Crabapple (Malus, sp.): full sun; moisture: average. Crabapples are fantastic “have it all” for those who have a sunny spot for a small tree and who can tolerate a few pests. Look for the newer hybrids that are more pest resistant and have wonderful fall leaf color to add to the gorgeous flowers and fruit. The fruit remains on the tree over the winter, looking great against the snow and providing “winter survival” food. Often, last year’s fruit provides a March home-coming feast for our returning robins and a way-side meal for cedar waxwings and other birds going north for the summer. You can spot our lovely, tough, local native, the Sweet Crabapple, in Stamford’s downtown alleys as well as along the beach and at the edge of the upland woods.
Hawthorn (Crataegus, sp.): full sun; moisture: average. Hawthorns are the “little black dress” of suburban landscaping; tough, urban small trees that go anywhere, with white flowers in spring and bright red berries which persist into winter. There are many native and imported species as well as garden hybrids. Native and naturalized hawthorns grow wild at the edge of Stamford’s wooded areas, and in vacant lots downtown.
Shadblow (Serviceberry) (Amellanchier, sp.): full sun to part shade; moisture: average. Shad is so beloved that it has many common names and garden hybrids. The white apple-like flowers appear early in the season next to the pond at the Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens, and along the river bank at Scalzi park. The fruit, which looks like tiny apples, is munched up as soon as it ripens in summer.
Blueberries (Vaccinium, sp.): part shade to full sun; moist but well drained soil, not overly drought-tolerant. Low-bush (Vaccinium angustifolium) and high bush (Vaccinium corymbosum) blueberries can be found in Stamford’s wooded areas. Generally, the bushes don’t self-pollinate but with two plants, you’ll get fruit on both. Low bush blueberries are best with morning through mid-day sun. The high-bush is better than the low bush in full sun. The low bush, particularly, is a bit of a wimp — it needs protection from crowding by other garden plants but is great in a rock garden with enough moisture. Blueberries want very acid, moist but well drained soil so mix peat and sand in the planting hole. The best part of blueberries may be the striking fall foliage but then there are the delicate spring twigs, the small white flowers, and the pretty birds eating the fruit. There are many hybrids, so you can extend the fruiting season by choosing early, mid-season and late fruiting plants.
Viburnums: part shade to full sun, moisture: average to bog. Viburnums are very popular native shrubs for the garden. There are many native and hybrids forms. Stamford’s dominate native variety is the Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), a stunning, hardy native with clusters of white flowers in late spring, and blue berries in summer. The decorative leaves look pleated and have serrated margins. Arrowwood grows along the Mill River, in the Red Maple Wetlands at the Bartlett, and in many Stamford yards. The Maple-leaf Viburnum is a small cousin for the deep-shade garden that you’ll find throughout Stamford’s up-land woods.
Dogwoods (Cornus, sp.): part shade to full sun, moisture: average to bog. Sadly, the native Flowering Dogwood that graces so many Stamford yards, and our open woods, is now under threat due to an imported fungal disease. It shouldn’t be planted except in ideal growing conditions — morning sun, wind protection, well-drained, acidy soil high in organic matter, with lots of mulch, and a bit of supplemental water during droughts.
There are also bush-type native dogwoods with clusters of small white flowers in spring and blue (or red) berries in the summer. The blue-berried Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) is the dominate shrub along parts of the Mill River, look for its red winter twigs along the southern half of the riverwalk at Scalzi Park The Silky Dogwood likes sun and wet. Its very popular kin, the Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea), has been hybridized for ordinary garden conditions and is also prized for its red winter twigs.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata): part shade to full sun, moisture: average to bog. Stunningly beautiful, Winterberry is the native holly that breaks the rules by shedding its leaves in the winter. This, however, allows an even better view of the striking red berries that persist in winter. Winterberry is prevalent in North Stamford in the wetter and sunnier parts of wooded areas but also can be seen along dry woodland roadsides. Like all hollies, winterberry has separate male and female plants and the females bear the decorative fruit. There are numerous garden hybrids.
The evergreen American Holly (Ilex opaca) is seen in Stamford yards but prefers a warmer climate. Some of the hardier, foreign holly hybrids can be a better Stamford landscaping choice but may have a tendency to naturalize. If your heart is set on an American Holly, give it part shade and winter wind protection.
Elderberry (Caprifoliaceae sambucus): sun to part shade; moisture: average to bog. Elderberry, once made into a “tonic” wine, is now a trendy “plant for the future” due to the high anti-oxidant value of the berries. This tall, bushy swamp shrub has fresh green composite leaves, lacy clusters of white flowers, and dark red-purple summer berries that disappear almost before they are ripe. The garden hybrids do well in average moisture and can handle part shade.
Wild Rose (Rosa, sp.): full sun; moisture: average. Some gardeners have to have a rose despite powdery mildew, black spot, Japanese beetles, rose thrips, etc., etc. If you choose a garden hybrid of wild native rose and give it ideal conditions, you can skip the chemicals, fuss, and bother.
To be fair to the rose, don’t plant it unless you can give it the full 6-hours of mid-day sun, adequate moisture in well-drained rich soil, and plenty of air circulation to ward off powdery mildew and other fungal diseases. If you want to see a wild rose in all its untended glory, the swamp rose along the boardwalk in the Red Maple Wetlands at the Bartlett is magnificent. The pest-free Rosa Rogosa is a common sight along the Stamford shore but is also on the State of Connecticut’s invasive foreign plant list.
THE RUNNERS UP (they are all good in the right place): alder, azalea, bayberry, black raspberries, buttonbush, hemlock, mountain laurel, pussy willow, red mulberry, river birch, smooth hydrangea, spice bush, sweet pepper, sumac, and witch hazel.
Winter cover: A few thick cozy evergreens are important for winter habitat. Good native evergreen shrub choices for sheltered, part-shade include hemlock and mountain laurel, and, for sun, juniper.
Apples and junipers: Crabapples, hawthorn, and shad are from the apple family and time-share a fungal rust disease with the junipers. Rust results in ugly fruit and leaves on the apple family trees in a wet year. While fungal spores can be blown quite some distance, planting these two families close together makes the problem worse.
White-tailed deer: In the author’s view, there’s no “cure” for the hungry deer problem other than a government-sponsored program to manage the overly-enhanced deer population via birth control. Meanwhile, you can protect the best of your yard treasures to a degree with fencing and sprays (if applied after every rain).
Where to Buy: Many native shrubs are available at area plant nurseries. Wherever you live, your local arboretum or public garden is likely to have a plant sale around Mother’s Day; these sales are often good sources of unusual plants and native plants. (If you live in Stamford, the Bartlett Arboretum Spring Plant Sale is scheduled for May 13, 2006). Some of the less common items can be obtained from mail order catalogues and/or via the internet but be sure the check to the dealer’s credentials. The New England Wildflower Society (newfs.org) is a well-known source for native plants.
STAMFORD CONNECTICUT RESIDENTS: LEARN MORE ABOUT NATIVE SHRUBS AND GARDENING NOTE: If you live elsewhere, your town probably has similar resources; perhaps this checklist will give you an idea or two about where to look.
UConn Master Gardener Plant Clinic at the Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens, 151 Brookdale Road, Stamford, CT 06903, contact: Regina Campfield (203) 322-6971 (public transportation: take the #31 High Ridge bus to Brookdale Road). The free plant clinic is open May 18 – Sept. 30, 10:00 A.M. – 2:00 P.M., Monday -Thursday for phone calls and walk-in. Year round, you can stop by to pick up a soil testing brochure or drop off a sample of plant material (include your name and phone number and as much information as possible about the plant). If you drop off a sample or leave a phone message off-season, the Master Gardeners will get back to you as time permits.
Plant Nurseries: Most area plants nurseries offer at least basic gardening advice. As public interest in native plants and eco-gardening grows, the nurseries are developing expertise as well.
Lenny Scinto, a manager at Designs by Lee in North Stamford and host of the “The Garden Show” on Stamford’s WSTC 1400 AM and Norwalk’s WNLK 1350 AM, answers gardening questions, Saturday 9:00-10:00 A.M. Lenny has, time and again, earned the thanks of the Stamford gardening community for up-dating us on eco-safe products.