Native Perennials Go Uptown

Updated Feb 20, 2013

Landscapers are using these hardy plants in creative new ways across the country.

Native perennials are showing up in some surprising places these days, and for good reason. Landscape pros from San Francisco to Las Vegas and Chicago to New York are taking inspiration from their respective regions’ plant heritages to create public space designs that are wowing visitors and hardy and easy to maintain.

Desert Floral

“Season after season, perennials become hardier because they grow a stable root structure,” says Donnie Garritano, president and CEO of D&K Landscape in Las Vegas, Nevada.


Chicago’s award-winning Lurie garden in Millennium Park


With drought conditions in the Southwest, landscapers have been pushed to find creative ways to conserve water because of various state and local regulations, and, of course, plant selections are a big factor. D&K has led the way in introducing new ways to utilize desert plants, the majority of which are perennials, in its projects that include commercial, multi-family and private residences.

“We’ve created a number of lush desert gardens based on native perennials,” says Garritano, “and in the process, removed any turf or plants that aren’t native to Las Vegas.”

“The trend here used to be to look like California, but now we want our projects to be true to this area. We want to bring in all of the natural elements of the environment and accentuate it.”

Native perennials, such as purple and yellow lantana, provide variety that allows landscapers to alternate and give different splashes of color throughout most months of the year, says Garritano.

“Perennials stay green even when they lose their blooms because the plant is still there. They give more bang for your buck,” says Garritano. “They are substantial plants, and once established are drought-tolerant and require less work to maintain.”

Other Cities Buy Local

The Illinois prairies inspired Chicago’s award-winning Lurie garden in Millennium Park. “It’s really important that we showcase native prairie plants, as less than one-tenth of one percent of the original Illinois tall grass prairie is still intact,” says Jennifer Davit, director of the Lurie garden.


One of California’s native perennials, American Lotus


Almost all of the plants in the garden are perennials, and about 60 percent of the plant material in the garden is native to North America, with a large percentage native to Illinois, according to Davit. Eryngium yuccifolium-rattlesnake master and silphium laciniatum-compass plant are both found in the millennium meadow, which makes up the southern end of the garden in both the dark and light plates. The dark plate represents Chicago’s history and consists of shade-loving trees and the light plate represents the city’s future contains sun-loving perennials.

In New York, Manhattan’s High Line features old elevated train tracks, which were revitalized with gardens planted between the reinstalled rail lines. Two of the five sections of the High Line use Northeast-native perennials. The Washington grasslands section is a mix of grasses and shade-loving perennials such as sassafras, whereas the Diller-von Furstenburg sundeck is a curve of historic track surrounded by grasses and shrubs, and perennials such as wild quinine and staghorn sumac.

“We’ve created a number of lush desert gardens based on native perennials and in the process, removed any turf or plants that aren’t native to Las Vegas.”

San Francisco’s Crissy Fields use native perennials from the Bay Area including coast goldenrod, dune knotweed and sticky monkey flower, which allows a great variety of plants in bloom most months of the year. TLC



The 5-acre Lurie Garden features a variety of perennials and prairie grasses that are native to Illinois. Chicago’s Millennium Park opened in July, 2004.


Check with your state’s nursery association or cooperative state extensive office for available nurseries.

Do an internet search of local and regional nurseries in your area. Most states have their own landscape association that may provide information and forums to members.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website provides a helpful, searchable guide that recommends native perennials in each state:

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