Like many gardeners, I have been addicted to gardening since I was a kid. At the early age of 6, while in the baseball outfield, I was more engaged with the ants in the dirt than in the game my father expected me to play. I remember discovering how easy some plants (from peanuts to English Ivy) were to grow. I loved it all. In the ’70s, native plants were not mainstream and gardening focused more on food and the aesthetics of certain plants.
Gardening may be the biggest hobby in America, but it isn’t a static one. Always evolving, it is moving from a focus on aesthetics to one of function, including community and environmental benefits.
Over the last century American gardens have celebrated plants from other countries, often ignoring the beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees that grow locally in the surrounding woods and meadows. Native plants celebrate a sense of place and support the local creatures who share our land. I have never planted ivy again and continue to learn that what we plant in our yards and landscapes affects the entire web of life around us, impacting future generations.
April is a great time to start talking about gardens. The explosion of spring leaves and flowers is at a pinnacle of color and growth. Early spring is an excellent time to find unusual perennials at local nurseries and plant sales. Perennials’ size affords almost instant gratification within the first season of planting.
Choosing native plants for your garden has become a much more viable option over the past 20 years. If possible, always check for the Latin name of a plant to assure you’re getting the proper species. Varieties and cultivars of our favorite natives have helped to grow the appeal for those needing a bit bigger plant, uniquely colored flowers, or some other attribute. Echinacea, commonly known as purple cone flower, is an example of a plant with dozens of beautiful cultivars created to satisfy anyone’s color palette.
The latest studies show that landscapes with 70% native species will help support pollinators’ healthy populations, so it may be a goal that we should all set for our gardens. One can still keep their favorite camellias and peonies but have a landscape that serves very important ecological functions like feeding our local pollinators, birds and other wildlife.
A few of my favorite April bloomers include:
Coreopsis species — There are many varieties that range from gold, orange to a burnt red. An older yellow variety called ‘Moonbeam’ is a full, compact plant with abundant flowers, a long blooming time and a great ability to re-seed. It needs full sun and will perform in average soil and with minimal effort. There are so many cultivars of Coreopsis that you should be able to find them almost anywhere.
Stylophorum diphyllum, or woodland poppy — It is another yellow flowering perennial that thrives in deep shade and moist soils with plenty of organic matter. This poppy is more challenging to find and grow, but the payback in early April is great, especially if you are looking for color in a woodland garden.
Cornus species, dogwoods – Everyone wants to plant this tree when they see one blooming in early April. While it’s not an ideal time to plant trees, you can certainly do it successfully with proper watering and care. Dogwoods have become more susceptible to diseases over the last 30 years, so many people prefer cultivars resistant to disease like anthracnose and powdery mildew. Cherokee Princess is a lovely large white flowering dogwood, while Cherokee Brave is a dark pink selection, both cultivated for disease resistance. Alternate leaf dogwood is an under- planted favorite of mine. The flowers are less showy, but still beautiful and loved by pollinators.
Native plants are often difficult to find, but worth the chase. Mail order is one solution for finding rare selections, but the size and accessibility can be a downside. Opening a box of plants can be exciting, even exhilarating. Non-profit plant sales are another way to get natives that are hard to find, while supporting a cause that you believe in.
The following organizations have plant sales online, in person, or both. Dates published online for upcoming sales are listed below.
- Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Gainesville Garden
1911 Sweetbay Drive, Gainesville, April 6-15
- Chattahoochee Nature Center
9135 Willeo Road, Roswell, April 2-3 (reservations required)
- Oakland Cemetery
248 Oakland Ave, SE, Atlanta, April 10
- State Botanical Garden of Georgia
2450 South Milledge Avenue, Athens, April 3 (registration for timed access required)
- Trees Atlanta
225 Chester Avenue SE, Atlanta
Online sale at treesatlanta.org/plantsale with in person sale on April 10 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at
- The Carter Center
- 453 John Lewis Freedom Parkway NE
- Wylde Center
435 Oakview Road, Decatur, April 1-June 15