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Ask me anything   Perennial and shrub garden design by Max Eber

For Baltimore County MD residents, email me at for inquieries.

This is a stone and gravel walkway I constructed to connect my parent’s detached garage to the sidewalk. There were only a few stepping stones there prior and because of a slight slope, the stones were getting enveloped by mud and it was not a very attractive place to walk. I decided to lay down very causally some slightly tiered stones and gravel, what I call my “dried river-bed”  even though we used flagstone, gravel and transplanted moss. This tied in a bed with the viburnum at the corner that I installed when I was fourteen or fifteen.

The stones have slight shelving which due to the  angle are not so noticeable here. This was also taken a few weeks ago before everything leafed out and daffodils ‘W.P. Millner’, ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’ and ‘Martinette’  as well as variegated Solomon’s seal and alpine strawberries  have popped up at the edges and into a curved mini-bed as intended.  The goal was not to build a literal set of stairs  due to the shallow dirt and natural shelving caused by the roots of the  massive weeping cherry-tree, so I worked with the soil and slope and didn’t try to shape it as much as it shaped and dictated the path and how stones were placed. So far the plan has worked and the space has excellent drainage. Noticed symmetry and even-ness were not a priority, I wanted that uneven texture.

The ideal effect is that in time between the edgers; the daffodils, Virginia bluebells, ferns, alpine  strawberries, and Solomon’s seal and others that I add at whim will soften the edges, most meant to nod a bit over the walkway intentionally. The rock pathway then ideally between volunteer wood violets and the encouraging of moss sort of becomes aged and enveloped a bit, especially by moss until no dirt shows at all, especially at the top of the walkway. That way the walkway is sort of seamless into the landscape, appear more natural or even a relic than something that was deliberately built in 2011-2012 and furthermore allows rain run-off effectively instead of fighting it by actually making a solid or truly paved walkway.

The old straight 1950’s sidewalk itself that you may be  able to see here one of the pictures, instead of dealing with removal, I will cover, or mosiac the top with thin rock and cement to connect this new path visually better to the path going towards the porch. I’ve collected a small cache of flat stones and when I have all stones collected, at least enough to cover the entire span, I will set and pave them overtop.

— 2 years ago with 4 notes
#landscaping  #landscape design  #Maryland  #M.J.E Perennial Design  #Baltimore County  #xerascaping  #stone  #walkway 
Native Alternatives to Overused Exotics for the Mid-Atlantic & South: Buddleia

General native replacements for Buddleia, Butterfly-Bush,


ceanothus americanus

clethra alnifolia cultivars

itea ilicifolia

itea virginica cultivars

hydrangea arborescens cultivars

perennials and sub-shrub:

agastache* hybrids


asclepias incarnata, a. tuberosa,  a. syriaca

aster oblongifolius (syn. Symphyotrichum oblongifolius) ‘Raydon’s Favorite’

cassia marilandica

eupatorium dubium, and e. maculatum cultivars

Non native alternatives:

caryopteris, bluebeard

Buddleia is a popular shrub for sunny spots for its summer bloom of flowers (often purple) that attract butterflies,  skippers, hummingbirds, and hummingbird moths which all like its nectar. The  problem is that it can naturalize, and while not totally noticeable (seedlings with diluted flower colors can pop up in wild  scrub up to an acre away) it can be pernicious and self-seeds itself prolifically in certain climates  and soil conditions.

For those in the Mid-Atlantic region and down into the South there are many excellent alternatives. There are many shrubs and perennials that grow to the general size and shape of butterfly bushes and bloom around the same time if not slightly before and are even better nectar plants for butterflies. 

First, native milkweeds, asclepias bloom during the same June-July time frame and are butterfly magnets. They also are the host plant for monarch butterfly larvae and are their preferred nectar source. You cannot go wrong planting tons of them.

For the beautiful alternatives for that purple or blue color, baptisia, an herbaceous perennial that acts something of a sub-shrub, blooms beautiful purple and blue lupine-like flowers on gorgeous powder-blue pea foliage in May to early June. That is earlier than most butterfly bush, but they give that great blue-purple color that  is  actually closer to true blue than any buddleia. Plant it with the southeast native cassia marilandica, and underused southeast native sub-shrub perennial with arresting exotic foliage and is the hardiest cassia, blooming in mid-late summer with yellow blossoms.

For other arresting blue blossoms, Agastache is another great source. Many cultivars are hybrids derived from crosses of a US Southwest native and non native species Cultivars ‘Blue Fortune’ and ‘Purple Haze’ can reach the heights and widths of butterfly bushes with huge wagging almost foxtail-like plumes of purple-blue and are supreme nectar sources and laugh off heat and are loved by pollinators, including bees which is always important. Most also have irresistible anise-mint fragrance and edible (but not to deer) leaves that can be used for the occasional herbal tea.

Bluebeard or caryopteris blooms in late summer and fall and are another source of true purple-blue color and are also extremely popular with pollinators. Their true blue flowers help bridge the summer to the fall bloom of aster oblongifolius an amazing  native plant with a spicy and pleasant scented foliage and is one of the only critter-proof asters (a great replacement for mums) that also blooms very late, sometimes September, but often October to November. ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ a cultivar that can reach massive 4’ x 4’ shrub-like proportions provide very late season color and a last snack for pollinators before winter. The non-native aster ‘Monch’ is another beautiful supplement plant, it blooms super early sometimes July-August and forms a billowy 3 x 3 cloud of periwinkle blue.

Native shrubsare indispensable, spring blooming itea virginica or Virginia sweetspire provides early nectar sources for butterflies and have beautiful fall foliage. In people living in zone 7a and warmer, the tall itea ilicifolia or Hollyleaf Sweetspire with it’s fragrant foot-long racecems are surely a conversation piece. Combine with clethera, or summersweet, and  ceanothus americanus, New Jersey Tea, for other mid-summer easy care bloomers that will attract tons of butterflies.

Finally, the creme de la creme are the perennial eupatorium, which often species can be considered rather tall and weedy there are many dwarf cultivars such as ‘Gateway’, ‘Little Joe’ and ‘Phantom’ of the meadow plant that attracts butterflies and bees to their dusky purple, pink and putty colored flowerheads like no other plant.

Truth be told there are many native alternatives, fothergilla, blueberries, the list really goes on, but these listed here I thought emulated the color and form of butterfly bush, without being butterfly bush. If you wish to stray from the use of unruly or just plain boring buddleia, these are are good place to start.

— 2 years ago with 1 note
#M.J.E Perennial Design  #design  #essay  #garden design  #gardening  #landscape design  #native plants  #perennials  #shrubs  #water conservation  #Mid-Atlantic  #Maryland