I had about an hour to check out the rainwater gardens around the Education Center at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens in Chapel Hill yesterday morning.
Just inside, Carolina anoles skittered across the path in front of me; a monarch butterfly bounced around unpredictably; throngs of buzzing insects sipped nectar. This garden was going to be good!
The NCBG was designed with wildlife in mind and it is a pollinator's paradise. There are native plant representatives from niche environments all over North Carolina, as well as the insects that love them.
For the gardener, it's pure inspiration. Three plants grabbed my attention, making September's late summer days lovely in one way or another.
1. Seashore Mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica), pictured above. Seashore mallow is a large perennial with lots of pink flowers. The plant can reach six feet tall with several two to three inch flowers at the tips of each branch. Each flower blooms for just one day, but the bloom period can be from July to October. Stamens are fused into a column around the pistil with the five-parted stigma protruding from the end; this is characteristic of mallows -- you probably recognize it as the same as hibiscus. Cotton and okra are also relatives of seashore mallow. The plant likes a wet situation, but seems to adjust fine to regular garden moisture. It needs plenty of sun. A background plant that blooms for a long time could be just the thing you need.
2. Blue Curls (Trichostema dichotomum) Blue curls has the most amazing flowers. They are small, only about a half inch from top to bottom, but bilateral symmetry, extra-long, curled stamens and white throats are both pretty and interesting. This mint relative smells like a cross between mountain mint and lavender to me -- I loved the scent and would grow it just for that. The plant is about a foot to eighteen inches high with fuzzy leaves and stems. It is an annual that freely reseeds in the right location. Dry, sunny spots are its preference, but it will tolerate a range of moisture and a partly shaded location in the South.
3. Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) Do these look like pea flowers to you? I didn't think so! The giveaway is, well, the little pea pods all over the plant! This plant grows in shade or sun, wet or dry. It's a reseeding annual. The ten stamens in the center of this flower are yellow (four of them) and red (six of them). Four of the five petals also have a red blotch at the base. Insects eat the red pollen and while they're doing that, dust the yellow pollen on to the stigmas so seeds can form. The mimosa-like leaves close up at night, earning it another of its common names, Sleeping Plant. The bright yellow petals in this shady garden looked like spots of sun shining through to the forest floor. Very engaging.
Now that you know about these plants, I hope you'll keep an eye out for them. The list of native plant nurseries below will help you get started!
North Carolina Native Plant Society Growing Native!