Sourcing plants, trees and shrubs close to home not only benefits home gardeners but it’s a boon for the planet, too.
By now, most savvy gardeners are aware of the importance of protecting our native insects—not just the pollinators but also the many other types of beneficial insects, worms and invertebrates that form a vital part of the ecosystem we depend on. Biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson called them “the little things that run the world.”
When native plants are overtaken by foreign exotics and invasive species, our delicate ecological balance is disrupted. Pesticide use, habitat loss, climate change and invasive species of insects are also wreaking havoc on our native insects, which has caused bird populations that depend on them for feeding their young to decline as well.
As gardeners, we can reverse this alarming trend by making a few simple changes to our own yards. Shrink the size of your lawn, remove invasive plants, say no to toxic chemicals and, most importantly, grow more native plants. The best way to support local fauna is to plant local flora.
Return of the Natives
We all long for a landscape that is not only beautiful but also easy to care for. Incorporating native plants into our gardens whenever possible will go a long way toward achieving that goal. Native plants have survived thousands of years without human help. Once established, they need less supplemental watering, little or no fertilizer, and they are winter hardy. They also have formed symbiotic relationships with native wildlife, so they offer the most sustainable habitat and promote biodiversity by providing food, nectar and shelter for a wider range of insects and animals than do non-native garden plants. Native plants are a win-win for the gardener and the ecosystem.
So, what do we mean by native? A plant is considered native if it was here when the first European settlers arrived in the early 1600s. Since demand for these plants has grown, nurseries around the state are stocking more of them, but be mindful when shopping. Everything is native somewhere, so make sure the word native also includes a region indicating that it is a New England or Northeast native suited to our weather conditions, rather than, say, a California native that would not survive.
Instead of purchasing a plant that has been pre-treated with chemicals and shipped from who-knows-where to a big box store, look for locally raised, chemical-free ones. These nurseries often began out of necessity when garden designers and landscapers who needed natives for their projects could not find them in our area and started growing their own. Look for more native nurseries to open as demand increases.
Native Nurseries are Growing
Found Well Farm in Pembroke has been specializing in native plants since its inception in 2003. Owner Ayn Whytemare has a B.A. in environmental science, a master’s in forest ecology and currently teaches sustainable agriculture at NHTI. Formerly a landscaper, she worked on large mitigation and restoration projects that relied heavily on native plants. She raises many of her perennials from seed collected from plants on her property but also uses seeds from the Wild Seed Project and Fedco Seeds in Maine, and from Prairie Moon Nursery in Minnesota.
By growing straight species instead of nativars (cultivated variations of native plants), Whytemare gets plants that are hardier and have higher wildlife value since they offer more nectar and pollen. “Many places talk about native plants, but so few sell actual native plants,” she says. “Most are improved versions bred for looks not ecosystem compatibility.”
She buys bare-root shrub and tree seedlings from local sources such as the state nursery and grows them for at least one winter to make sure they will be hardy in our area before offering them for sale. Whytemare makes her own potting soil using compost from the Dirt Doctors as a base. “It comes with a chemical profile so I know what amendments to add to get it balanced perfectly,” she explains. In the spring, she also grows certified organic vegetable seedlings in her greenhouse. They sell out fast, so visit her website, foundwellfarm.com, and pre-order now.
Bagley Pond Perennials, located on a 300-acre hillside farm in Warner with a wide range of habitats, has two greenhouses and many display gardens. This candy store for gardeners is now in its fifth season. Owner Denise Dalaker explains that it was a rundown farm when her partner, Mark Govini, bought it in 2013. They have since built a new barn on an old foundation and reclaimed some fields for their plants. She plans to add more woodland plants such as Jack-in-the-pulpit and trillium and will be designing a woodland walk to showcase them. “We source a lot of our seeds from the farm,” says Dalaker, “but what we don’t have, we try to source locally.”
Though not yet certified organic, they employ organic methods and specialize in Northeast regional natives grown in fiber pots, rather than plastic ones. “We celebrate when we see caterpillars in the greenhouse,” says Dalaker. “It means we are doing things right!” They supply plants to other nurseries and retailers in New Hampshire and to the New Hampshire Audubon in Concord and the Massabesic Center in Auburn. Conservation groups, land trusts and towns order from them, and they have donated plants to schools with pollinator gardens. In fact, Bagley Pond provided all the plants for the new pollinator garden that was installed at the Bridges House in Concord last summer. (Look for more about that garden in a future issue of New Hampshire Home.) Their excellent website, bagleypondperennials.com, is loaded with information and even offers collections of plants for different growing situations, complete with garden design ideas sold as kits, taking the guesswork out of starting a native plant garden from scratch.
Fassett Farm Nursery is located in Jaffrey, at the base of Mt. Monadnock. Aaron Abitz, former owner of Katsura Landcare, had been using native plants in his landscape designs for 15 years, but because they weren’t easy to find locally, he needed to grow his own. In 2019, he teamed up with landowner Doug Clayton to start a native plant nursery on an overgrown 10-acre lot Clayton had inherited. After some logging and clearing of invasives, in 2020 Clayton received a small grant from the Cheshire County Conservation District to plant native pollinator and wildlife-supporting plants on the site.
The following year, Clayton built a 1,200-square-foot-high tunnel for propagation, and in 2022 the nursery opened to the public. They offer a wide variety of plants for sun, shade, dry or wet gardens and, along with Clayton and Abitz, design consultant Peg Castle can help you with planning and adding native plants to your yard or landscape. In addition to natives, they also grow fruit- and nut-bearing plants and medicinal herbs. Visit their website, fassettfarmnursery.com,
to see their plant list or better yet, visit them in person.
Abitz still does garden design and installation and is working with Clayton and Castle on gardens around the farm to demonstrate how native plants can be combined to create fruitful and inviting landscapes that fit their surroundings. “Biodiverse native plantings nourish our native pollinators and wildlife species as well as bring beauty to our yards and landscapes,” Clayton says. “Native plants can withstand our regional weather patterns without a lot of extra watering or fertilizers, as compared to non-natives. This past summer, this could be seen in the health of native plants during the prolonged drought.”
NH State Forest Nursery in Boscawen is the place for New Hampshire-grown trees and shrubs. They have been in business for over 100 years and offer inexpensive seedlings of about 50 species of mostly native shrubs, conifers and hardwood trees, collecting about 90 percent of the seeds they grow from their nursery. The minimum order for
any one species is ten, so you might want to split an order with friends or your garden club. They also offer mixed packages of natives designed for supporting pollinators, wildlife and songbirds that include five plants each of five different species. These one- to two-year-old seedlings are only six to 12 inches tall, so they will need some TLC to get them established, but it is worth the effort. Demand is high and they sell out early. Visit their online store at buynhseedlings.com and get your order in soon.
Every Day Is Earth Day
As you dream about making garden improvements this season, keep natives in mind to create a healthy garden unique to your property. “Going native doesn’t mean you have to get rid of everything else,” says Whytemare. Dalaker agrees, saying that it’s okay to keep the plants you love as long as they are not invasive. “You don’t have to give up the peonies and daylilies,” she says. When making your plant wish lists, think about what your choices have to offer besides their looks. Will they host insects for the birds to eat? Will they provide nectar and pollen for the bees and other pollinators? Will they offer shelter for wildlife? Do they contribute to our ecosystem or detract from it? “Your landscape isn’t just for you,” says Dalaker. “If everyone does their share, imagine what we can do!”
Bagley Pond Perennials
Fassett Farm Nursery
Found Well Farm
NH State Forest Nursery