In spite of its nickname, Kentucky has far more to offer gardeners than its bluegrass. Standing side by side with wild grasses, native wildflowers once stretched to the horizon across the Bluegrass State's prairies, according to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. While most of those prairies have faded into history, Kentucky gardeners can recapture some of their glory with native garden plants.
Perennial scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma) is native to Kentucky's stream banks, meadows and moist mountain woods. The large, deep green leaves ascending its 3-foot stems emit a minty fragrance when crushed. This spring-to-summer bloomer’s tightly-packed, 2-inch clusters of brilliant red flowers have hummingbirds and bees flocking to the garden, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Scarlet beebalm grows in sun to partial shade and performs best in fertile, acidic (pH below 6.8), moist soil.
Eastern Blue Star
A dogbane family perennial, eastern blue star (Amsonia tabernaemontana) grows in dense clumps of multiple-stemmed plants up to 3 feet high. Its pale-blue clusters nod on stalks above dark green, narrow leaves. The star-shaped blooms have golden-yellow anthers (pollen holders). Eastern blue star grows wild in Kentucky's open woods. It’s a good choice for partially shaded gardens with moist, sandy soil.
Bluegrass isn't the only grass of that shade in Kentucky. Bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) is a showy, 2- to 5-foot-tall grass that brings texture, form and color to Kentucky gardens in summer, autumn and winter. The metallic, silver-blue sheen of its fluffy flower heads makes a striking contrast with its copper-hued fall and winter leaves. Foliage is bluish-green in summer. Its seeds provide winter food for a variety of birds and wild animals. Bushy bluestem is common in Kentucky's moist, low, sunny grasslands. Salt tolerant, it's happiest in wet, relatively poor and disturbed soils.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is easily identifiable from its golden-brown, cone-shaped center and drooping rose-purple petals (rays). This aster family perennial is as common in herb as in flower gardens, because of its alleged immune-system strengthening properties. Purple coneflower stands from 2 to 5 feet high, with rough, lance-shaped dark green leaves. Each of its stems produces a single flower over an April-to-September blooming season. The plant grows wild on Kentucky’s prairies and in open woods and thickets. A good cut flower, it likes sun to partial shade and well-drained, moderately rich soil. Note that this plant can become aggressive.
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