As a landscape designer I love to look at and test new plants. Like fashion they change every season. Something that has been popular for years may suddenly disappear from the market because it’s lost favor. (Think of how many New Zealand flax everybody planted about 8 years ago.) Though I like experimenting in my garden I try to keep a pallet of reliable building blocks that I build around.
There are certain plants that I love on a personal, passionate level. They are not particularly exciting. They are not particularly new. But they delight me over and over again. You can use one or more of these plants as the bones in your garden. They can be the anchor for all the other flashy, trendy plants that you want to play with.
Berberis thunbergii- Japanese Barberry
I love all the different types. The 3′-4′ roundness of ‘Crimson Pygmy’ and the large arching sprays of pink speckled new growth on ‘Rosy Glow’ are particularly lovely. These plants are tough! They are some of the first deciduous shrubs to leaf out in the spring. In the fall they put on a spectacular show when they turn cherry red.
Mahonia x media ‘Charity’- Tall Oregon Grape
I can’t say enough about how striking this plant is. It tolerates both dry shade and partial sun. The brilliant yellow flowers are followed by berries that transition from red to dark blue. This plant is incredibly architectural. It’s unapologetically bold and brazen in the garden and will be sure to start a conversation.
Hakonechloa macra- Japanese Forest Grass
There are several varieties of Hakonechloa on the market. I love the straight, old green option. There’s something so satisfying in the way it gently lays down. Every year I look forward to the seed heads appearing, followed by the yellow fall color. I leave the dried brown foliage in the garden all winter long. The stems are so small and delicate that you can just pull the old foliage off, no pruning necessary. (This is a particularly attractive quality if you’ve ever had the dubious pleasure of cutting back Miscanthus).
Hydrangea speciea- Hydrangea
OK. I know. Grandma plant. But, I ADORE Hydrangea macrophyllum. There’s nothing quite like a Hydrangea for large color from summer through the fall. You can build different color schemes for each season around this plant. For example- I’ve paired Hydrangea ‘Preziosa’ with bright pink Rosa rugosa and Teucrium chamaedrys for bright pink summer color. This same combination turns into brilliant red in the fall as the flowers on the Hydrangea age to dark crimson and the Rose carries vibrant cherry red hips.
Nigella damescena- Love-In-A-Mist
Delicate, ethereal and tough, tough, TOUGH. This little annual reseeds itself all over my garden every year. I adore everything about it. The light, ferny foliage is a wonderful contrast to stronger perennial leaves. The color of the blossoms ranges from white to pink to cerulean blue. The seed heads are a wonder of texture as they dry out. I would urge anybody with a patch of sunny garden to cast a packet of seeds. Give this plant a try. It’s an asset to any color combination that involves pink, white, blue or yellow.
Thuja ‘Green Giant’- Giant Arborvitae
I know that there are thousands of rare and splendid conifers. I just like this one. I like the texture of it. I like the size of it. I LOVE the orange tips of the new growth. For me, this is a tree that feels like a Western Red Cedar and fits into a small urban garden. Plus, it grows fast! They’re beautiful as stand alone specimen plants or in a combination. Usually the nursery sells these trees as a hedge material and they work wonderfully as a hedge. However, I feel that a lot of the character of the tree goes unappreciated when it’s one of twenty. As a singleton you can really see the orange-red bark and lovely waves of foliage.
Viburnum davidii- David’s Viburnum
Unsung hero of the bank parking lot, Viburnum davidii is a plant that has transcended the waves of popularity that rule nurseries. The large, leathery leaves have a matte texture that contrasts delightfully with other, shiny foliage. I love pairing this plant with Ilex crenata and Hydrangea. The petiole (leaf stem) is a bright, cheerful red. Many of the plants that are carried in nurseries are sterile. It’s totally worth it to find a plant that carries metallic blue berries. Once again, this plant is tough. It can survive just about anything, anywhere as long as it has sun for at least half of the day.