by Val Engel
It’s easy to incorporate natives into our flower beds and shrub borders, but when it comes to foundation plantings it’s tempting to plant only exotics. It’s understandable why. The expectations of what a foundation planting should be and should not be are more culturally stringent than our flower beds: they must be evergreen; they must be neat and tidy; and there simply are not many native choices that fit the bill.
Whether you wish to completely upheave the cultural norm and display an alternative, but equally aesthetic, planting comprised of natives in front of your home, or if you simply would like to add more natives in a planting that also includes exotics, there are lots of shrubs native to the Eastern U.S. that can be worthwhile additions to your foundation planting. Here are some of our suggestions:
Vaccinium darrowii ‘Rosa’s Blush’ – Rosa’s Blush Blueberry
Rosa’s Blush Blueberry is an dwarf cultivar of blueberry that is becoming popular for is ornamental evergreen foliage. In spring, new growth bursts out in shades of pink and rose, then fades to a blue-green in the summer. New growth continues throughout the season to give this small shrub a two-toned look. In winter, the leaves turn an outstanding bright red but remain on the branches. Although Rosa’s Blush Blueberry can produce fruit, it needs a colder winter than is typical in our region for reliable production, so it is better to count on this for an ornamental effect more than for blueberries. Mature height is approximately 3’ tall and 3’ wide. For full sun or partial shade.
Ilex glauca ‘Maryland Dwarf’ – Dwarf American Holly
You might know our native American Holly as the tall tree laden with bright red berries around Christmas time, but Maryland Dwarf is an excellent cultivar that has a lot of potential for foundation plantings. Also called Maryland Spreader, it stays about 3 feet tall and can reach up to 10 feet wide. Try it in a wide foundation bed for an dark green evergreen cover. As an added bonus you can harvest the red berries at Christmas time! For full sun or partial shade, but Maryland Dwarf prefers some afternoon shade. Likes well-drained soil but can tolerate locations that are sometimes flooded. Deer-resistant.
Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’ – Inkberry Holly
If you have an area along your foundation that is a bit wetter than average, why not try the native inkberry holly? This small evergreen shrub stays about 3 feet tall and wide, is compact and needs very little pruning, and birds love the small black berries it produces in fall. For sun or shade. Deer-resistant.
Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’ – Florida Sunshine Anise
Florida Sunshine is a cultivar of an illicium native to Florida and once Georgia, but has bright yellow foliage that is highly anise-scented. Like other illicium, its growth habit may appear rather open in its natural form, but it responds well to pruning and makes a beautiful and colorful compact hedge or foundation plant. In spring it is even brighter, covered with bright pink blooms. Mature height is 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Illicium likes part shade to shade and consistently moist soil. They grow wonderfully in wet areas. Deer-resistant.
Illicium ‘Miss Scarlett’
Miss Scarlett is a cultivar of our native illicium, Illicium floridanum, and part of the Southern Living Plant Collection. It’s crimson star-shaped flowers appear in spring. Miss Scarlett has has a more compact habit than most Illicium, reaching 4 to 6 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide at maturity. Like other illicium, it prefers part shade or shade and consistently moist soil. Deer-resistant.
Illicium ‘Woodland Ruby’
This cultivar of flowering anise is actually a cultivar created at J.C. Raulston Arboretum between our native illicium (Illicium floridanum) and mexican illicium (Illicium mexicanum). It needs some space, reaching 8 to 10 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. Both the leaves and ruby-colored flowers are highly fragrant. For part shade to shade. Deer-resistant.