4 inches of mulch on top. It’s amazing how much moisture it holds in. Earthworms love it, and it keeps the weeds down. The cardboard breaks down in about three years. I’m a great fan of cardboard. I can’t do these spots for the whole prairie but just start small and keep expanding and transplanting into them. With prairie plants, if there is good soil moisture the transplants can be watered once; otherwise they need to be watered until they take hold.

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For every season


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This Is A Test Checking soil health gives natives proper home

F YOU HAVEN’T THOUGHT of checking the condition of your garden’s soil, it’s an easy and valuable spring routine. The status of your soil determines the health of your native garden. Soil that contains key nutrients and the proper pH for plants of the region supports a flourishing landscape, says Chris Roy, president of Orange County Farm Supply in Orange, Calif., where their offerings include several soil tests. “Healthy plants can indicate healthy soil, but the only way to truly know is with a soil test,” says Roy. “Like having a blood test for your native garden, a soil test alerts you to problems like nutrient deficiencies. If plants are sick or dying, a test can determine the presence of chemical contaminants or pathogens.” Roy offers the following soil testing advice.


Consider the basics. If your native garden is doing fairly well, begin with a basic soil test, which checks pH levels – how acidic (low pH) or alkaline (high pH) the soil is. The diversity of natives mean you’ll likely have options for the pH you have, with many native plants growing well in slightly alkaline soil. This test also evaluates the availability of major nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. When specialized testing matters. More extensive tests

Written by Julie baWden-davis

probe the levels of secondary nutrients, including sulfur, magnesium and calcium, and the trace elements iron, manganese, zinc, molybdenum and copper. Deficiencies in these nutrients can lead to stunted growth or no flowering or fruiting. Salinity (the prevalence of soluble salts) is also checked, with too much salt interfering with nutrient absorption. Select the best sample. Decide whether you want a general assessment of your landscape or to test soil from one spot. “If you want an overall sample of your yard, collect soil from various areas and mix them up prior to testing,” says Roy. Want to get started? To collect soil for testing, use a clean trowel to collect a “slice” of soil that goes down 6 to 8 inches. Pour the soil into a bucket and repeat the process in four to six areas for a smaller site, or up to 15 areas when it’s larger, says David Handley, vegetable and small fruit specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. He notes that many extension offices perform soil testing, as do soil laboratories. Do-it-yourself kits are also available. (Use distilled water with these, because it’s neutral on the pH scale.) When your native garden comes to life this spring, you can thank the soil testing you’ve done for helping provide an eyecatching garden during the months ahead. a WILDFLOWER • SPRING 2016


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Season Creep { wild life

Tracking spring changes through the wildflower lens. WRITTEN BY BIBI WEIN PHOTO © ALLOY PHOTOGRAPHY/VEER

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO when my husband and I bought our log cabin in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, I began noting first bloom dates of our local wildflowers in my journal. It became a secret habit, one that seemed as pointless as documenting sightings of a teenage crush. But I wished I’d been more systematic when I learned that exact bloom dates recorded by Henry David Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts (1852 - 1858), and by Aldo Leopold in south-central Wisconsin (1935 1945) have become a benchmark for understanding our warming world. As the writer Rebecca Solnit points out, “To know how things have really changed, you have to remember how they used to be.” Thanks to researchers who have been resurveying Thoreau and Leopold’s historical turf since 2003, we know that spring is coming much earlier than it used to. The reason: rising temperatures caused primarily by climate change. “In an average spring, many plants now flower about 10 days earlier than in Thoreau’s time,” says biologist Richard Primack, who spearheaded the research with colleagues at Boston University, Harvard and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the warmest springs on record (2010 and 2012), many of the native species studied – 32 in Massachusetts, 23 in Wisconsin – flowered a full three weeks earlier. Wild columbine, marsh marigold, pink lady slipper and serviceberry were among the plants to have first flowering dates most closely linked with warming temperatures. As one slogs through the dregs of a Northeastern winter, early spring seems the best possible news. Not so for the plants. A 70degree April day in Boston doesn’t preclude a late frost, which devastates tender buds and blooms. And larger threats loom. Scientists are concerned about possible disruptions in the delicate synchrony between flowers and the arrival of insect pollinators – signaling potential trouble for both. It’s clear, however, that warming temperatures already have contributed to the decline of many of Concord’s most treasured wildflowers, including the stunning little Arethusa orchid. Many plants, including beech, white and red oaks and certain fruit trees, are genetically programmed to benefit from several months of deep, consistent chill.



Primack anticipates problems for these species as winters warm, beginning in the mid-Atlantic and Southern states. Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer of State University of New York at Syracuse cites models that predict the New England climate will become hostile to the region’s iconic sugar maples within 50 years. Some species will adapt to climate change more easily than others; invasives like purple loosestrife, for example, likely will benefit over native neighbors. And we are already seeing dramatic shifts in entire ecosystems. Thanks to the disappearance of bitter winter nights, the northward march of Florida’s mangrove forests has become so significant it can be seen from space. While mangroves support rich biodiversity, so do the marsh grasses with which they compete and which the invading trees are now replacing. Along a narrow 130-mile coastal strip between St. Augustine and Cocoa Beach, vital wetlands are changing in ways we can’t yet predict. Fascinated by the myriad aspects of local warming, I still note my first spring wildflower sightings: hepatica popping through the snow on a dark hill, bluets dotting the paths, violets suddenly everywhere. And I understand now why this is so important to me: “The force that through the green tube drives the flower,” in the words of Dylan Thomas, is the force of life itself. a Bibi Wein divides her time between the Adirondacks and Manhattan. Her most recent book is an environmental memoir, “The Way Home: A Wilderness Odyssey,” winner of the Tupelo Press Editor's Award for Prose.

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Wildflower Magazine - Spring 2016  

Explore fresh perspectives on formal gardening with natives, ball moss and more.

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