Favorite garden plants for mid-coast Maine

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Achillea spp. & cultivars (yarrow)

Requires full sun and excellent winter drainage. Sandy soil is best as normal garden soil holds onto too much moisture. Great plant for dry, lean spots where others may struggle. May have edible and/or medicinal properties; please research carefully.

Anemone blanda (windflower)

Exuberant daisy-like blooms in spring.  Terrific for planting under shrubs. Foliage dies to the ground in summer. Will spread happily over time to form colonies. Grows from small corms (similar to a bulb).

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)

Along with other plants in the milkweed family (genus Asclepias), this is one of the only food sources for Monarch butterflies. Monarchs are rapidly declining in number, partly due to loss of habitat for milkweeds. I love butterfly weed for its brilliant orange color. It puts on a long-lasting dazzling display in June and then continues with sporadic flowering until September. It spreads by deep underground runners so use a little caution in deciding where to plant.

Aurinia saxatilis (basket-of-gold)

Loves hot dry sites such as the edges of walkways. One of the first plants to start blooming, often in early April, and continuing for 6 or more weeks. Nothing better than that bright gold color after a long winter.

Baptisia australis (false indigo)

Dramatic in bloom, then forms interesting brown seed pods. This plant is a nitrogen-fixer which means it is able to take nitrogen out of the air and make it available to plants. Very long-lived; does not transplant well.

Chrysanthemum 'Samba' (hardy chrysanthemum)

One of the best fall-flowering mums.  Starts blooming in October and then keeps going for 3-4 weeks. Pairs beautifully with fall asters and ornamental grasses. As lovely as the potted mums you buy every fall, but comes back year after year.


Comptonia peregrina (sweetfern)

Tough-as-nails native plant related to bayberry, not to ferns. Tolerates poor soil, wet soil and drought; prefers dry sandy sites. Nitrogen-fixer. Used by native Americans to treat poison ivy. Reported to repel mosquitoes. Makes a nice tea. Smells divine as you stroll by. Can spread by long roots when happy.


Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam' (threadleaf coreopsis, tickseed)

Lovely low dark green plant with sunny pale yellow flowers that look good with everything.  Fine airy texture. Tolerates dry soil and blooms all summer. Can spread by rhizomes when happy, but not hard to dig out. Great plant for bees.

Echinacea spp.  (coneflower)

One of the best for long bloom and drought tolerance.  Don’t cut the flower heads back in the fall and songbirds will show up to nibble on the seeds into winter, and even spring if there is anything left standing. Goldfinches especially love them. The basic purple or white varieties are generally much tougher than the newer colors... but they are fun to try! Medicinal uses.

Echinops spp. (globe thistle)

A dramatic garden accent plant, beloved by bees.

Eschscholzia californica (California poppy)

I have been in love with this plant since I was a child and found it growing in a crack in the sidewalk with no other poppies nearby. It's an annual that self-seeds very happily in any well-drained, average to lean soil.  

Eupatorium purpureum & other species (Joe pye weed)

I fear this bee-magnet may be the plant that finally caused my neighbor to erect a fence. This plant loves moisture, but will grow fairly well in decent soil (to over 7’ in my garden) without any supplemental water. Some Eupatorium are native to Maine.

Fothergilla major & gardenii

Great shrubs, with 3-season interest, native to the southeastern U.S. Many with lovely bluish leaves, fragrant spring blooms and dramatic fall color. Full sun to part shade.

Geranium 'Rozanne'

Very long-blooming, no-care plant. It can get sprawly so I like to tuck it under shrubs where it can grow up into the branches.

Hakonechloa macra (Japanese forest grass)

Lovely flowing grass for shady spots. Gold varieties are unsurpassed for bringing movement and light to darker spots. Pictured is ‘Albo-striata.’

Helenium spp. (Helen's flower,  sneezeweed)

Excellent plant for a very long season of bloom (6-8 weeks). Will be fine without added irrigation as long as there is sufficient soil organic matter. Can be cut back hard in early July for shorter, later blooms that are less likely to flop. Many good varieties; I'm partial to 'Mardi Gras' and 'Wyndley.'

Hemerocallis spp. (daylily)

What’s not to like?  These exuberant plants will tolerate almost anything and still look lush and beautiful. Remarkably free of pest problems, endless choice of color and height. The old-fashioned orange ones (H. fulva) are edible (leaves, blossoms, roots, & buds) but this may not be true for other varieties and cultivars. Make sure you know what you are harvesting and how to prepare it. And yes, each blossom is open for just one day.

Knautia macedonica

A short-lived, but happily self-seeding perennial. The longest-blooming perennial in my garden. Some folks think it looks a little weedy, but you can’t beat that rich dark crimson. Also comes in light pink and if you let them self-seed you will get all colors in between.

Liatris spicata (Gayfeather, Blazing star)

Liatris is a superb vertical accent in the garden. It is readily available in white and purple forms. In my garden this plant attracts more butterflies than any other. It is also more drought-tolerant than most books give it credit for.

Mondarda didyma (bee balm)

This is the plant that brings in the hummingbirds. Can spread aggressively by rhizomes, so plant with care. 

Nepeta faassenii 'Blue Wonder' (catmint)

An amazing plant that blooms for most of the summer and is always covered by bees. Very drought tolerant. Can grow to 6' in diameter in a few seasons if happy.

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian sage)

When deer have eaten every single plant in your garden, this will be the last one left.  Requires full sun, dry soil and excellent drainage. It still may flop, but is worth it for the ethereal blue color that makes all nearby colors sing in the late summer garden.

Polgonatum spp. (Solomon's seal)

Elegant shade plant.  Prefers medium to wet soil, but will thrive in dry shade if the soil is rich.They are beautiful coming up in spring. Some species are native and some are edible; please research correct harvesting and cooking practices.

Sedum spp.

Nothing beats a sedum for looking good all season. As over-used as it is the ‘Autumn Joy’ cultivar is still a great plant. I’m also fond of the purply leaves & stems of ‘Maestro,’ pictured here.

Stachys byzantina 'Big Ears' (lamb's ear)

A favorite for edging beds and walkways as it loves the hot, dry location. It manages to look lush and vigorous in these difficult spots. Requires well drained soil and dislikes moisture on its leaves.

Tiarella cordifolia (foamflower)

A native spreading groundcover that blooms in early spring. These tiny elegant spires of white are surely the lanterns for gatherings of fairies and other forest folk.

Viola tricolor (Johnny jump-ups)

Common European wildflower. I love the high degree of color variability among seedlings; you never know what you will get. Rambunctious self-seeder, but easy to pull. Edible flowers look great in salads. Flower buds and young leaves can be used to thicken soups. My mom used to lie in the fields in Denmark and talk to them.

Sarah Wolpow   *   (207) 721-0941   *   SweetFernGarden@comcast.net   *   45 Page St., Brunswick, ME 04011