The Pollinator Bookshelf: Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East by Carolyn Summers

September 29, 2022

The Pollinator Bookshelf is a new feature in Field Notes. Each month we’ll recommend a different book and author. 

Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East by Carolyn Summers

Carolyn Summers’ book on how to use native plants in gardens and landscapes is a small, unassuming publication that provides a wealth of useful information. I pulled it off my shelf recently to quickly review it before visiting her garden on a tour organized by the Ecological Landscape Alliance—more on that later. The “quick” review turned into a re-read and I appreciated it all over again. This book has very thorough well-written explanations which may be a little dense for the absolute beginner. But it’s well worth the effort and is likely to become something of a reference book.
Now about that tour; in August we visited Carolyn’s Flying Trillium Gardens, located in the Catskills near Liberty, New York. It proved to be an exceptional tour. The demonstration “gardens” consisted of multiple habitats or ecosystems from wet clay meadows to dry sandy meadows to boggy, wetland gardens to perennial border gardens to shrub and tree gardens—all using native species—both in and outside deer fencing. We also toured a managed forest and fields on the expansive property. For two hours we explored these different plantings with Carolyn leading the way and describing it all.

Angela Sisson

Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East (2010)

(The following has been reprinted from

Gardeners, with all good fortune and flora, are endowed with love for a hobby that has profound potential for positive change. The beautifully illustrated Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East approaches landscape design from an ecological perspective, encouraging professional horticulturalists and backyard enthusiasts alike to intensify their use of indigenous or native plants. These plants, ones that grow naturally in the same place in which they evolved, form the basis of the food web. Wildlife simply cannot continue to survive without them-nor can we.

Why indigenous plants, you may ask? What makes them so special to butterflies and bees and boys and girls? For Carolyn Summers, the answer is as natural as an ephemeral spring wildflower or berries of the gray dogwood, “As I studied indigenous plants, a strange thing happened. The plants grew on me. I began to love the plants themselves for their own unique qualities, quite apart from their usefulness in providing food and shelter for wildlife.

Emphasizing the importance of indigenous plant gardening and landscape design, Summers provides guidelines for skilled sowers and budding bloomers. She highlights . . .

  • The best ways to use exotic and non-indigenous plants responsibly
  • Easy-to-follow strategies for hosting wildlife in fields, forests, and gardens
  • Designs for traditional gardens using native trees, shrubs, groundcovers as substitutes for exotic plants
  • Examples of flourishing plant communities from freshwater streams to open meadows
  • How to control plant reproduction, choose cultivars, open-pollinated indigenous plants, and different types of hybrids, and practice “safe sex in the garden

From Maine to Kentucky and up and down the East Coast, Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East lays the “gardenwork” for protecting natural areas through the thoughtful planting of indigenous plants. Finally we can bask in the knowledge that it is possible to have loads of fun at the same time we are growing a better world.

Flying Trillium Gardens and Preserve located in the Catskills
Tours are by appointment with Open Days on Memorial Day weekend

Ms. Summers is currently an adjunct professor for Go Native U, a joint project of Westchester Community College’s Continuing Ed Program and The Native Plant Center (based at Westchester Community College).  She and her husband manage Flying Trillium Gardens and Preserve making it available for public tours, so that designers, gardeners and homeowners will be inspired by the beauty of native plants in both garden and natural settings to create more of the same.

For more information about the Wallkill Valley Pollinator Pathway and how to join, visit:

Or contact:

If you’d like more information about the Wallkill Valley Pollinator Pathway or about pollinator meadows, visit: OR contact Angela Sisson at:

Joining the pathway is easy—just start doing these three things:

  1. Start planting native species,
  2. Start removing invasive species, and
  3. Avoid pesticides, especially insecticides.

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