DEEP’s Native Plant Garden at 79 Elm Street

At DEEP, we try to lead by example – we recycle, compost and buy clean energy to power our headquarters in Hartford. That’s why you will find native, non-invasive plantings in the garden beds on either side of the front entrance at 79 Elm Street in Hartford. It’s a small but important example of how we can preserve part of our state’s natural heritage.

What do we mean by "native"?
A plant species is considered native if it was present in a state or region before the arrival of European settlers. Most of the plants that we selected for the DEEP gardens are native to New England and all are native to some part of the eastern United States.

Why did we plant native plants?
Plant species that are native to the region are well adapted to the climate. They are accustomed to the type of soil and the amount of rainfall that we have here in New England. Once the plants are established, they will require little or no maintenance.

How did we choose the plants?
We wanted the garden to be an example of a native planting in an urban setting, as well as low maintenance and interesting to the passer-by. There were a number of restrictions that had to be taken in account when we chose the plants, including shallow soil depth, a predominately shaded location, strong winter winds, no permanent irrigation system, and a limited budget. The plants that were selected share some common growing characteristics, satisfy the existing restrictions, and look attractive with each other in a somewhat naturalistic way.

The size of the planting beds meant that the scale of the planting would be small and the viewing distance relatively short, allowing for greater detail in individual plants to be observed at close range. Aesthetic considerations included choosing shrubs and perennials that would have varied texture and form in growth habit expressive through leaf and overall plant shape and size. These plants would help soften the geometry of the beds and contrast with the smooth, but hard vertical and horizontal surfaces of concrete and stone. Some winter greenery was desirable in what is an otherwise cold, shaded winter location. Structure and organization was also desired, locating the more low-growing plants toward the front and the larger shrub material at the back.

How did we get started?
To improve the site before planting, we mixed compost into the existing soil with the help of the Knox Parks Green Crew. Compost adds organic matter, improving soil texture and providing essential nutrients to the plants. We ordered the plants from a local nursery that carries many native species. When the plants arrived, we had a team of DEEP volunteers ready to plant, water and add mulch to the garden. The mulch, which was 50% recycled brush and 50% pine bark, minimized the need for weeding and help keep moisture in the soil.

Where can I get native plants?
UConn has a list of nurseries that sell Connecticut native plants. Another source is the Native Plant Trust (New England Wildflower Society). If you don’t see the native plant species that you want at the nursery, ask them if they would be willing to order them for you from a wholesaler. Please don’t take uncommon plants from the wild – many of our most beautiful plants are now endangered because they were collected for garden use. Note: It is illegal to collect any plants from state-owned lands without a permit.

Is there more information on planting native species?
Both the Connecticut Botanical Society  and the Arboretum at Connecticut College have information on native plants.

Are there any plants that I should not use in my yard or garden?
Many plants sold in nurseries or as seed are not native to the United States. Usually this not a problem because most plants grow and limit their development to the site on which they are planted. However, a small number of non-native plant species have become invasive and are very difficult to control. They are able to grow and mature rapidly, spread to other areas and thrive in many habitats. In natural areas, they establish themselves at the expense of native species and can have a detrimental impact on wildlife. View more information on invasive non-native species; download a brochure on alternatives to ornamental invasive plants.

List of the Plants in the DEEP Garden:

Evergreen Shrubs:

Dwarf Inkberry (Ilex glabra ‘compacta’)
Coast Leucothoe (Leucothoe axillaris)
Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia ‘Sarah’)
Paxistima (Paxistima canbyi)

Evergreen Groundcovers and Perennials:

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
Creeping Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
Foam Flower (Tiarella cordifolia)

Deciduous Shrubs:

Low Bush Blueberry (Vaccinium augustifolium)

Perennials and Ferns:

Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis)
White Wood Aster (Aster divericatus)
Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera)
Fairy Bells (Disporum flavum)

Note: The hosta plants along the ramp leading to the front door are not considered native. They were planted before we started our native gardens, so we decided to leave them since they are hardy, require little maintenance and are not an invasive species.

Planting Plan: Frank Gagliardo
Native Plants: McCue Gardens, Wethersfield, 860-529-5967
Compost and Mulch: Harvest New England (formerly GreenCycle), Ellington, 860-871-7442
Knox Parks Green Crew, Hartford, 860-951-7694

For more information, please contact the DEEP Office of Pollution Prevention at 860-424-3297.

Content last updated in May 2022.