A host of must-haves, described by the gardeners who can’t live without them
illustrations by TRAVIS FOSTER
Foliage like origami parasols is reason enough to grow Helleborus purpurascens. Rich plum-purple to sea-green saucer-shaped two-inch flowers open as soon as they pierce the cool soil surface in February and March.-C. Colston Burrell is a garden writer, lecturer, and teacher. Originally from Minnesota, he now gardens in Virginia.
Tall stalks of dense berrylike blooms sway above a mound of toothed basal leaves. They magically stand out in front of the soft shapes and textures of grasses. Playful and edible, they provide interest in the garden year-round.-Roanne Gregory Robbins co-owns the Greater Boston garden design firm Nature Contained.
Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata’
Columnar English oak is a fine sentinel tree for USDA Zone 5. Pairs of these handsome sentries will guard each opening in the hedge we’re planting around an old tennis court–checking leaves as passports. -Ruah Donnelly is the author of The Adventurous Gardener (The Horticultural Press, 2005).
Car ex platyphylla
Pleated eight-inch foliage the blue-gray of misty morning skies makes Carexplatyphylla an enchanting groundcover in damp soils and light shade. I’ll plant this rhizomatous native sedge as a seersucker skirt under Zenobia pu/verulenta ‘Woodlander’s Blue’. -Nan Blake Sinton is the director of programs at Horticulture.
Helianthus ‘First Light’
Helianthus ‘First Light’ is a perfect perennial for small gardens, with its soft willowy leaves on compact stems and copious golden blossoms that glow intensely on crisp autumn days.-Richard Hawke is the plant evaluation manager at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
While many round cacti become columnar with age, the golden barrel keeps its shape, which makes it a favorite of mine. I keep one in a mustard-gold pot to play up the clear yellow of its short and sturdy curved spines. Whether out on the porch in summer or under the window in winter, it brightens the day.
-Meghan Lynch is the managing editor of Horticulture.
Exploring new plants for spring seasonal displays has led me to lettuce as a great foliage companion to pansies, tulips, and other flowering spring possibilities. Cold-tolerant and available in many colors and textures, lettuce is a great choice for beds or containers.-Jackie Nooney is the proprietor of The Flower Company, a wholesaler of unusual annuals in Kittery, Maine.
Helleborus foetidus is a subtle, generous plant with rich, dark evergreen foliage. It tolerates some shade, and no bug nor animal seems to eat it. The chartreuse flowers last a very long time and nicely complement the brighter’ colors of spring blooms. –Naomi Blumenthal is a garden designer in western Massachusetts.
Arisaema ‘Black Jack’
This stunning selection of our native Arisaema triphyllum was discovered by native-plant guru Bob McCartney. Arisaema ‘Black Jack’ has shiny black foliage and “pulpits.” which also have a stunning black spathe and soadw.–Contributing editor TonyAvent owns and operates Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Terrific half-hardy plants that can be used in many color palettes-you could not ask for a wider spectrum of color. From silvery blue to coppery pinks and bronzes, phormiums provide a striking vertical accent in any container, spring through fall.-RichardMagnuson runs the Greater Boston garden design company Nature Contained with Roanne Gregory Robbins.
This hybrid between Aruncus dioicus and A. aethusifolius is spectacular. Bred by German breeder Ernst Pagels, ‘Horatio’ combines the robustness of a species aruncus with the elegance of the similar astilbe. Very beautiful and useful for light shade and average to moist soil-Karlheinz Rucker, editor of the German gardening magazine Garten Praxis.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of all-summer bloom among perennials are greatly exaggerated, except for Geranium ‘Rozanne’, which does bloom from June to November. The vibrant lavender-blue flowers (with paler throats) cluster above mounds of foot-high foliage, which spread out, weaving among neighbors, bestowing on them a second (or third) season of bloom.-Tom Cooper is a garden designer, writer, and editor from Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Alternanthera ‘Red Threads’
Luscious deep maroon filigree foliage makes it a fantastic accent plant in any color combination. This eight- to twelve-inch trailer works great oozing over edges in sun or light shade. Tender. -Janet Draper is the horticulturist for the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden in Washington, DC.
Cotinus coggygria ‘Ancot’
For spring, I’m craving this golden smokebush for its striking round leaves, which come on pure gold, hold their ripe honey color until autumn, then turn red and orange. I’ve seen it entwined with a purple smokebush to great effect, but I plan to lace its boughs with a plum-colored clematis, and surround it with autumn ferns that will reflect its burnished glow.-Horticulture contributing editor Val Easton writes and gardens in Seattle, Washington.
Soundly perennial, with sweet-smelling pale lavender flowers produced over as long as three months (spring to early summer), this is a first-class perennial for light shade. Tidy the whole year long.-Noel Kingsbury co-authored Planting Design: Gardens in Time and Space (Timber Press, 2005) with Piet Oudolf.
Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’
This ginkgo was first found growing as a witch’s broom in an old tree in a park in the Netherlands. The dwarf growth. makes it very suitable for use in small gardens or as a container plant on balconies and decks. The branches are short and thick and the foliage is somewhat curled. To my mind, a perfect plant: healthy, easy, and has a good fall color. -Gert Fortgens is the director of the Trompenburg Arboretum in Ratterdam, Netherlands.
Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’
This stunner arrived out of nowhere a year or two ago, and is a fast growing trailer or spreader with teensy silver leaves in thick rivers of pure drama. Great in anything that allows it to drip endlessly. Fabulous contrasted with black foliages. An annual in all but Zone 9 and higher.-7bm Hobbs owns Southlands Nursery in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Paeonia ‘Coral Charm’
After a long winter, ‘Coral Charm’ peony revives my spirit. The tight buds slowly loosen, holding a rounded shape, until they flash open to expose semi-double petals surrounding a sunny yellow center. The flower color simply glows. There’s a reason it’s the most asked-about plant in our spring garden.-Contributing editor Karen Weir-Jimerson gardens with her family on four acres in rural Iowa.
Cimicifuga ramosa ‘Atropurpurea’
This dark-leaved cohosh has sweetly fragrant, cream flowers early September to mid-October, followed by elegant rows of dark seeds that ripen along four- to five-foot wandlike black stems late into the fall.-Alice McGowan is a garden writer based in Montague Center, Massachusetts.
Plectranthus forsteri ‘Aureus Variegatus’
Golden crenelations on four-inch quilted velvety chartreuse leaves. On a plant two feet tall and four feet wide. All this in the shade! Frost tender, but roots easily from cuttings for overwintering. (Plectranthus zuluensis is a superb nonvariegated, fragrant-foliaged cousin.) -Joseph Marek is a landscape architect in Santa Monica, California.
Paeonia ‘Pink Hawaiian Coral’
I am smitten by the exquisite vibrancy of ‘Pink Hawaiian Con an American Peony Society Gold Medal winner with fragrant, semidouble, sunrise-pink blossoms carried atop sturdy, three-foot stems.-Carol Bishop Miller I is a contributing editor to Horticulture. She gardens in Huntsville, Alabama.
Nicotiana mutabilis produces four-inch sprays of flowers over tobacco-like shiny foliage: hundreds of tiny bells in late summer that begin white, fade to pink, and then to deep rose.-Vermonter Wayne Winterrowd is a longtime contributor to Horticulture.
Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’
I flipped when I saw this plant’s low, spreading, frondlike foliage. It is dark and dramatic, and thrives in shade. I’ll give it a protected but prominent spot. -Marty Ross is a frequent contributor to Horticulture. She gardens in Missouri and Virginia.
Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’
Electrify the garden with the season long yellow-gold foliage of Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’. It’s small in stature (four feet by four feet), but bears huge white trusses. ‘Little Honey’ is hardy in Zones 5-9. Fall color ignites into fiery scarlet.-Lucy Hardiman is a contributing editor to Horticulture. She gardens in Portland, Oregon.
Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Early Amethyst’
In spring, tiny whisper-pink flowers line the burgundy stems of this three-season shrub. By September, those blossoms have evolved into clusters of glistening violet-colored berries that persist long after the leaves have fallen-much to the delight of songbirds and me. I’ll underplant it with Muscan‘Valerie Finnis’ and Fritillaria pallidiflo ra in spring, ‘Redbor’ kale and purple cabbage in summer.-Tovah Martin is a garden writer and photographer based in Roxbury,Connecticut.
Rhus lacinata Tiger Eyes’
Sumac has always been a favorite, and laceleaf even more so. Add in my penchant for gold foliage, and I was overcome with lust for the golden laceleaf sumac ‘Tiger Eyes’.Carol Reese is the cooperative extension agent at the University of Tennessee.