“The six plants I cannot do without” has been chosen as the topic for a simultaneous blog posting by The Grumpy
Gardener of Southern Living Magazine from various points in the United States. We are quite honored to be among the group doing the posting and have put on the thinking cap to make the attempt to narrow the plants that are simply must haves to only six. This type of list has been made several times before, whenever we had to move due to The Financier’s job relocation. The hand written papers are secured for reference in the three ring binder of garden records. Even the lists of long ago contained over one hundred plants. To help simplify the enormity of it all, and this might be considered outside the parameters of this meme, but rules have never been paid much heed around here, the theme will be the six degrees* of must haves. Yes, this is quite a stretch, but we are asking for leniency as this is our first involvement in such an undertaking. Isn’t there such a thing as poetic license for blogs too? Shall we proceed?
The photo above shows Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa covered with Great Spangled Fritillaries. We simply must grow this perennial in our garden for the brilliant orange summer color and the flutterbys it attracts. In the background is Astilbe, we cannot live without that either. Do you see how this is going to be played yet? Read on.
Astilbe chinensis ‘Pink Vision’ and Astilbe arendsii ‘Deutschland’ are outstanding late spring into early summer bloomers. The foliage is crisp and fresh and the dried flower heads last well into winter. But what is that peeking from behind the leaf fronds on the far right edge? Japanese Painted Fern.
Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ has spread itself mysteriously, by spores to nearly every bed in both the front and back gardens. This patch is below a window box planter on the shed where this fern resides. The fronds drop to the ground below and babies are born. There are many color variations in the leaves, all wonderful hues of silver with red streakings. We have found it will tolerate quite a bit of sun too. Moist shade is best for the propagation ritual though, and no human interference.
Verbena bonariensis is a tall see through plant whose purple flowers are irresistable to butterflies.They also love the annual seed grown Zinnias. Shown with yellow umbrellifer flowers asking to be considered is Bronze Fennel.
Foeniculum vulgare provides larval food for the Eastern Swallowtail butterfly among others and has dark ferny foliage that smells of licorice. It reseeds faithfully to provide vertical accents with graceful movement through summer into fall. Also seen is Rosemary, but the lead is to grasses of various sorts. Those simply must be grown in any garden we tend. Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ is shown in the photo standing tall in the background. Growing to five feet or more, the silvery inflorescences turn to a pleasing straw color and will last well into winter for interest and wildlife habitat.
Japanese blood grass, Imperator cylindrical, is an invasive in some regions though not here at all, so we will not include it as a must have. The star shown above is Sedum telephium ‘Matrona’, whose purplish stems and flower heads set it apart from other sedums in its family. Bees and butterlies cannot resist her charms. She too stands well into the cold months for that much sought after winter interest.
Stipa tenuissima is planted among the native Sedum acre under the Japanese maple, Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’ and beds far and wide here. Evergreen ponytails move in the slightest breeze. They are the wind indicator in the view out into the garden whilst the laptop is tapped from the lazyboy. Also shown are lilies, this budded beauty is Asiatic Lillium ‘Buff Pixie’ (ignore the oriental poppies, I can live without them). Tall foliage of Echinacea is visible here also. This one’s a double degree.
Asiatic lilies from a mixed bag rise high behind a clump of Echinacea ‘Sunrise’ with a single E. Bravada to the left. These lilies add great color splashes on tallish stems that do not need staking. They are very hardy and are not picky about soil types as long as the drainage is good. Echinacea purpurea is a super hardy long bloomer whose seed heads offer delight to the finch family. Breeders have been working diligently to come up with a more varied color palette for home gardeners, but the pinky purple and white old timers are just as garden worthy as the newer colors, and more hardy in my experience. This is another plant for winter interest, even if the seed heads have been picked clean by grateful birds.
(Feel free to visit the powder room, pour yourself a beverage, get a snack or simply stretch your legs here)
We will begin this sequence with my signature plant, the deciduous Azaleas. Click here to read their story. Shown above, Rhododendron ‘Mandarin Lights’. We are fortunate that the parental units for most of the hybrids now on the market are native to the foothills and mountains close by. Our soil and climate are to their liking, giving us huge trusses of brilliant colorful blooms with little care. The flowers appear before the leaves in spring after swollen bloom buds have offered hope and promise all winter. In the fall, the leaves turn pumpkin and russet giving four seasons of delight. More are added to the garden each year even though their large size at maturity, up to ten feet and beyond has to be taken into consideration. The branching is open and allows for underplanting however.
R. ‘Arneson’s Gem’, sorry the record gets stuck here, it is difficult to move on to others. This is my signature plant, really, the one plant that I cannot live without. Numero uno.
A photo from the early years shows R. ‘Arneson’s Gem and R. ‘Primrose’, the first two planted along the hedge bed. This leads to the dark foliage of a true garden performer, Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’.
P. ‘Husker Red’ offers four season interest with evergreen dark reddish leaves. The tall flower spikes bloom in late spring with white, lavender or pink flowers on seedlings that have some other Penstemon genetic material in them making for pleasant surprises. Seen blooming also is Salvia greggii, a favorite of hummingbirds. The lead is to the silver foliage in the background of the sea of Dianthus. Many cultivar crosses have produced a variety of seedlings in shades of pink, red and white with and without star centers and/or pinking shear edgings.
Dianthus gratianopolitanus cultivars including D. ‘Firewitch’ and D. ‘Bath’s Pink’ among several others line the middle terrace on both sides and have spread by seed beyond that. Whenever a new cultivar is spied on the nursery shelf it hops into the cart to join in the dance. Sweet scented, long blooming and with evergreen mats of glaucous foliage make this a huge favorite on the slope here. The lead is seen on the left where a white climbing rose, Rosa ‘Moonlight’, a hybrid musk is in bloom. This is the most floriferous of all the roses here. We cannot imagine having a garden without roses.Rosa ‘Knockout’ has proven to be one of the most popular roses of all time, deservedly so. Insects or fungal disease do not mar the long bloom period, the foliage has a reddish tint, quite attractive during the rare down time of blooming. Seen behind the rose in the above photo is Muhlenbergia capillaris in full cotton candy bloom. Planted en masse on the slope in back and along the driveway in front, Muhly Grass provides fall fireworks that rival the blazing colors of the deciduous trees as the chlorophyll fades to reveal the true hues.Another rose we love is the old timer, Rosa ‘Old Blush’.
In commerce for over two hundred years, this rose has been used by hybridizers for its non stop blooming of light pink blossoms. Leading from roses to groundcovers, we see Ajuga repens with striking blue flowers. The white bloom is Cerastium.While not the stars but important supporting actors in the garden show, the low spreading growers keep weeds down and provide cool shade for the roots of larger plants and shrubs and add colorful visual interest. Ajuga, creeping jenny, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ and Euporbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’ have interwoven into a magic carpet on the steep slope behind the main house.
Helleborus orientalis gives several months of bloom beginning in February here. It has evergreen large leaves with excellent substance and self sows with reckless abandon, what more could be asked of a must have plant? Blooming along with the Hellebores are the most cheering of spring flowering bulbs , daffodils. Narcissus pseudonarcissus is two weeks earlier than all other daffodils we grow, and can be divided ad infinitum to provide waves of warming color in late winter landscapes.No list of this sort would be complete without daylilies, Hemerocallis. We grow over seventy five named cultivars, and will likely add more this year. June and July are the season for those trumpet shaped flowers on tall scapes and the color combinations make for a fascinating study on warm breezy days. Selected at random from the photo files above is H. ‘Savannah Art’.
One chrysanthemum cultivar, now called Dendranthema rubellum ‘Sheffield Pink’ stands head and shoulders above the rest in hardiness and prolific blooming. It is thought of so highly here that it got its own post. Click
here to see more of the sheffies in bloom.We have only mentioned trees briefly, the Acer ‘Crimson Queen’ shown with the Stipa, but we just could not live without the dogwoods, Cornus florida. They are at peak bloom on this day. Losses in this region of these native trees due to Anthracnose disease make them even more prized.
Trying to limit the number of plants we need in a garden is futile. Trying to limit the number to six is impossible, even sixty would not be nearly enough. For some of us, rules and contraints only charge up the imagination to find ways to bypass them. Imagining six specimens of prized plants may be a noble goal, but it is one we cannot wrap our psyches around.
Groupings create themselves in a healthy natural gardenscape.
Datura metel, Eupatorium purpureum, Rudbeckia laciniata……
Hey!!!!!…. What is happening?….What is going on?….Who are you? ….I’m not finished….wait, there’s more…
(A deep booming voice is heard saying, “We are sorry Frances, you have gone over your allotted word and photo count, not to mention the limit of six plants. You will have to end it here. We have been more than accommodating, letting you go on and on and on well beyond your turn. Goodbye and good luck.”)
Sorry, but thanks for this opportunity,
The other participants in the blogathon are:
1. Pam at Digging in Austin, Texas.
2. Meems at Hoe And Shovel in Central Florida.
3. Judy Lowe at Diggin’ It in Boston, Mass.
4. Cameron at Defining Your Home Garden in Chapel Hill, NC
5. Helen Yoest at Gardening With Confidence in Raleigh, NC.
6. Carolyn Gail at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago in Chicago, IL.
8. Fresh Dirt by Sunset Magazine, in CA and WA.
9. Jim Long’s Garden in Blue Eye, MO.
10. Steve at Grumpy Gardener in Hoover, AL.
*Six degrees of Separation (also referred to as the “Human Web”) refers to the idea that, if a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth. It was popularized by a play of that name written by John Guare. It is also a game involving the actor Kevin Bacon that has been made into a group of charities under the name SixDegrees.org.