Landscaping for Clean Water

In 2020, Barnstable Clean Water Coalition (BCWC) worked with landscape architect and BCWC Board Director Jack Ahern to design and install a demonstration garden in front of our Osterville office featuring native plants that are adapted to the climate and sandy soils of Cape Cod. Once established, these native species do not require watering, fertilizers, or pesticides.  And equally important, these plants will support native wildlife, including pollinators, beneficial insects, birds, and small mammals.

This project was generously funded by a grant from the Horizon Foundation, Inc.

Deep Roots:
Native grasses develop roots that can extend up to 6’ or more below the surface, in contrast with popular lawn grasses that grow roots only 4”-6” deep. Greater root depth allows native grasses to access soil moisture during periods of heat and drought, thus avoiding the need for irrigation. Native wildflower roots also extend deep into the soil, in between grass clumps.

Did you know that most plants rely on pollinators to carry pollen from male to female flowers? Pollinators include bees, birds, bats, butterflies, along with other insects and small mammals. Many of these animals are specialists that only gather pollen from specific plants. In the U.S., pollinators are in serious decline from the effects of pesticides and habitat loss. Using native plants in local gardens will help sustain pollinator populations on Cape Cod.

Native plants are adapted to local growing conditions, including summer heat and drought, and do not require irrigation, once established. These plants grow well without fertilizers or pesticides, which can pollute surface and groundwater.

Food Web:
Plants, insects, birds, and other animals are linked together in a food web that starts with the primary producers: plants. Most native species have coevolved with and feed on specific plants. In turn, these animals are fed upon by others, which forms the basis of a local food web.

Please read more about the Shrubs, Grasses and Perennials featured in our garden and consider starting your own water-friendly garden at your home.




Myrica pensylvanica

A dense-branching shrub with a rounded habit which typically grows 6-10 feet tall. Native to North America where it is primarily found growing along the eastern coast (including the seashore) from Newfoundland to North Carolina.

Beach Plum

Prunus maritima

Medium-sized shrub that will be packed with flowers in the spring and produces small-sized sweet plums. It grows wild on the beach, as the name implies, but does well inland as well, and can actually grow larger inland.


Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

A small woody ground cover with leaves that are evergreen, remaining green for 1–3 years before falling. The fruit is a red berry, which bears and other animals enjoy. Small white, bell-shaped flowers bloom in the spring.

Black Chokeberry

Aronia melanocarpa

An adaptable native shrub with attractive and fragrant white spring flowers. Grows 4-8’ tall. Aronia is shade tolerant but will produce more flowers in sunny locations. The shrub is valued for its multi-season interest including bright red/purple fall color. Chokeberry flowers support many native pollinators. The black fruit is an important late-season food source for many native birds, and is edible/nutritious for humans – usually made into a jam.

Highbush blueberry

Vaccinium corymbosum

A North American species of blueberry which has become a food crop of significant economic importance. Often found in dense thickets, the dark glossy green leaves are elliptical and up to 2 inches long. In the autumn, the leaves turn to a brilliant red, orange, yellow, and/or purple.


Ilex glabra

A slow-growing, upright-rounded, broadleaf evergreen shrub in the holly family. It typically matures to 5-8 feet tall.

Lowbush blueberry

Vaccinium angustifolia

A low spreading shrub growing 6 - 24 inches tall. Its leaves are glossy blue-green in the summer, turning a variety of reds in the fall. The flowers are white, bell-shaped and the fruit is a small sweet dark blue to black berry, full of antioxidants and flavonoids.

Summersweet Clethra

Clethra alnifolia

A tall, many-branched, leafy shrub with spike-like, upright clusters of fragrant white flowers.



Little bluestem ‘standing ovation’

Schizachyrium scoparium

A mounding grass with narrow green or blue-green foliage. In late summer inconspicuous flowers are held on branched stems above the leaves. Fluffy light-catching seed clusters follow. Foliage develops a coppery or amber hue in fall. Erect stems usually maintain their upright stance and glowing color through most of the winter.

Low Mow Turf

An ecological alternative to high maintenance lawns. A mix of non-native, bunch-forming and creeping fescue grasses (Festuca spp.). Grows well in full sun to partial shade in well-drained soils. Drought tolerant, requires minimal watering once established and mowing 2-3 times per year.

Pennsylvania sedge

Carex pensylvanica

A lovely but fairly common sedge of mesic or dry woods. Foliage is deep green, semi-evergreen and about 1 foot long with narrow glossy blades. In early spring, whitish spikelets are held above the leaves. In landscape situations this sedge spreads forming a dense groundcover or lawn substitute for the shade garden.

Prairie dropseed

Sporobolus heterolepis

Common in the Great Plains and Midwest but a rare native of New England. The dense tufts of narrow leaves make this a distinctively decorative grass popular in ornamental gardens. (Mass Native)

Purple love grass

Eragrostis spectabilis

A warm season perennial grass with a phenomenal range of seasonal color and texture. In spring, petite plants form a loose open mound of blue-green blades. In the summer, foliage is topped by attractive nebulous clouds of rosy-purple spikelets. As autumn rolls around, foliage develops a bronzy red patina and seed ripens to a soft beige color. This handsome grass flourishes in sunny exposures with poor dry soil.

Wavy hair grass

Deschampsia flexuosa

Low, clumping, cool-season perennial grass with delicate, dark green foliage that thrives in a variety of tough conditions, particularly dry shade. Flower stalks are tall, loose and silvery, waving gently in the lightest breeze.



Appalachian mountain mint

Pycnanthemum flexuosum

An aromatic, summer blooming, herbaceous perennial that produces silvery white, globular flowers on sturdy, upright stems. Blooming over a long period, flowers are prominently displayed above clean green foliage from summer into fall. A good soil stabilizer, this species spreads moderately via underground stem. Foliage develops an attractive red tinge in autumn. A favorite of butterflies. (Mass Native)

Bluestem Goldenrod

Solidago caesia

The slender, purplish, branched stems of this shade-tolerant goldenrod rise 1 - 3 feet. Smooth purplish, frequently arching stem covered with whitish bloom and bearing scattered clusters of yellow flower heads. Small, graceful, arching sprays of tiny, yellow flowers top the perennial.

Butterfly Weed

Asclepias tuberosa

A perennial plant growing 1 - 3 feet tall, with clustered orange or yellow flowers from early summer to early autumn. Butterflies are attracted to the plant by its color and its copious production of nectar.

Carolina Lupine

Thermopsis villosa

An upright clumping perennial with bright green clover-like foliage. In early summer, plants are topped by spires of buttery yellow pea-shaped flowers. Plants thrive in sunny gardens with average well drained soils and are durable and long lived after establishment.

False Blue Indigo

Baptisia australis

A dense shrubby perennial with attractive blue-green leaves. In late spring, blue to indigo pea-shaped flowers are held aloft on upright flower stalks. (Mass Native)

Foam Flower

Tiarella cordifolia

A clump-forming perennial which spreads rapidly by runners to form dense, 1 - 2 feet wide clumps of foliage. Semi-glossy, heart-shaped, 3 - 5 leaves. Foliage is evergreen in mild winters, often turning reddish bronze in autumn and winter. Tiny, white flowers with very long “foamy” stamens in the spring. Flower buds are pinkish.


Green and Gold

Chrysogonum virginianum

A perennial herb, it is a showy plant with yellow, daisy-like flower heads on very hairy stems. Each flower head resembles a yellow or golden star, and the stems have distinctive spreading, glandular hairs.

Meehan’s Mint

Meehania cordata

Best grown in rich, medium moisture, well-drained soils in part shade. Tolerates full sun as long as soils are kept uniformly moist. A low-growing perennial with trailing square stems and opposite broadly heart shaped green leaves. Hooded, two-lipped, lavender blue flowers bloom in mid to late spring. Flowers are somewhat large for the plant, appearing in upright 3-inch spikes on stems rising to 4 - 6 inches tall.

New England Aster

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Magnificent in bloom, it lights up the late season landscape with rich deep violet to lavender-pink. Large and showy, this aster can grow up to six feet high. Like most asters it blooms late in the season and provides a critical fall nectar source for pollinators, especially Monarch butterflies as they stock up for their fall migration to Mexico.

New York Ironweed

Vernonia noveboracensis

A tall, coarse, and upright plant that creates beautiful deep purple flowers that produce rusty seed clusters. This plant is very tolerant of different soils, but mostly prefers rich, slightly acidic soil. It stands about 4 - 6 feet off the ground where it forms a cluster of flowers that bloom late summer into fall. Great for bordering backyard garden areas and wildflower gardens.

Northern Blazing Star

Liatris novae-angliae

This perennial prefers medium to dry soils, especially with a sandy or rocky component. It can grow between 2 - 3 feet tall. The purple flowers are thistle-like and grow in columned bunches that can extend up to 18 inches of the overall plant stem. These flowers attract many bees and butterflies, especially bumblebees and Monarch butterflies.


Antennaria plantaginifolia

A low, colony-forming plant, spreading by runners, with basal leaves and erect stems, each bearing a terminal cluster of fuzzy, rayless flower heads.

Rough Stemmed Goldenrod

Solidago rugosa

This fall bloomer has bright yellow flowers that attract many bees, butterflies, and beetles. It thrives in full-partial sun and wetter soils. It can tolerate sandy, loamy, or even gravelly soils as long as they stay fairly moist.

Seaside Goldenrod

Solidago sempervirens

This perennial produces a tight clump of narrow, evergreen basal leaves topped by leafy, erect or arching, 2 - 8 feet stalks. Succulent-leaved salt-marsh Goldenrod with arching branches that bear one-sided clusters of large, bright yellow flower heads.

Short-toothed mountain mint

Pycnanthemum muticum

A clump-forming aromatic perennial that typically grows 1 - 3 feet tall. This densely leaved mountain mint features dark green leaves which have a strong spearmint-like aroma when crushed. When planted in groups or massed, the silvery leaves give the entire planting the appearance of being dusted by a white powdery snow. Flowers are attractive to butterflies and bees.

Spotted Beebalm

Monarda punctata

An aromatic, erect perennial ranging from only 6 inches to almost 3 feet tall. Rosettes of yellowish, purple-spotted, tubular flowers occur in spirals, forming a dense, elongated spike at the end of the stem or from leaf axils. Also known as horsemint.

Yellow Wild Indigo

Baptisia tinctoria

Smooth, bushy perennial with numerous elongated terminal clusters of yellow pea-like flowers.

Wild Bergamot

Monarda fistulosa

A popular and showy perennial, it has clusters of lavender, pink or white flowers, looking like ragged pompoms. Blooming 2-5 feet, it is aromatic, smelling like mint with the leaves used to make mint tea. (Mass Native)

Wild Geranium

Geranium maculatum

Lovely dissected leaves, beautiful pinkish-purple flowers, that readily spreads, forming stunning patches that everything from bees to butterflies can't resist. Mostly found in woodlands in the wild, it does just as well in full sun!

Get Involved

  • Reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides - or use none at all
  • Give your property a makeover with native, water-friendly flowers, trees, shrubs, and grasses
  • Visit our garden with your friends, garden club or school group
  • Install a rain barrel to collect stormwater
  • Check out BCWC's video library to learn more
  • Check out BCWC's A Guide to CLEAN WATER LIVING on Cape Cod