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A great source for native plants

By Susan and Biff Andrews

On a recent Saturday, we went to a native plant sale in a neighboring city, where they were sold out of most species 10 minutes after opening the gates.

Native plants are all the rage for gardeners these days. Pollinator gardens are springing up everywhere. People have figured out that crape myrtles and ever-blooming azaleas are non-natives and don’t attract birds and bees and butterflies.

So the question arises: Where do you buy native flowers, ferns, grasses, trees, shrubs and so on? Lowe’s doesn’t carry them. Nor does Walmart, unless by accident. Even most local nurseries don’t carry them, for the most part.

Look no further than Southern Branch Nursery. That’s all they do — native plants.

Located in southern Chesapeake — below Hickory High School — at 1412 Benefit Road, this quaint small garden operation is squeezed amongst several horse paddocks.

It is primarily a propagation operation — they “grow their own” walnuts, oaks, long leaf pines, beautyberry, milkweeds, wild geraniums and so on.

Their primary income, however, comes from evaluating customers’ landscaping and riparian needs and filling them with native plants. They specialize in waterfront areas — fresh or salt — and using grasses, shrubs, trees and flowering “weeds” to create self-sustaining landscapes.

Their grounds are only open to the public on Mondays and Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The rest of the time they are out beautifying properties.

Their price list (most gallon-size plants are around $6, and trees cost about $40) includes about 225 native species. Most are perennial flowering plants, but they carry dozens of grasses, vines, ferns, sedges, rushes, aquatics and shrubs, along with about 50 varieties of trees.

They will come to your house and make evaluations and suggestions for your property for a fee (we were quoted $60). But we described our property to young Christopher Beach while we were there, and, without charging us, he recommended about 30 species for the three habitats we have at no cost.

The nursery is actually a collection of about 12-15 greenhouses in varying conditions with sprinklers watering you as you walk among them. Some are for retail “show,” and some are just growing areas for hundreds of plants, grasses or trees. Even in mid-October there were dozens of species in bloom.

The plants we purchased were all healthy and vigorous, and they came with a six-month written guarantee for each species. They were in the ground within hours, and we look forward to years of beauty and pollinator habitat from our efforts.

We didn’t even know there was such a thing as a swamp sunflower.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.