The gardens are functional, but they are also there to inspire the children. "These are the gardeners of our future," said McConnell.

It was at a seminar on the topic conducted by natives expert Rick Darke 12 years ago that McConnell found her passion for natives. "It knocked my socks off. I turned into this natives-crazed person."

And she returned to do the pickup and drop-off at Friends with fresh eyes. She saw the institutional plantings and the piles of mulch as an opportunity. She feels lucky that the school has given her such a free hand.

"We are setting something in motion," she said. "Now we let them go. They will seed themselves and create drifts."

She sweeps her arm toward beds where the purple-green leaves of the Penstemon digitalis "Husker Red" volunteers are everywhere, standing in contrast with the chartreuse green of the early spring foliage around it.

"It is just so beautiful," said McConnell. "Even the colors are suited to the light in our area."

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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What is a Maryland native plant?

A native plant is a species that originates or occurs naturally in a particular region.

Since humankind has always moved plants, for purposes of a definition, native plants are listed as species that existed in the region when European settlers arrived. While plant ecologists do not include native cultivars in the definition, some in the horticultural community do. (Cultivars are individual plants selected for commercial cultivation of specific traits, though other desirable traits may be bred out.)

A non-native plant now occurring in the wild without human aid, such as Queen Anne's lace, is called naturalized. However, when a naturalized plant threatens humans or environment, it is labeled an invasive plant.

—Ellen Nibali, University of Maryland Extension, Home and Garden Information Center.

References

"Native Plants of the Northeast," by Donald Leopold

"The American Woodland Garden," by Rick Darke

"Bringing Nature Home," by Doug Tallamy

"American Plants for American Gardens," by Edith Roberts and Elsa Rehmann

The Maryland Native Plant Society also has many resources listed on its website, mdflora.org, including a list of books and publications, plus plant lists and a calendar of native plant sales.