Designing a Native Garden

by Kerry
(Leesburg, VA)

I live in zone 7, Northern Virginia, and I’d like to landscape my “suburban cookie cutter” yard with native plants to attract butterflies and birds. I did some research to identify the plants I like from the Virginia Native Plant Society and Loudoun Gardening For Wildlife Plants, as well as a variety of others. I’d like the garden to be a three-season garden so that flowers are consistently blooming, instead of having everything bloom and die at the same time. There are so many variables between bloom time, amount of sun, amount of water, etc. that it’s overwhelming to figure out what to plant so that it doesn’t look like a big mess. I love the pre-planned gardens that you find online and in magazines, but I haven’t found any that meet what I’m trying to accomplish. Do you have any suggestions on where to start to design my native gardens so that I do this right?

Thank you!


Hi Kerry,
It's really a matter of using the right plants for your location, determining when they bloom, which plants look good together and having a good design sense.

1. Determining the plants for your location - it seems you have a handle on this. Knowing your plant zone, your sun or shade conditions, if the area is wet or dry, etc. all come into play. This helps you determine the plants that you can use successfully. So make a list of these.

2. Make sure flowering times occur throughout the seasons. Note which ones bloom when.

3. Note which plants attract butterflies and birds. You can be sure of birds coming for any plants that have berries.

4. Place plants with different textures next to each other so the foliage stands out and doesn't just blend all together. Vary the heights also.

5. Design - Use plants in masses and stagger them so that they are not in straight lines...particularly with a native garden. Think about where each section of the garden will be viewed from and try to place the taller plants towards the rear. That being said, don't be afraid to place a taller one hear and there so it's not boring. Work one area at a time, although it all has to go together.

Create a path to meander throughout. This will be for function and also to break up all the plants. It will also look nice.

There is a great book out by James Van Sweden called Gardening With Nature. I know Amazon sells it so you might want to take a look at it. If I can be of further help, let me know. I can also provide you with the design if you like!


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