This Sunday, the Camden Library will sponsor a special native plant sale and “Wild Seed Project” in the amphitheater grounds, from 9 a.m. to noon. This event will give local gardeners the opportunity to purchase and learn about the beauty and value of introducing and cultivating native plants in our landscapes.

As we learn about the reduction in insect numbers (including pollinators) due to pesticide use (home gardeners use far more pesticides than all of commercial agriculture) and loss of habitat, we also hear how bird population numbers are down by alarmingly high percentages. No bugs, no birds – the admonition is hitting home, and our home gardens are Ground Zero. We not only can make a difference, we have an obligation to do so.

In addition to eliminating pesticide and herbicide use and getting rid of energy-wasting turf areas, home gardeners are being encouraged to help make up for a national habitat loss by planting native trees, shrubs and perennials. While non-native species do attract pollinators, studies have found that native plants actually offer better nutrition for native species of insects and animals. That just makes sense as native insects and animals obviously evolved to utilize what native species of plants offer them.

These native asters seeded themselves into my front yard. In mid-July I trim them back by about half to encourage a thick mound of flowers for late summer. Lynette Walther

So instead of planting bulbs this fall, consider adding spring-flowering native such as trilliums, marsh marigolds, Virginia bluebells, wood anemone and bloodroot for example.

I recently visited two wonderful public gardens, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens near Boothbay and the Abbie Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Seal Harbor to see what is growing and blooming this time of year. Public botanical gardens are marvelous resources to help us discover a range of plants, shrubs and trees suitable for growing here. They show us what blooms in every growing season from early spring’s flush of rhododendrons and lady slippers to summer’s colorful annuals and even those late-blooming plants like Cimicifuga, milkweeds, native asters, goldenrods and Joe Pye weed.

In that category, a genuine standout is the native cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). My visits to both of those public gardens were punctuated with the stunning brilliance of the late-blooming native. In my annual rush to get the gardens up and ready for the summer, I have overlooked this handsome, tall cardinal-red flower. But no more. This year I am adding it to my collection of native plants, and hope you will do the same.

According to one online source cardinal flower is: “A popular though short-lived perennial that produces a profusion of brilliant scarlet flowers atop three to four-foot-tall plants. Native to wet areas in the eastern U.S., it will tolerate full sun if soil is kept moist…It is a fairly fast-growing plant that usually flowers in its first year. Individual plants are short-lived, but cardinal flower perpetuates itself constantly by self-seeding and sending out offshoots that quickly colonize an area.

“Native Americans used cardinal flower medicinally. They boiled the roots with chicory root and used the liquid to treat fever. They also mashed the roots, stems, leaves and flowers together to treat cramps. The Pawnee used cardinal flower roots and flowers as a love charm.”

The easiest way to add cardinal flower to the perennial garden is to introduce plants. However, starting cardinal flower from seeds is another option.

“The seeds will germinate without cold stratification, but they need light, so sow the seeds in a flat with a damp fine grade peat light mix,” advises one online source. “Keep the flats moist and under lights or in a greenhouse. They should green up in a few weeks.”

It is important that you do not over the seeds with soil, as they require light to germinate. You can use a spray bottle with water to moisten the seeds. Use a large plastic bag or clear plastic (or glass) dome over the seedling tray to keep soil and seeds moist. They take about two weeks to germinate, so be patient.

Do not deadhead spent blooms to allow the short-lived perennial to set seed, which it will disperse to start new plants in the following spring. Those plants will bloom the first year and when the brilliant red flowers start to pop in the fall, you will be reminded in the best way why it is so important to add wildflowers to your landscape as the birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators flock to them.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. She is a member of GardenComm and the National Garden Bureau. Her gardens are in Camden.