We’ve all received glossy catalogs in the mail telling us the wonders of pest-free, disease-free plants that thrive in all conditions and at all moisture levels. I love these and always want to believe the descriptions. In reality there are a few plants that I adore, that work amazingly well and have few problems in my area. Some are nearly ubiquitous, others are a bit less common. Either way, now is the time to order them (except for Delphiniums, as you can see below).
To borrow from the wonderful (if often irrelvant to my local climate) concept of Horticulture magazine, here are a list of plants I love:
1) Hostas– my favorite are “Blue Giant” (and they aren’t kidding about the giant part) which grows well in part sun and is not bothered by slugs in my garden, and Sum and Substance- the chertruese equivalent of Blue Giant– not quite as large, but just as delightful. Takes a bit more sun than Blue Giant.
2) Bearded Iris– their foliage is lovely most of the year (I love spikey leaves) and there are some really delightful colors– I have forgotten the name of my favorite… lost on a tag long ago, but I prefer blue and white irises, as well as pure yellow. No brown or pink, they usually look half-dead to me.
3) Peonies. As you can see above, I prefer Kansas- but like them all– I have ordered three more in a bunch of different shades– These fuss-free perennials are more beautiful than roses, and their foliage isn’t bothered by japanese beetles like rose foliage is. But they are bigger than you think and shouldn’t be planted in the front of a border. My mother always grew them around our mailbox- she grew Festiva Maxima: white with a red kiss.
4)Sedums and Sempervivums– I adore many sedums, but it is actually easier to list the one I don’t like: Sedum Autumn Joy is seriously boring and too brown. I prefer Sedum Matrona (tall), Angelina (a sedum repestre), sempervivum (hens and chicks) the cobweb and purple leaved varieties.
5)Daffodils and Tulips– I feel like these don’t count because everyone plants these, but few people plant them the way I like: en masse. I rarely plant less than 100 of any variety of either. I love yellow daffodils with an orange cup, and black tulips. These flowers stand up and shout.
6)Hydrangeas– Although the mopheads can be a bit tricky, I love them– blushing bride, endless summer but also plain old “Annabelle”– none are bothered by beetles or other pests, their only fault is that they like to be covered up for the winter, which gets harder every year. In winter, I mulch just the hydrangeas with pine needles for more blue tints. (Acid soil=blue flowers on many hydrangea macrophylla)
7) Dianthus- I have more varieties of dianthus than any other plant. Pinks are a very old cottage garden flower– Shakespeare mentions them in Romeo and Juliet- I adore the varieties Horatio and Helen- but a I have a number of others. This is the ideal plant to search out new varieties at odd big box stores and hoity-toity garden centers alike. Not a fan of acid soil, pinks do pretty well in full sun or part shade. These are also not a fan of winter, but if they make it, they are gorgeous.
8 ) Primroses- I adore drumstick primroses and yellow primulus vulgaris (only the pale yellow, which smells like lemons), but I love the auriculas… they always bloom dangerously close to the last frost, so they are high maintenance, but they are SO worth it. They look silly and impossible- and mostly smell amazing. Pink Evening primrose (oenothera), by contrast, is the bane of my existence– it spreads like wildfire– 20 feet in 1 year.
9)Sand Cherry- really a purple leaved plum tree/bush, these are planted everywhere in my area by builders for a “punch of color” and are sold at big box stores. But properly pruned, the plants can be attactive, and their flowers smell strongly of grape soda– I think that the flowers are so small that most people don’t notice them, but I don’t think I could live without them. The downside of these bushes are that the leaves are beloved of Japanese Beetles.
10)Delphinums and Foxgloves– I was trying to keep the list to 10, but I adore both of these so much, and really they perform the same function in the garden- a colorful vertical accent and friend of pollinators. Foxgloves can be forced in the house in winter (which I’ve never done successfully yet), but are basic to grow from seed. Delphiniums, however, need to be purchased in person, in flower. I almost never buy plants in flower, obviously, you’ve wasted a whole season if you do, but this is the exception. There are some beautiful sky blue delphs, and some lovely clear blue ones- but “guinevere” is a light purple/grey in my garden and is quite unappealing. Some are also just too purple, but are (of course) called blue by catalogs who are colorblind. But that’s another column.