Arlington Central Library Native Plant Garden

Tucked behind the Arington Central Library is a different kind of learning space, where walkways lined with locally native plants tell stories about each species and how it contributes to our environment.

The native garden in full summer bloom. Photo by Todd Minners

In spaces that might otherwise be unnoticeable, Master Naturalist volunteers maintain more than 70 species of perennials, shrubs, and trees. The garden spans shady and sunny areas and attracts a steady buzz of pollinators.

Four River birch trees (Betula nigra), with their graceful trunks and distinctive peeling bark, break up the view of tennis courts. Perennials below are arranged in layers, with tall Rough-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), Hoary mountain mint (Pycnanthemum incanum), and more providing backdrops for low-growing Golden ragwort and Threadlead coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata).

In another section, mature shrubs including Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), and Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) dominate the landscape.

A sampling of other perennials include bright yellow Southern Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) and Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea), shade-tolerant Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum), and sun-loving Beardtongue (penstemon digitalis) and Blazing star (Liatris spicata).

Spring bloomers include an Eastern redbud tree and low-growing Golden ragwort. Photo by Todd Minners

Signs describe the web of life sustained by a pollinator garden, and like the garden itself, they change with the seasons. Visitors learn that even in the coldest months, when the garden is brown and withered, native pollinators are “in the dead plant stems, tucked under leaf litter, or nestled in the crown of plants, sheltered from cold winds and predators.”

A librarian’s dream, brought back to life

In 2013, library employee Lynn Kristianson began to create plant beds for pollinators along the rear and sides of the building where she worked. She had a Masters degree in microbiology and was a native plant enthusiast. With the library’s permission, she bought plants with her own money and tended the gardens on her own time. She planted an impressive variety of pollinators and placed signs around the gardens with the name of each one.

Tragically, Kristianson died in 2015. Invasive plants soon took over her carefully-tended garden. Master Naturalist YuHsin Hsu learned of the garden’s sad history during a visit to the library, and immediately jumped in to help restore it before a looming dedication ceremony for “Lynn’s Garden”.

Hsu was later joined in her effort by ARMN members Noreen Hannigan and Todd Minners, and the garden, at 1015 North Quincy Street, was officially designated as an ARMN service project.

Hsu continues to lead regular volunteer days for ongoing maintenance, weeding and planting. To learn more about the garden and how to become a volunteer, contact her at

Draped in the winter foliage of Amsonia hubrihtil, a memorial stone honors Lynn Kristianson, a librarian who created the garden to demonstrate the value of native plants. She died in 2015. Photo by Nancy Cleeland

Related Blogs:

Oct. 2016 ARMN discovers a librarian’s hidden gem in the weeds
April 2017 Master Naturalist YuShin Hsu recognized by Arlington County