by MSV Director of Gardens Perry Mathewes

The annual MSV Heritage Plant Sale is just around the corner (May 18–19) and we are busy getting ready. Here are few of my favorites that will be available for purchase at the sale—all fantastic plants well suited for northern Shenandoah Valley landscapes.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

You have probably seen these trees recently blooming all over the area. The small tree is naturally an understory tree like a dogwood, but olerates full sun much better. We have added several trees to our garden in the last few years to provide a bright punch of color to complement the softer pinks of many of our crabapples. As an added bonus, the flowers are edible and quite tasty. The early eighteenth-century naturalist John Lawson even wrote, “The best Salade I ever ate.”

Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)

We have a lot of great shrubs on offer this year, but the Virginia Sweetspire is always an excellent choice for your garden. It blooms here in late May and early June, with fragrant white flowers dripping off the stems in a dramatic form. It also rewards us in the fall with brilliant red, orange and gold foliage. It will grow to about three or four feet tall but give it some room because it will want to spread out to as much as five or six feet wide. It tolerates wet soils and is an excellent choice for rain gardens where it can flood and then dry out. We have groupings planted in our Spring Garden for that very reason.

Peony (Paeonia lactiflora)

We have two different peonies for sale this year. The very old fashioned Festiva Maxima, featuring white flowers with a small crimson tinge at the very center of the bloom, and Felix Crousse, with a magenta-red flower. Peonies do best in full sun and make excellent cut flowers. For us one of the main benefits is deer do not like them and leave them alone. We have them all around the garden but look for large groupings in the Green Garden and Kathie’s Spring Garden.

Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima)

This little jewel is blooming right now in the garden. This little grassy edging plant features purplish-pink flowers each spring. The plants are tough and tolerate salt and do well along walks, driveways and in rocky crevices. Even when not in bloom, the evergreen foliage is attractive

Soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides)

This is a sprawling groundcover that forms a nice carpet of foliage. In the spring small pink flowers cover the foliage, make a dramatic statement. Ours is blooming right now just behind the Carriage House, near the Vegetable Garden. It also does well in a rock garden and can even be planted between stepping stones in a garden. It thrives in full sun and poor soil.

New England Aster (Aster novae-anglae ‘Purple Dome’)

With all the attention on spring flowers right now, it is sometimes hard to think about fall flowers, but asters are a great plant as the summer blooms wind down. The ‘Purple Dome’ cultivar forms compact mounds of royal purple that remain about two feet tall. This native is a can’t miss plant for the fall garden.

Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium ‘Lucerne’)

This perennial features grass like leaves does well in cottage gardens or naturalized settings. Each spring clusters of violet-blue flowers burst out to greet passersby. With a heavy flower in late spring and early summer, you may also see a random flower pop out as the summer continues. It likes consistently moist soils and full sun.

Foam Flower (Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’)

Foam flower is a great native woodland plant. This clump forming perennial spreads by stolons so can gradually spread in the right conditions. It really likes part shade to full shade and prefers rich soils. The foliage is attractive throughout the growing season and can be semi-evergreen. Spikes of bright white flowers help brighten any shady spot. The ‘Sugar and Spice’ cultivar is a more modern hybrid that features dramatic dark markings on the leaves.

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)

This ground cover does well in partially shaded areas, like in the back of our Herb Garden. It gets diminutive white flowers in late spring, but carpet of foliage is the real show here. Bright green leaves help lighten up darker corners in the garden and the leaves are quite fragrant when cut or crushed. Put it along the edge of a shady path and you want complain if your guests accidently step on it.

Stop by the MSV and check out the plants (see the plant list). Admission to the sale is free and plant sale proceeds support the maintenance of the MSV gardens.