Growing Wild in Tennessee

If you’re looking for Bradford pear, nandina, golden euonymus, and other crummy plants, don’t ask Terri Barnes and Mike Berkley. They won’t sell them to you, no matter how many rubles you have. But if you’re on a holy quest for beautiful and rare native plants that are easy to grow and also feed pollinators, these two are your peeps.

WATCH: Flowers That Are Good For Bees

Terri and Mike run GroWild, an award-winning nursery in Fairview, Tennessee just south of Nashville that specializes in trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, wildflowers, and grasses native to North America. Their offerings are vast – more than 950 species and selections, most of which you’ll never find at a big box store. Their mission is to combat invasive foreign plants like kudzu, privet, Japanese honeysuckle, and English ivy by supplying indigenous species that are well-adapted to local climates and also support native wildlife and ecosystems.

Their plant list is amazing. I count 25 different kinds of phlox (one shown above) that are great for butterflies and hummingbirds. They offer 23 species of asters, 9 kinds of black-eyed Susan (that’s Rudbeckia maxima aka tall black-eyed Susan up at the top), 11 species of coreopsis, 13 species of perennial sunflowers, and 17 species of goldenrod (no, they DO NOT cause allergies!). On the tree and shrub side, I count 11 serviceberries, 9 redbuds, 20 different dogwoods, 12 hydrangeas, 46 hollies, 25 oaks, and 34 native rhododendrons and azaleas. This is but a small sample.

Terri and Mike gave me and my wife, Judy, the grand tour of GroWild during a recent visit. I’d met them both through Facebook and liked them immediately. Terri is a whirlwind of energy that seemingly never takes a break. When she’s not working at the nursery, she’s putting up hundreds of canned and jarred home-grown veggies and fruit and making artisanal soap. Mike is a gifted homebrewer. Naturally, he gifted some homebrew to me. Now we’re brew bros.

Top Plants for Pollinators

Plants good for pollinators are the hottest items at GroWild right now and I’m not just talking about flowers. Trees and shrubs play important roles too. I asked Terri for a list of great plants for bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds. Here it is.

  • Tennessee coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis). A native perennial similar to the familiar purple coneflower (E. purpurea), but its petals stick out rather than droop. It used to be endangered, but thanks to nurseries like GroWild, it isn’t anymore.

  • Goldenrods (Solidago sp.). “The number one choice for pollen and nectar for native bees, and number one host plant for caterpillars of 115 different butterflies and moths,” she says.

  • ‘Jeana’ summer phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’). This recently introduced lavender-pink phlox is impervious to mildew and has so much nectar that butterflies and hummers literally smother it.

  • Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum). Bees and butterflies swarm to the dense clusters of silvery-white flowers that top its 3-foot stems in summer. The silvery color extends down to cover the top 6-12 inches of stems and leaves.

  • Native azaleas (Rhododendron sp.). These are the azaleas that are often fragrant and lose their leaves in winter. Terri especially likes the natural hybrids that come from atop Gregory Bald near Cades Cove in Tennessee. “You have all kinds of colors – it’s like jelly beans,” she says.

  • Native redbuds (Cercis canadensis). “You can’t just put a dogwood anywhere,” she notes. “Redbuds are tough and come in all shades of pink to white and with different leaf colors. What’s not to love?”

  • Oaks (Quercus sp.). “We don’t plant enough oaks!” she insists. “Oaks are the number one [food source] for the caterpillars of 534 different butterflies and moths. And when we have caterpillars, we have birds. You want birds? Plant an oak!”

  • ‘Ruby Slippers’ oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’). It takes full sun or light shade, blooms for a long time, the blooms fade from white to ruby, and the foliage turns bright red in fall. “It’s perfect,” she states.

How to Get GroWild Plants

GroWild is primarily a wholesale nursery that grows plants for retail nurseries and other businesses. They do not ship plants by mail. They do sell plants retail at the nursery, but BY APPOINTMENT ONLY, as they also live there. So don’t show up unannounced at 6 AM, lest you be set upon by vicious, blood-thirsty hounds like Rocky. And don’t ask Terri to sell you a plant she’s growing for a three-gallon container at its current one-gallon size. She won’t.

For more info, click here. If you aren’t within driving distance to Fairview, maybe your local garden center can place an order for you.