The Native Plant Garden after 10 Years

2020 Farmscape Ecology Program Native Plant Garden in Review (2017-2020)

Like all living things, our gardens here at Farmscape Ecology Program have morphed and changed over the years. This posting by Ellen Scheid (who was the 2020 botany intern with our Program) will update you on the ways that our old and new gardens have developed, as well as what they are looking like these days!

One of our newest additions to the gardens that you may be familiar with is the Butterfly House. The Butterfly House was constructed in March of 2020. The garden beds inside were started with transplants and seeds from other areas that we steward, and have flourished into quite an oasis!

Butterfly house covered in mesh screen, and filled with flowers and guests
Butterfly House with guests

The Butterfly House was established to give folks a closer look at the butterfly species flying in Columbia County, as well as highlight the benefits that native plants can offer to butterflies as eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids and adults.

To learn more about the Butterfly House and to see what went into creating this cozy, welcoming space, check out Nellie’s blog post from July. And to learn more about the various butterfly species that visited the Butterfly House throughout the summer (along with the beautiful wildflowers), check out Claudia’s blog post from August!

This garden bed greets you when you pull up to the Creekhouse. Here’s a photo of it from the autumn of 2017, featuring some tall and vibrant New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) with some goldenrods sprinkled in there.

Garden bed in front of the Creekhouse building

In the spring, Shadbush (Amelanchier aborea) flowers in this bed, a welcome flower that is usually one of the first native, woody plants to bloom after winter passes!

close up of white shadbush flower
Close-up of Shadbush flower

Here is a view of our Rain Garden, below where the Butterfly House sits. 

luscious green garden bed behind the butterfly house
Rain Garden behind to the Butterfly House

In its dryer section, this garden has Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) in the spring, Brown Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) and Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) in the late summer and a smattering of asters and goldenrods in the fall. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) litters the garden as well as a couple Shadbushes who occupy the very front.

In this photo you can see the rest of the Rain Garden.

luscious green plants and shrubs

The lower part of the Rain Garden has a variety of wet loving shrubs: Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Meadowsweet (Spiraea sp.), Missouri Willow (Salix eriocephala), and Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris). Some of the wet loving herbaceous plants present in this bed are Rough Leaf Goldenrod (Solidago patula), Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum), Turtlehead (Chelone glabra), and some ferns. Over the years, White Panicle Aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum) has really thrived in this bed, crowding out some of the other species. This season we removed some of this aster species, in order to provide some breathing room for the other plants!

The Rain Garden also features the beautiful blooms of Great Blue Lobelia. The white flowering lobelia is not another species, just a variation of Great Blue Lobelia.  

Blueish purple and white flowers of great blue lobelia
Blueish-purple and white flowering Great Blue Lobelia

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), a relative of Great Blue Lobelia, is also in the Rain Garden! In years past, Cardinal Flower had been more present in this garden bed, but this year we didn’t find it until the end of July when we were thinning out the White Panicle Aster. This lone Cardinal Flower was waiting patiently to be unveiled.

bright red flower
Cardinal Flower (relative of Great Blue Lobelia)

The precious Showy Tick Trefoil (Desmodium canadense), one of our native legumes, is sprinkled throughout this bed as well.

lavender colored pea shaped flowers
Showy Tick Trefoil

We’ll now explore the gardens on the west side of the Creekhouse. This sloped area has a wet seep running down it. Here you find one plant that is nowhere else at the Creekhouse: the exquisite Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)!


pink milkweed flower
Swamp Milkweed

The seep also has Great Blue Lobelia and Cardinal Flower scattered about, these species are most often found in wet areas.


blueish purple great blue lobelia next to red cardinal flower
Great Blue Lobelia and Cardinal Flower on the West Slope

This is the drier part of the West Slope above where the seep begins. There is plenty of Black Eyed Susans, Monarda (Monarda fistulosa)  and Narrowleaf Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium).

Yellow and white flowers at the top of a slope
Black Eyed Susans, Monarda and Mountain Mint

Other parts of the West Slope have yet to be established into garden beds—it is a large area, and an ever-evolving project! In the remaining, overgrown areas, we’ve simply kept the Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) at bay until we are ready to make larger changes.

In the summer of 2019, the area in this photo (part of the West Slope) was covered with cardboard in order to suppress some unwanted plants, like Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria) and Multiflora Rose, and prepare for planting. In July of this season (2020), we pulled up the cardboard and forked through the soil in order to pull out the remaining roots and tubers.

cardboard, trays of plants, and tools next to an in progress garden bed
Part of the West Slope staged to be planted

This is a close up of the area that we uncovered and forked through—you can see on one side we have laid black plastic down to suppress the goutweed, bedstraw and grasses. This is another area we hope to reclaim in the next year or two.

bare soil to be planted into, surrounded by covered soil for future plantings
Bare soil to be planted into, surrounded by covered soil for future plantings

After forking through the soil, we then re-covered the area in cardboard, which acts as a mulch or biodegradable landscape cloth. Pro tip: if you water the cardboard, it becomes much more malleable and easy to work with!

Wet cardboard prepped for planting
Wet cardboard prepped for planting

We cut holes into the cardboard and planted a variety of native plants including New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata), Narrowleaf Mountain Mint, Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea), and some native grasses. All these plants were from the native plant nursery we grew this year, which was seeded in May of 2020. To learn more about this native plant nursery, check out Ellen’s blog post from July!

Ellen transplanting plants into holes in the cardboard
Ellen transplanting!

This is what this area looked like by the end of the day! We added wood chips on top of the cardboard to act as another barrier to the Goutweed, and the mulch will also remain even after the cardboard begins to deteriorate.

Freshly planted and mulched area of the garden
Freshly planted and mulched area of the garden!

Here’s that same area in the West Slope three months later, in October! The plants have clearly made themselves at home, we even had a few plants flower already!

plants settling in in the new garden area
The newly planted area thriving after a few months

Across from the West Slope and the wet seep is a dry, rocky hillside that features a dry meadow. 

dry hillside covered in grasses and goldenrod
The Dry Slope

Lots of Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) grows here, and a few different type of goldenrods and asters that prefer dry soil—including Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides), and Smooth Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve).

grass and yellow goldenrod flowers
Little Blue Stem and some goldenrod

small, yellow goldenrod flower
Gray Goldenrod

Being that the Roadside Garden is between our parking lot and the road, it’s likely most of our visitors to the Creekhouse have at least glimpsed it! This photo is from 2017 in the late summer/early fall.

yellow Brown Eyed Susan's and purple new england asters blooming
Roadside Garden bursting with late summer and early fall blooms

In the beginning of this season, the Roadside Garden was really impacted by the drought: the plants were stunted because of the dry soil, and the only prominent blooms were from the Showy Tick Trefoil and Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) plants. By the end of the summer it started to bounce back! More rain, and removing some of the competitive lawn grass helped a lot.

The Brown Eyed Susans and Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) exploded in this garden, along with two of our native grasses: Big Blue Stem (Andropogon gerardi) and Little Blue Stem.

brilliant yellow blooms in late summer/early fall
The Roadside Garden blooming yellow in late summer/early fall

Here’s a beautiful trio in our Roadside Garden: Showy Tick Trefoil, Butterfly Milkweed and Brown Eyed Susan.

purple Showy Tick Trefoil, orange Butterfly Milkweed and yellow Brown-eyed Susan
Showy Tick Trefoil, Butterfly Milkweed and Brown-eyed Susan

A stunning plant that shows up in the parking lot near to this bed is Moth Mullein (Verbascum blatteria), a relative of the more abundant Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus). While it is not native to our area, we just can't resist tolerating it!

close-up view of white and purple moth mullein flower
Close-up of Moth Mullein

Another member of the Verbascum genus was documented near the Roadside Garden in 2018, Dark Mullein (Verbascum nigra). While not native, these mulleins are welcome guests in our gardens!

spikes of white and purple dark mullein flowers
Dark Mullein

Behind the Creekhouse, we have a native meadow that has been growing slowly but surely. It began as unmowed lawn, and over the years we have planted native wildflowers into it. This year, there were some beautiful blooms in this meadow, particularly the New England Aster, Beardtongue and various species of goldenrod. The Monarch butterflies loved the patch of asters in this photo.

Monarch flying over purple blooming New England Asters in the meadow
Monarch flying over New England Asters in the meadow

Usually showier, but still brilliant, is the New York Ironweed, pictured here in our meadow. We noticed the deer really like to munch on the Ironweed and New England Asters. Ironweed is typically towering over your head, but this plant wasn’t even waist high because it had been browsed by deer.

purple ironweed blooms
Ironweed blooms

In 2017, a shady bed by the creek was made as a holding space for seedlings.

freshly planted garden bed by a creek with a brick border
Installing a nursery bed for seedlings down by the creek in 2017

Showy Goldenrod, Narrowleaf Mountain Mint, and Monarda were some of the wildflowers planted here.

close up of seedlings planted in new garden bed by the creek

Already by 2018 this area had filled in quite a bit! Some seedlings were transplanted, and some have made themselves at home here. You can see some purple New England Aster, and the tall grasses are Big Blue Stem.

the garden bed by the creek filled with thriving plants a year later
Nursery bed a year later in 2018

In this bed is also a beautiful plant that thrives in shady areas: Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis). Here’s the Canada Anemone blooms in early summer of 2020.

white blooms of canada anemone
Canada Anemone down by the creek

And pictured here is a close-up view of the Canada Anemone.

close up of white canada anemone flowers with yellow stamens
Close-up of Canada Anemone

It was really wonderful to see the Creekhouse gardens grow and change this past season, both old and new plantings. There are always some surprises, like that Cardinal Flower hiding in the Rain Garden, and like this beautiful Blue Vervain that volunteered to grow in the Butterfly House.

spikes of lavender colored blue vervain flowers, against a backdrop of yellow coreopsis flowers
Blue Vervain flower that popped up unexpectedly in the Butterfly House in 2020

We hope you enjoyed this Creekhouse garden update, and we hope you can visit this upcoming season to share in the beauty and wonder of these plants and flowers!

Monarch butterfly nectaring on a purple New England Aster
Monarch butterfly nectaring on a New England Aster

The Native Plant Garden is a truely collaborative effort. Its main "keepers" during the 2017-2020 period were Betsy Goodman-Smith, Brenna Bushey, Ellen Scheid, Jackie Edgett, Kristelle Esterhuizen, Nellie Ostow, and Rory Schiafo, but many others have helped over the years. Our thanks to you all!