Maureen Heffernan, director of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, spoke about native plants for Maine gardens at the Portland Flower Show earlier this month. Cheryl Rich of Southern Maine Community College spoke about blooms throughout the season.

What I found interesting was that they ended up talking about a lot of the same plants. But they are both plant professionals and know what works in Maine, so that makes sense.

They also both offered some general advice.

Rich said she isn’t rooting for global warming, but she’s aware of it and is taking advantage of it by putting in such plants as Amsonia hubricthtii, or threadleaf Amsonia, which is a Zone 6 plant.

“I am trying plants I never used to try, that’s for sure,” she said. She said she routinely puts in Zone 6 plants and occasionally will push it to Zone 7.

Rich is also a big fan of plants with colorful bracts. I was familiar with bracts mostly as the red parts of poinsettia plants. But they are on other plants as well, and their advantage is that the bracts look good a lot longer than most flower blossoms do.

A couple of examples are Salvia viridis, an annual, and Astrantia major. They both will provide color in the garden all summer long and into fall.

Rich enjoys planting bulbs in the lawn to add a little bit of interest to what can be an expanse of green. A couple of her favorites for that task are Chionodoxa forbesii, or glory-of-the-snow, and Scilla siberica, or Siberia squill. The Scilla especially will spread. She also likes planting the Scilla in places such as under a lilac hedge.

Although Heffernan’s talk was based largely on her book “Native Plants for Your Maine Garden,” published this year by Down East Books, she does not believe your garden should have only natives.

But it does need some natives.

“Native plants have developed an interrelationship with other plants, insects and animals in the region,” she said. “They are good for the habitat.”

In addition, Heffernan said, native plants make Maine look like Maine.

“They show off the botanical heritage of the region,” she said. “You don’t want the landscape to become like everyplace else.”

She also said that when picking plants — whether native or not — don’t buy one just because you like it. Figure out the type of soil, amount of water and amount of light first, and then pick a plant you like.

“Select the right plant for the site,” she said.

Heffernan had a simple way to get a good design. Make sure that you have plants that are “roundy, frilly and spiky” in each area. “You will then be on the way to a good design.”

So, let’s look at the plants that both Rich and Heffernan recommended in their talks.

Both liked bugbane, a name I hate. But Heffernan called it Cimicifuga, and Rich called it Actaea, which is the name the taxonomists using plant DNA have now decided upon. No matter what the name, it is a wonderful 7-foot perennial that makes a great show in the garden from mid- to late summer.

Both also like aruncus, or goatsbeard, which gets to be 3 to 6 feet tall and has white blooms that last a long time from late spring to early summer.

Echinacea is a standard in the garden. It blooms from summer to early fall, and Heffernan likes the new colors, especially “Green Envy,” “White Swan” and “Mango.”

“One way to have fun is to take a lot of different cultivars of one native and plant them together without thinking about the colors,” she said. “It’s almost guaranteed to look good, like it was designed.”

Rich offered a hint, saying that while she doesn’t often cut flowers from her perennial garden to bring inside, she finds that if you do cut echinacea blooms early in the season, they will produce more blooms.

Joe Pye weed won praise as well. It is a large plant that stands out in the fall. And cranesbill, or wild geranium, was described as a necessity in the garden, with the new varieties producing bigger flowers.

Another super flower is Thalictrum, or meadow rue. Rich likes the variety “Lavender Mist,” which is lavender, and Heffernan likes the white. They both grow 3 to 6 feet tall, bloom in summer and last a long time.


Jan Love reported that final paid attendance at this year’s Portland Flower Show was about 14,300, down from the 15,000 that attended last year. Hard rain on Sunday probably kept the numbers down.

The Hobbit Hole from O’Donal’s and Landmarcs won Best of Show and the People’s Choice Award. Love said it is the only time she can remember one entry winning both of those top awards.


Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

[email protected]


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