Supporting Sustainable Living: Part One

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

PA native bloody butcher (attractive common name!), Trillium recurvatum, is just forming its buds now and will produce its beautiful flower shortly (photo on right Arrowhead Alpines).

All photos in this article are of plants native to Pennsylvania (PA) available at “Bulb and Native Wildflower Day” on April 9 at my nursery.  Single photos and the left photo in collages show the plants in my garden today.

Jan who writes the garden blog Thanks for Today is doing something wonderful, and  I want all my readers, subscribers, and customers to participate in Jan’s project.  Jan has started the Gardeners’ Sustainable Living Project, which celebrates Earth Day  by encouraging gardeners to get together and share the big and small things that they are doing anywhere in their lives to support sustainable living.  If you read my blog, you know that this is an important topic for me.

PA native rue-anemone, Anemonella thalictroides, is a dainty woodlander in full bloom right now.

To participate in the project, all you have to do is click on the Gardeners’ Sustainable Living Project link below and leave a comment describing a few of your own sustainable living practices.  If you are a garden blogger, you can write a post about your efforts, but Jan only requires a comment.  If you participate by April 15, you become eligible to receive all kinds of fun prizes.  I got so excited about the project, I decided to contribute a prize of my own: a snowdrop collection.  For prize details, click here.

The buds of PA native Celandine poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, are just starting to show color, and the flowers will cover the plant for at least six weeks (photo on right Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder).

While you are leaving your comment, you can read all the posts written by garden bloggers telling you what they are doing to promote sustainability.  Donna at Gardens Eye View in her article  on “Trust” points out that we have been entrusted with the earth and we should leave it the way we found it.  She tells us about her efforts to do that.  Jean at Jean’s Garden explains how she has “come to understand how my plant choices can affect ecological systems and environmental balance.”

PA native twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla, is just pushing out of the ground in my garden (photo on right Missouri Botanical Gardens PlantFinder).

Pam at Pam’s English Cottage Garden was inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life to “be more mindful of my carbon footprint by eating locally grown foods that are in season, and by supporting local farmers.”  Allan at allanbecker.gardenguru describes a wide range of “respectful grass roots initiatives that influence both consumer behavior and the agendas of local officials” while  promoting sustainability.  You can get a lot of great ideas by reading these thoughtful articles and all the others linked there.

I love the early spring colors of emerging PA native coral-bell leaves.  Clockwise from upper left: Heuchera villosa ‘Caramel’, ‘Frosted Violet’, ‘Autumn Bride’, ‘Blackout’.

So what am I doing to promote sustainability?  For my whole gardening life, I have been organic, not using any herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers.  I don’t water except to establish new plants and, by following gardening practices like grinding my leaves (seeFall Clean-up and Leaves on the Lawn) and composting, I have restored the soil to its former pristine state.  I have gotten rid of almost an acre of lawn and replaced it with large areas of plants native to Pennsylvania.  In Maine, I founded and continue to run a community based invasive plant removal program whose goal is to eliminate all invasive plants from the small island where we vacation.

PA native Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica, is just about to come into full bloom in my garden.

Several years ago, though, I realized that I am uniquely placed to have an even larger impact in this area through my nursery.  As my customers ask me for advice and as I talk to the horticultural groups touring my display gardens, I emphasize sustainable practices and demonstrate how they work in my own gardens.  Instead of being lectured to in a darkened room, these gardeners are seeing  living proof that the sustainable methods I advocate have worked to create beautiful gardens.

PA native bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, is in full bloom right now.  The rare double form ‘Multiplex’, pictured on the right, is much longer blooming.

Reading Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants was a turning point for me.  I finally understood why planting native plants is not just a “good thing”, but absolutely crucial to our survival.  I wrote about this in My Thanksgiving Oak Forest,  and I hope you will read my article.  Now I give out a synopsis of the book to the hundreds of customers who attend events at my nursery each year in hopes that they too will be inspired.

My new yellow signs boldly demonstrate which plants are native in my woodland garden.

As a result of my new understanding, I increased my emphasis on native plants at the nursery.  Native plants appear in green print in my catalogue.  I purchased new signage for the garden and the nursery so natives could have their own special yellow signs (see photo above) while non-natives have white.  I am about to have my sixth annual native wildflower day on April 9 during which customers can shop for a wide assortment of almost 40 native perennials, not including the native ferns that will be offered at my fern sale.

The foliage of PA native dwarf Jacob’s ladder, Polemonium reptans ‘Blue Pearl’, is evergreen, and the plants are covered with buds right now.

My two acres of display gardens demonstrate how desirable non-native plants can be incorporated into the sweeps of native plants that dominate my landscape.  And I have used my blog with its 450 customer-subscribers and 26,000 views since November to promote the planting of natives (see, for example, My Thanksgiving Oak Forest, New Native Shade Perennials for 2011, and Woody Plants for Shade).

The early leaves of PA native wild columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, are a beautiful deep blue-green and are followed by lovely flowers in April and May.

So now, what do I want you to do?  Please go to and leave a comment describing a few of your own sustainable practices.  I know many of my customers are reading my blog because almost everyone who has visited this year has said “I love your blog”.  Now you can thank me by supporting Jan’s project and mentioning in your comment that you came from Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.


Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), click here.

Nursery Happenings: My next nursery event is Bulb and Native Wildflower Day on Saturday, April 9, from 9 am to 3 pm.  My next open house sale features early spring-blooming shade plants and is Saturday, April 16, from 10 am to 3 pm.  For details and directions, click here.

47 Responses to “Supporting Sustainable Living: Part One”

  1. Carolyn,

    You are doing so many wonderful things for our gardens by offering so many native plants and educating tour customers. I always “go native” when I have a choice between two plants. I think you are going to win your own prize!!’

  2. Carolyn, I think your yellow and white signs to differentiate natives from non-natives are great! I have had more than one occasion when I bought what I thought was a native plant, only to find out later that I had gotten one of the non-native species in a genus that includes natives. Clear signs like this are so helpful. And, of course, it helps customers to see how many of the plants they’re admiring are not only gorgeous, but also good for the environment. Thanks so much for linking to my post.

  3. I was drooling just over the first pictures and then I just couldn’t get over all the others and look at all the wonderful natives you have…I have many and hope to see them are the kind of nursery I want near me…advocating natives and promoting them as well…you are only a 5 hr drive at most away so I may have to take a buying trip one of these days 🙂

  4. Being a foliage person, I want the twinleaf please. BTW you are now, in the top 15! One more pick coming your way for this post.

  5. Carolyn,
    Some wonderful natives and nice to hear about your sustainable living/gardening.

  6. My favourite flowers, foxgloves, are native to the UK. It wasn’t an intentional choice, but I like to think it’s more than a coincidence.
    I leave my lamiums, dandelions, daisies, buttercups, forget-me-nots and oxalis to grow freely – it’s my approach to native gardening.

    • Bag, I love foxgloves and have them naturalizing all over my garden. I let everything that wants to grow in the lawn grow there including the dandelions, which I think are beautiful. The buttercups I dig up and move into a bed that features all kinds of yellow flowers–they’re beautiful. Carolyn

  7. Thank you for showing such wonderful variety of native flowers! I love the bloody butcher plant (despite its name), it is so unusual. I didn’t know heucheras were native to PA…

    • Masha, that trillium’s other common name is bloody noses, which I couldn’t bring myself to use in the post. Heuchera sanguinea, americana, and villosa are all native to PA. Heuchera micrantha and cylindrica are native to the West Coast. Carolyn

  8. You have so much in bloom right now and it looks beautiful. Doug Tallamy is coming here to speak at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Garden. I look forward to his talk. Maybe Donna can schedule her trip down on May 5.

  9. It’s great to see the plants unfurling and then shots of what they look like in full bloom. It’s great that you offer so many natives! Your yellow signs look very helpful. I would love to visit your nursery someday, too.

    • I think the plants unfurling are often equally as beautiful as the plants in full bloom. I like to use all photographs from my own garden so I decided to use the now and later approach. This is the most natives I have ever carried at the nursery, and it’s a little risky, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. When things don’t sell, I plant them in my own gardens and then everyone wants them next year when I haven’t re-ordered them because they didn’t sell. Planning is difficult. Carolyn

  10. Great post with great photos! I salute all of your efforts to promote sustainable living. You will never know all the lives you have touched and the difference you have made. Each of us has a wider influence than we may think. I definitely believe in the ripple in the pond effect.

  11. Carolyn, As usual, you have written a beautiful blog post…with photos to drool over;-) I love how you write so seemingly effortlessly and everything just ‘comes to life’! I am thrilled to be able and visit your nursery later this month and I hope it will work out for Jean & I to come on the same day. Thank you for sharing this with your readers and encouraging people to think about sustainability…and to visit my giveaway;-) I have many of the plants you’ve highlighted here, and they are blooming or about-to-bloom right now. I’ve taken photos and need to get them uploaded into a post! Suddenly my garden is just popping with sweet little natives that I had planted last year and I’ve never seen them until now! And, I can’t wait to get some more from you;-)

    • Jan, You know I am a big supporter of your Sustainable Living Project. I am glad my posts seem effortless–I think that is a sign of good writing so I take it as a wonderful compliment. But actually, it takes me the whole week between posts to write and photograph the next one. I re-read and revise each one dozens of times before I consider it ready. I am really looking forward to your visit, to when you and Jean step out of the virtual world and into my real world!!! Carolyn

  12. I also was inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s book and have been eating more local foods from our co-op market, farmers market and my own garden. I’m also planting my woodland gardens with more natives wildflowers and shrubs such as Ledum groenlandicum, Trillium, Asarum, Sanguinaria, and many more. Mostly from seed. Starting perennials from seed is one of the most satisfying ways to increase your gardens’ diversity! I plan on collecting seed of many local wildflowers this year. What fun!

  13. The sight of Trilliums always make me smile. Kudos to you for incorporating more natives at the nursery, and encouraging others. We have a few specialty nurseries near here offering natives, but most don’t, and many general garden nurseries still insist on selling invasive thugs. I like how you’ve included natives with well behaved non-natives in your demonstration gardens too. I think many assume a native garden has to look drab and dull most of the year, but careful choices of plants in both categories, I think, make for some of the most beautiful gardens. With your demonstration garden, I’m sure for your customers, seeing is believing!

    • Clare, I want to demonstrate a balanced approach with the use of non-invasive exotic plants and natives in the same gardens. I want to take the same approach at the nursery by selling both and not just specializing in natives. I think gardeners are turned off by the all or nothing stance taken by some native plant promoters. Seeing is believing for my customers when they tour my gardens. Carolyn

  14. Dear Carolyn, You have written a very inspiring post! Thank you for linking to my blog in your narrative. Your photographs are stunning! P x

  15. Over the past two years I have been educating myself on native plants and adding them to my garden. I will certainly read the book you recommended. Your photos really show the beauty of these native plants. I am preparing my post for the project. I love how you use yellow signs to identify your native plants. It makes it easier for the public to shop! Bravo!

  16. Your wildflowers are wonderful! And thanks for the reminder on Jan’s post. I think mine is scheduled for this week. I am so delinquent lately in my blogging but need to get it up soon. Love those yellow signs. Anything that makes it easy to figure out things works for me.

  17. Carolyn, when it comes to environmental issues you are the real deal, and you tell it in a manner which rubs off in others. Flowery things! our Trillium Grandiflorum is in full bloom.

  18. Dear Carolyn! I have installed a translator on my blog now 🙂 Thank you for your visit.

    lg kathrin

  19. Hi Carolyn,
    Thanks for your comment on my post, and your question about comfrey. I first heard about it on the website KGI (kitchen gardeners international) You can reach that website from a link in my sidebar. I also have a few posts about comfrey on my blog – here is one that shows all the nutritional data.

    • Gillian, I will have to look at the sources. I always thought that although comfrey was used as an herb in “olden times”, recent tests showed that you shouldn’t eat it. Maybe it is just good for the garden–I will have to go to your site. Thanks, Carolyn

  20. Your post is not only beautiful, but really very emtional to me since I am a firmly believer in the need of making society concious of how important is for us to take full responsibility for the care of our environment by learning the best ways. “Chapeau” for what you have been doing in you nursery and for encouraging other sto follow!!

  21. Hi Carolyn, I’ve missed you and your blog. Lovely to see your plants popping up so well. I have a plant that bears a close resemblance to your bloody butcher. I’d better treat my plant well…who knows what it would do to me.

  22. Lovely post, Carolyn. Though way ahead of me, I have almost all mentioned in my wildflower garden and would love to get my hands on the the rare double ‘Multiplex’ bloodroot. Isn’t spring grand!

  23. Your web site is a treasure! As I explore the wooded area on my 2 acre property, I try to respect what is naturally happening. For example, the patch of trout lilies needs to be protected from the burning bush that is drifting nearby. If I add a plant(s) to this lovely wooded area, it must be native and it must behave well with others!

  24. ______________________________________________________

    Carolyn, As I look out on a white landscape . . . yes snow . . . I am so taken by all of your spring growth and blooms. I do have Bloodroot and see a bit of the Wild Columbine but my Virginia Bluebells are not showing at all. This bit of snow will melt into the welcoming garden floor and our buds will get back to swelling in a day or two. I so admire and applaud your sustainable and native choices and feel kindred in many ways. It is great when we are in a position of having the public visit and are able to share our earth-friendly lifestyles and practices. I know from guests that some are truly inspired to make changes in their own lives after visiting. I would love to visit your gardens and those nearby, but will have to wait until I plan at least a few days to make the trip not eat up my carbon points. Our cars . . . collectively are greatly increasing our CO2 levels . . . as you know. I always try to plan a number of errands when I do go out. Luckily we do have a great native plants nursery close by . . . I imagine it would be hard to find a nursery as unique as yours though. ; >)

    • Carol, It would be so fun if you could visit, but I would also love to visit you. Have you thought any more about the blogger get together you mentioned. I would pay to stay at your B&B. It is wonderful that you can demonstrate to your guests what sustainable living is all about. Carolyn

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