The Hummingbirds: A Poem

Every spring, Robert and Arlene anticipate the arrival of the ruby-throated hummingbirds to their mountain home.  They observe in awe as these tiny beings nest and feed and hover and swoop around their wooded land.  But with autumn closing in, the ruby-throats recently bid farewell to their Linden, Virginia, residence and have begun their long migration south.  This is a poem written by Robert and inspired by his and Arlene’s very favorite guests.

Coming in for a landing!

Coming in for a landing!

The Hummingbirds by Robert Foster
It’s amazing to me that they travel so far
Feisty and noisy and small that they are
Emerald and ruby just buzzing about
A pause and a sip with a curious shout
In spring when they come, so tired and wan
In fall when they leave it’s so quiet at dawn
Longing and left, the silence pervading
I’d smile once again at your raucous invading
I’m left here alone at the break of the day
No tweets of good morning to light up my way
Color and humming recede to the last
Departure your sign, that the summer has past
This time of year as the fall will descend
With a hitch in my throat, just to see you again
Saddened and hoping you’re safe on your flight
I pause with a sigh as I’m left without sight
Who would’ve thought such a small little bird
Would cause such a break when no longer it’s heard
Wishing and praying won’t lengthen your stay
But oh how I wish to have just one more day

The ruby-throated hummingbird is one of the most delightful visitors to our gardens.  They eat tiny insects and draw nectar from a variety of flowers — most of which are red and tubular.  In the Mid-Atlantic, some of the best native choices are eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma), trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) and jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).

Read more about our amazing hummingbirds on Audubon.

Reflections on Establishing a Native Plant Garden…

Beverley Rivera, a transplant from Australia and world traveler, reflects on her most recent journey: discovering our native plants.

Reflections on establishing a native plant garden…

As summer starts to fade, a sea of late-blooming goldenrods explode with sunny yellow, their honey-like fragrance enticing thousands of busy pollinators to my native plant garden. Swarms of purple asters and fizzy white boneset create a buzzing corridor of life. Goldfinches, which my neighbor lamented hadn’t been seen around here in years, are now back in residence; and I was recently rewarded for my gritty labor by our first hummingbird sighting, now a regular visitor to our garden. When I first ventured into planting native plants, I was told that natives would attract wildlife to my backyard, but I was also motivated by the theory that thoughtfully-planted gardens could be used to help offset some of the monumental environmental destruction that modern society is inflicting on our larger landscape. Now, as my garden’s first full summer winds up to a showy finale, I’m witnessing those theories coming to life. Continue reading

Lisa Bright Shares Her Garden Faves

Choosing the Right Native Plants for Your Garden

Our Earth Sangha Wild Plant Nursery will be hosting a Fall Plant Sale on Sunday, September 27th from 10 am to 2 pm. We are offering about 300 species of local native plants, all germinated by us right here at the nursery.

I just want to highlight our special offerings for the Open House this Fall:

Chinkapin (Castanea pumila)

Chinkapin (Castanea pumila) laden with fruit. Photo courtesy Earth Sangha.

Alleheny Chinkapin (Castanea pumila): This is the first time we are able to offer this lovely species. It is extremely hard to find Chinkapin with its chestnut-like nuts in our region because of habitat loss, and it won’t be available every year. It is fairly quick growing once established. We decided to distribute it this fall because it’s better that the seedlings be planted in the ground now than to sit in pots at our nursery during the winter.

Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis): In moist open areas or at the edge of pond or stream, this multi-stemmed shrub will produce beautiful flowers and abundant fruits for birds. It acts like a salad bar for birds. You can also make jams out of fruits. This shrub would love to stand in water as well but also works well in ordinary soil. You can easily tame/control them by cutting the stems. It won’t hurt them.

Whorled Rosin Weed (Silphium asteriscus var. trifoliatum): If you like Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) which is not native, you will love this plant. It is 4 to 6 feet tall and upright and produces pale yellow flowers in summer. You see them in moist open meadows in Manassas, Centerville, or other power line meadow sites.

Broadleaf Ironweed (Vernonia glauca): It looks a lot like New York Ironweed except that it grows in open meadows. It attracts lots of butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Slender Bush Clover (Lespedeza virginica) & Hairy Bush Clover (Lespedeza hirta): To me, this is a must plant for open meadow. They offer important nectar as well as seed sources for birds and others. Lespedeza is largely overlooked by gardeners.

Tick-trefoil (Desmodium spp.: D. paniculatum, D. ciliare, D. marilandicum): I’m a big fan of all Desmodium species. Their intricate purple flowers attract lots of insects. They fix nitrogen in soil. They grow in open meadows and on sandy or rocky banks.

Downy Blue Lobelia (Lobelia puberula): You will find this elegant Lobelia more in the coastal region. I spotted at least two great habitats. They grow on moist sunny and sandy banks in groups. Their blue flowers begin in mid summer with its peak in September. It attracts lots of butterflies and bees. Continue reading

Natives are a Girl’s Best Friend (Forever)

Diamonds, emeralds, rubies?  No thanks, Dahlink, what I prefer is plants.  Native plants, Dahlink.  My treasures are not found in any jewelry store or at the nearest mall.  No, no.  My favorite gems are on display in the rapidly diminishing wild areas here and there across our land.  And I keep some in my secret jewelry box: my garden.

Jewels in my garden. A hummingbird clearwing moth, Hemaris thysbe, feeds on the nectar of the pollinator magnet wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa.

More gems. A damselfly rests on a stalk of little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, a pretty fall-blooming native grass.

Yes, I could be charmed with much more expensive, sparkly — but ultimately useless — stuff.  “You know it could be much worse,” I tell my sweetie, my arms cradling freshly purchased perennials.  And he agrees.  He knows a tiara would rest uneasily on my head.  I am no princess.  I’m a fierce warrior woman when it comes to conservation.

Quite Affordable

Native plants are necessary for our survival.  It’s a fact.  Science says so.  And considering what natives provide, they’re surprisingly affordable.  Bank accounts need not be bled dry to add these essentials to any landscape.  But wait, there’s more!  As a bonus many of our natives give back.  They self-sow, sometimes insanely, finding and filling garden space and asking for no more than some time and patience.  Sharing the bounty with friends and neighbors is also self-fulfilling.

So Go Native!  Thanks, Dahlink, you’re my BFF.

Native Plants for the Penny-Wise

Sticker shock.  That term is usually associated with purchasing a car but it can happen when shopping for plants, too.  Plants can be fairly pricey — especially those larger-sized garden center trees and shrubs.  The cringe factor is multiplied when landscaping sizable areas.  But do you need such a large plant to begin with?  I say absolutely no, you don’t.

Start Small

If you have a little patience it’s a sensible idea to purchase a smaller, younger plant for a fraction of the cost.  In short time, that whip of a sapling will be the size of the tempting five-gallon container of greenery you wisely passed over.  And it will probably be healthier.  Seasoned gardeners know that the joy of tending a garden is in nurturing, observing and in watching life grow.  No instant garden is needed.

Cheerful woodland poppies at a native plant sale.

Cheerful woodland poppies at a native plant sale.

What Grows In Your Area?

Common garden shops, besides shrinking your wallet, offer very few native species.  When they do have them in stock, these natives aren’t necessarily found naturally growing where you garden – they’ve evolved in other regions of the country.  The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is no longer a sound tool to measure what to plant.  It’s simple: we just plant local-ecotypes – and as many as we possibly can.  We know that planting natives local to an area, in the conditions they evolved in, lowers water and chemical inputs and makes for strong, thriving plants.  California is the perfect example.  Many homeowners are replacing non-local landscaping and lawn with plants that originated there to offset the current multi-year drought’s effects. Continue reading

Why Cultivars Could Be Problematic


Our Native Bumble Bee on a Goldenrod (Solidago) Cultivar

The topic of cultivars can be a polarizing one for folks in the native gardening community. It’s true, cultivars can provide food and cover for our wildlife just like our native species do… but… as well behaved and form pleasing as they can be to some, cultivars could prove to be detrimental to our ecosystems.

Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council points out the following in The Eight Essential Elements of Conservation Landscaping:

Cultivated varieties (cultivars) are available for many native plants. These plants have been nursery grown as “improved” selections to provide plants with certain physical characteristics, such as a different flower color, a particular foliage shape, early bloom time, or compact size. All the plants belonging to a particular cultivar are genetically identical. 

Although gardening with cultivars may be suitable to meet aesthetic goals, those planning habitat projects to provide food and cover for wildlife should use as many true species (not cultivars) as possible. No one really knows how these cultivars will affect the wildlife that depends on local native plant species for food. If a local native plant’s bloom period, color, fragrance, or flower shape is changed, it could have a serious detrimental effect on the hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife that may use that plant. True species are most suited for use by native wildlife, and planting them will increase your chances of attracting these creatures. Continue reading

The Killing of Lawn (and the Planting of Native Plants)

I confess.  I did it.  I smothered our lawn.  There was a vibrant swath of lush turf occupying the bulk of the front yard and I quietly murdered it.  It was a crime of passion.

Travel with me back to the early winter month of November 2012.  That’s when the idea of transforming the lawn into a productive vegetative habitat crept into my head and, like a catchy pop tune, wouldn’t leave my brain alone.  Obsessive thoughts of wild creatures.  Of seductive native plants.  It was early winter, with drab charcoal skies, cool temperatures and growing darkness.  The dismal days further fueled my desire to do the dastardly deed of death.


The new area would be a native perennial island oasis ringed by a narrow path of turf that I would spare.  I mowed the large area short.  Newspaper I had dumpster dived out of the nearby recycling center was then laid over the sheared grass about four sheets thick.  I chucked a few inches of compost over the paper layers, shoveling with the zeal of a demented gravedigger.  The act was now complete.  All I had to do was wait.  Visions of decayed turf grass combined with springtime planting filled my murderous heart with anticipation.  It would be a long winter.

The newly smothered 'island' outlined by a turf path in early 2013.

The newly smothered ‘island’ outlined by a turf path in early 2013.

Continue reading

It’s Time to Plant Native Plants

“Fall is the best time to plant!” is not just a gimmicky line used by garden centers to lure in customers during September. The plants you lovingly add to your garden now can establish a decent root system and get a strong start before the onslaught of the hot summer months.

And what do you want to plant? Natives, naturally! Ultimately, strive to plant species native to your region.

Last year's Parkfairfax Native Plant Sale in September.

Last year’s Parkfairfax Native Plant Sale in September.








Where can I find native plants?

Take a stroll through our Native Plant Sales calendar. There is an exciting array of native plant sales being held – from large to small, in all regions of the Mid-Atlantic. That special plant awaits you.


Plant Natives to Feed the Birds

We can do more than this.

If you are troubled about dwindling bird populations and you’d like to help our feathery friends, you need to know a few things like this: It takes more than a bit of bird seed in the winter months.  Take chickadees, for example. They don’t eat seeds in the springtime when they are making and raising babies, they eat only caterpillars.  So where have all the caterpillars gone?


Unfortunately, our own behavior is causing the loss of habitat for caterpillars, leading to a loss of chickadees, which eat more caterpillars than you might imagine.  Think thousands of caterpillars for a single clutch of baby chickadees.  But native caterpillars need native species for their own food.  And thanks to our habit of landscaping with non-native ornamental plants the caterpillars are in shorter supply and so too become the chickadees.

If you want to attract and support bird populations all year round, start planting native species in your yard.  Chickadees won’t be the only beneficiaries.  North American bird populations have nose-dived for a variety of reasons.  A big one, experts tell us, is habitat loss.  Suburbia has created a huge negative impact by landscaping around our homes with lovely but unproductive non-native ornamentals such as azalea, privet, crepe myrtle, Japanese maple, boxwood, barberry, forsythia, heavenly bamboo, English ivy, pachysandra… plants that are native to other countries, not ours.  People don’t realize that most insects cannot feed on these commonly used alien exotics because they do not have an evolutionary tie to the plants.  If the insects can’t feed on your plants then the birds can’t feed on the insects. And it’s these insects that provide the food for our indigenous birds. Continue reading

A Garden is a Potential Smorgasbord: Native Plants with Real Value

Natives rock! They invite all kinds of wildlife into a garden. And because all native plants are not created equal, striving to plant the most beneficial of our natives is an important goal. Here are some beauties that are not only critter approved but are also ‘carefree’ and thriving in my garden in Northern Virginia.

Native Plant


Cornus amomum (silky dogwood)

The first native shrubs we planted as little mail order twigs, these now tower at about 8 feet and make an excellent summer screen at the back of our property. Silky dogwood is perfect for streamside planting and erosion control. It is the larval host for the Spring Azure — and wildlife love the small purple fruit.

Note: Find a local source for purchasing native plants. Since this purchase I have learned that mail order plants grown in far away states may not do well in your specific region and can be drenched in pesticides in order to cross state lines. Local ecotypes are the best choices. Continue reading