from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

Going Native with Bill Cullina

Choosing locally adapted plants makes sense for many reasons.


Ferns add texture to woodland gardens and provide the background for colorful native flowering plants.

Going Green means different things to different people. For Bill Cullina (pronounced kul-EYE-nuh), it’s literally about “green.” As the Director of Horticulture Research at the New England Wild Flower Society (NEWFS) for the past 13 years, he has promoted and advocated for planting native North American wildflowers, ferns, trees, shrubs, and grasses in our North American gardens and landscapes.

Choosing locally adapted plants makes sense for lots of reasons:

  • They fit into the local habitat
  • Support local birds, pollinators and animals
  • More resistant to local pests and diseases
  • Winter and summer hardy
  • Tolerant of local soils and pH
  • Easier to grow with fewer inputs

At the NEWFS Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Mass., visitors walk the paths through varied habitat and see what native plants look like and how they can be used in the landscape. In western Massachusetts, NEWFS operates a plant nursery called Nasami Farm, where landscapers and gardeners can purchase hardy native plants.

Cullina’s books make it easier for new and veteran gardeners to embrace native plantings. His first book, The New England Wild Flower Society Guide to Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada, came out in 2000. Two years later, he published Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines, a guide to using, growing and propagating North American woody plants. In early 2008, he completed his native plant series with Native Ferns, Moss, and Grasses: From Emerald Carpet to Amber Wave, Serene and Sensuous Plants for the Garden.

Mosses and ferns are unfamiliar garden plants for most of us, but Bill promotes them as essential components in native landscapes. In a recent interview on Public Radio International’s “Living On Earth,” he said, “Grasses in the sun and the ferns in the shade, and mosses too, really provide texture and background on which the wildflowers paint, so to speak. If you think about a meadow without grasses, it wouldn’t look wild, it wouldn’t look appropriate. And in the same way, in most places in the woods, what you see in the understory is ferns. You don’t see blazes of wildflowers. You see them scattered around and it’s the ferns that hold it all together.”

In 2008, Bill started a new job as curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay, Maine. He’s looking forward to developing a world-class botanical garden, including native plants, along the scenic Maine coast.

Cullina speaks on native gardening at events throughout the country. Visit his web page to see if he’s coming to a venue near you or stop by Garden in the Woods or the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden to see some of his work with natives for yourself.

-Ann Whitman, Horticulturist

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