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Native plants are passion of veteran Ohio gardener
Ohio Correspondent

HAMILTON, Ohio — If you’re a gardener, chances are you’ve introduced more native plants to your garden recently. They have become popular.

They are not new to Mary Harrison, Mary’s Plant Farm. She has been raising plants for more than 50 years and has always grown and appreciated natives.

Mary’s Plant Farm is not a garden center but a small farm where the plants are field grown. Mary - now assisted by her daughter, Sherri Berger - grows the ordinary and unusual in plants. Visitors can stroll through the backyard and see what the plants look like growing in a natural setting.

The farm offers an extensive list of perennials. Some of those plants are handed down from Mary’s parents. Many are natives.

Exactly what is a native? It depends on who you are. There are purists, Sherri said. “Some customers only want a plant that is native to southwestern Ohio,” she said. “How far back do you want to go? Before the glaciers?

“Or are you going to say it’s been native to this region for as long as they have been keeping records,” she said. “We say a native is something that people have been noting it in their garden books for a couple of hundred years.”

Also, how pure does the plant have to be? Wild hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens is the native hydrangea found growing in the woods. Nursery-men found a mutation, called a “sport” that had a much bigger, more fertile bloom, and named it Annabelle.

“I consider Annabelle to be so close to the native that I’m not going to be a purist and not grow Annabelle just because it’s not the pure form,” Sherri said.

“The advantage to native plants is that they will grow in our climate, our soil,” she said. “Once established, many will take a drought. They were here before anybody decided to cultivate them. The seed fell, the bird deposited it, the wind blew it, the glacier pushed it, the stream took it some place, it got its feet in and it made a plant and it didn’t need us to help it.

“So people who may not want to worry about soil conditions can plant a native and nine times out of 19 it will be an easier growing plant for them,” she said.

Some natives will accept being manipulated, Sherri said. Prune and they’ll be short, trim the lower limbs and they’ll grow high.

Mary and Sherri are using more natives in their landscaping business simply because with the plants’ increasing popularity, more varieties are coming onto the market.

Also, Mary and Sherri think that huge lawns are becoming less popular. More customers want naturalized areas.

“Everybody needs a small area of grass but huge lawns will be a thing of the past,” Sherri said. “People don’t want to be a slave to mowing the grass.”

“We’re taking lots of grass out for people,” Sherri said. “In our landscaping we are doing a lot more naturalized areas. It all takes work but if you do it correctly you are not going to create a maintenance nightmare.”

Just a few of their favorite native perennials include: Rudbeckia Hirta (black-eyed Susan), Rudbeckia Triloba (brown-eyed Susan), White Achillea (yarrow), Chelone Glabra (turtlehead) and fall asters.

In shrubs they like: Cephalanthus (buttonbush) which can take standing in water and also endure the worst drought; Sambucus Canadensis (elderberry), Rhodotypos (jetbead - this is Mary’s favorite) and the native Viburnums such as Acerfolium, Dentatum, and Trilobum also called American Cranberry bush which Sherri said she would not be without.

Still, there is more to life than natives:

“Everyone is on this native kick,” Mary said. “They’ve got to have natives. I’m not giving up my exotics.”

A final note: Mary’s Plant Farm offers many native varieties but they do not collect them from the wild. They grow them from seeds or cuttings.

Mary’s Plant Farm is about 30 miles northwest of Cincinnati. It is two blocks from the intersection of Ohio Routes 27 and 130 at 2410 Lanes Mill Road, Hamilton. Phone 513-894-0022 or visit

This farm news was published in the April 12, 2006 issue of Farm World.