In just a few short years, American Beauties Native PlantsÇ has grown to embrace colorful, hardy selections for nearly every corner of the country.

Take a walk in the woods and you’re surrounded by them. Meander through a grassy meadow or rocky hillside and discover captivating colors and graceful forms. Blanketing America’s landscape are native plants: perennials, ornamental grasses, trees and shrubs dotting northern woodlands, Midwestern prairies, craggy mountains, dry deserts and coastal wetlands.

“Butterflies are attracted [to Asclepias tuberosa] by its color and copious production of nectar,’ says Willoway Nurseries’ Danny Gouge. “It is also the larval food plant of the Striated Queen and Monarch butterflies.”

As society has become more involved in eco-responsibility, native plants have moved easily from the wilds to the garden center and from the garden center to the garden. Wildlife thrives in native communities in a natural, healthy “co-dependency,” preserving the delicate balance and beauty of nature. And, today’s gardeners are well aware. There’s a shift in priorities in consumer buying habits toward products and services that favor sustainability. In fact, according to a 2010 Garden Writers of America survey, close to 70 percent of consumers surveyed have a lawn or garden with three of four gardeners choosing plants and products that give back to Mother Nature.

These “backyard conservationists” are participating in a trend that’s been gathering steam: gardening with a purpose. Consumers have moved from focusing solely on garden aesthetics and now see themselves as conservationists, moving beyond “sustainable.” They no longer want to simply protect valuable resources, but help boost and restore the delicate ecosystem.

“Cornus Canadensis is a compact grower and great for this region,” says Jerry Brown, marketing and business development director for Fisher Farms, Gaston, Ore. “It’s a bit of a spreader that in late summer produces vivid red berries that are great for the birds.”

As backyard conservationists, gardeners are transforming yards, roof-tops, small gardens and urban alleys into green and productive spaces, knowing they’re making a positive environmental impact.

Natives rule

Dr. Allan Armitage, world-renowned breeder and author of Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens, declares that “native plants should rule the garden!”

According to Armitage, native plants are perfect for low maintenance, eco-friendly gardens that give more reward with less work for gardeners. “You pick the right plant for the right spot and it will thrive for years with little to no care – and with a positive impact on the environment.”

Consumers agree. From sea to shining sea, gardeners are demanding quality plants that are easy, offer great color and interest, and attract wildlife. The exciting news is that they now can get native plants that are perfect for their region, from growers and suppliers that carry American Beauties Native Plants®.

Steve Castorani, co-founder of the brand and president of North Creek Nurseries, Landenberg, Penn., optimistically observes that customer demand for native plants is “fueling interest in the brand as growers jump on board and garden centers seek suppliers of American Beauties Native Plants®.”

Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’ has it all: fruit for the birds, nectar for insects, cover for wildlife and multiseason beauty. “The plant will sell itself,” claims Andy Sudbrock, owner of Nashville Natives LLC.

Prides Corner Farms in Lebanon, Conn., was the initial grower to carry the American Beauties brand. Along with North Creek Nurseries, suppliers of American Beauties plant material now include Midwest Groundcovers LLC in St. Charles, Ill.; Spring Meadow Nursery in Grand Haven, Mich.; Nashville Natives in Fairview, Tenn.; Quality Greenhouses & Perennial Farm Inc. in Dillsburg, Penn.; Willoway Nurseries Inc. in Avon, Ohio; and Fisher Farms in Gaston, Ore.

“Our goal is to make it easy for customers to find the perfect plant for their particular region with an expansive network throughout the country,” says Castorani.

What’s hot where?

  • Tim Kane, sales and marketing director of Prides Corner Farms, says, “Hamamelis ‘Harvest Moon’ blooms in November. The leaves fall off, revealing great lemon-yellow blooms at a time of year when it’s diffi cult to get color.”

    Northwest. “We’re excited that we’re now bicoastal with Fisher Farms joining the AB family,” says Castorani.

  • The movement toward implementing sustainable landscaping and buildings in the Pacific Northwest has been accelerating, which has not been lost on Jerry Brown, marketing and business development director for Fisher Farms. “We’re seeing growing trends where landscape architects and designers are asking for more native plants as well as woody ornamentals,” Brown comments. “Contractors are increasingly being regulated to plant native plant material on bid jobs, and designers and homeowners are asking for more native plant material to attract wildlife.”

    Brown notes that area communities and county websites now have links to native plants that underscore sustainable initiatives. “We saw the big picture and realized that with all that the American Beauties brand has to offer, we jumped on board.”

    When asked to reveal his top American Beauties native plant picks, Cornus canadensis (bunchberry dogwood) was among Brown’s favorites.

    Fisher Farms initially plans to sell regionally appropriate native plants in Oregon and Washington State, and expand into Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Montana in the near future.

  • Vernonia lettermannii ‘Iron Butterfly’ (narrowleaf ironweed) is a well-branched and vigorous plant that is covered with true purple fl owers and plenty of butterflies come autumn. Fine foliage is similar to that of Amsonia hubrichtii and is very tolerant of hot, dry locations.

    Southeast. Andy Sudbrock, owner of Nashville Natives LLC, is a restoration ecologist who says the environmental message of boosting the ecosystem with native plants resonates with customers and communities. “Gardeners want the whole buffet table, not just a plain bagel,” he claims. People are looking for plants that can handle drought and stress. “For people who don’t get the ecology message,” Sudbrock explains, “they understand the economic end.”

  • Sudbrock continues that he’s been growing native plants for two decades but only satisfying a small, niche market. “We signed up to partner with American Beauties to boost sales and attract larger audiences,” he says. “We realized that it’s the simplest way to help garden centers become an instant native plant destination center.”

    As an ecologist, Sudbrock enjoys providing clients with a diverse native garden. “The very act of gardening with native plants fosters the message of ecosystem restoration,” he states. “Gardeners see butterflies, bees, bugs and frogs come back and realize they’re involved in doing something good for the environment.”

    Picking his top choices for his Southeast region was difficult, but he narrowed it down to Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’ (red chokeberry); Hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) and Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed).

    At Gateway Garden Center in Hockessin, Del., a display of American Beauties highlights the brand’s cooperation with the National Wildlife Federation’s Certifi ed Wildlife Habitat program.

  • Midwest. Kevin McGowen of Midwest Groundcovers sees the American Beauties program as a “nice opportunity to brand a native groundcover, making them easier to sell.” His top picks include Asarum canadense (wild ginger); Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) and Sporobolus heterolepis ‘Tara’ (prairie dropseed). The shade-loving ginger attracts beneficial insects. “I really like the Asarum foliage that has a satiny, almost iridescent quality,” says McGowen.
  • Danny Gouge of Willoway Nurseries Inc. says, “We’re the new kids on the block with the American Beauties program.” Observing robust spring sales, Gouge says Willoway’s customers are “very receptive to the program and what it offers.”

    Noting that the branded pot, tag and POP materials made it easy to merchandise, he adds, “American Beauties gave us a chance to sell complete theme gardens and also take advantage of cross-product merchandising. It looks good on the shelf.” His top picks for his area of the Midwest are: Echinacea tennesseensis ‘Rocky Top’; Trillium grandiflorum and Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed).

  • Northeast. Tim Kane, sales and marketing director of Prides Corner Farms, says, “We’ve had generic native plants since the nursery opened more than 30 years ago, but it wasn’t until we launched the American Beauties Native Plants® brand that it truly began to catch on with the public.”
  • His top picks for his region are Hamamelis ‘Harvest Moon’, Monarda fistulosa ‘Claire Grace’ and Nyssa sylvatica ‘Wildfire’.

    “‘Wildfire’ is a drought-tolerant, nice, under-used shade tree that gives twice the color,” says Kane. “It offers striking red color in April/May; then shiny green, and in fall turns a fiery red/yellow/scarlet gradation. It’s a great specimen for the landscape and attracts butterflies and birds.

    “Monarda fistulosa ‘Claire Grace’ [bee balm] is a hummingbird magnet,” Kane continues. “It’s a shorter, denser version of the species and gives a great show of pink flowers; is mildew resistant; and doesn’t overrun a garden.” Bee balm has a great scent and is tolerant of wet conditions. “When it’s in bloom,” Kane says, “it puts on quite a show and attracts birds, bees and butterflies.”

  • Mid-Atlantic. Steve Castorani is hard-pressed to list his top choices for his region, but he narrowed it down to Veronia lettermannii ‘Iron Butterfly’; Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’; Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Prairie Blues’ and Gelsemium ‘Margarita’. “‘Major Wheeler’ gives more blooms and blooms longer to attract butterflies,” Castorani states, “and ‘Iron Butterfly’ is a lovely ornamental that’s a smaller plant that blooms and attracts butterflies in late summer.” Castorani’s ornamental grass pick of ‘Prairie Blues’ is due to the steel blue color and easy to grow, drought tolerant attributes: “‘Prairie Blues’ wide range and unforgettable blue color makes this a perfect choice.”
  • “In these difficult economic times we’ve seen growth in our brand and an uptick in interest in the market segment,” says Castorani. “Growers have a great selling tool because the American Beauties brand is highly recognizable and customers are ready to buy.”

    Castorani sums up his mission for the brand with a simple message. “American Beauties Native Plants® educates and promotes the importance and value of native plants in the home landscape,” he explains. “Our brand delivers regionally appropriate native plant alternatives to retail garden center consumers. By helping garden centers create their own native plant store with our plant materials, we’re satisfying consumer demand for greener products that reinforces the sustainable message. It’s another great option to offer customers.”

Susan McCoy is president and founder of Garden Media Group Inc., Kennett Square, Penn., a leading public relations firm in the green outdoor living industry. The firm produces the annual GMG Garden Trends Report© one of the most published garden studies in retail and consumer news. She can be reached at

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