Tag Archive: Landscape Plants

  1. Architectural Perennials for Beautiful Landscapes and Gardens

    senna marilandica

    Wild senna (background with yellow flower) is a big, bold perennial that’s great for large sunny flower borders.

    It takes all types to make a perennial border, from seasonal thrillers (such as oriental poppies and hybrid tulips) to carpeting fillers.  But no type is more valuable than the sort that is tall and trouble-free and has handsome foliage that doesn’t quit.   Such dominant, “architectural” perennials are perfect for providing the structural backbone of the border, punctuating and unifying it with season-long form and texture.

    Amsonia montanaMany of the best architectural species for sunny borders hail from the prairies and meadows of central and eastern North American, where big, beautiful perennials reign supreme.  Eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana), for example, occurs in moist open habitats from the upper Mid-Atlantic to Texas.  A variable plant in the wild, in cultivation it typically forms 3- to 4-foot-tall clumps of sturdy upright stems clothed with slender, willowy, lance-shaped leaves.  The foliage stays healthy and lush all growing season.   Clusters of powder-blue, star-shaped flowers cover the plant in mid-spring, and the leaves glow butter yellow in fall.  This long-lived species will thrive for decades in fertile, humus-rich garden soil. (Sandy or clay soil can be amended with a good amendment, such as Fafard Premium Topsoil).

    Actaea rubifolia

    The leaves of Actaea rubifolia are very large and textural.

    Several other bluestar species are also well worth growing, especially Hubricht’s bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii), whose narrow, ribbon-like leaves form feathery 3-foot mounds.  It, too, blooms blue in spring and turns buttery yellow in fall. The compact hybrid cultivar ‘Blue Ice’ is likely the best of all Amsonia for the garden, though its tidy, compact stature is less bold and architectural than most species.

    Wild indigo (Baptisia australis) shares Eastern bluestar’s general geographic range, bloom time, stature, and longevity.  Its spires of violet-blue flowers, however, are a different thing entirely.  So, too, are its grayish-green, three-parted leaves and large, inflated seed pods.  Plants emerge relatively late in spring, the asparagus-like new shoots developing rapidly into leafy 3- to 4-foot domes (or 18 to 24 inches in the case of subspecies minor).  Yellow wild indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa) does much the same thing, but with grayer foliage and luminous yellow flowers.  It’s also more adaptable to dry sites, making it a good choice for xeric gardens.  White-flowered wild indigo species include lofty white wild indigo (Baptisia alba) and the relatively compact longbract wild indigo (Baptisia bracteata var. leucophaea), which holds its creamy blooms on gracefully bowing stems.

    aralia racemosa

    Aralia racemosa is striking in the landscape.

    Yet another lordly legume from the central and eastern U.S., wild senna (Senna hebecarpa) produces bright yellow midsummer flowers on towering stems that can reach 6 or 7 feet in sites with moist, fertile soil.  The pinnate, ferny leaves give it a light, airy presence, despite its imposing size.

    The same can be said of Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum).  Its majestic, 4- to 6-foot stems carry well-spaced, star-like whorls of narrow, pointed leaves, to elegant, almost weightless effect.  Candelabras of frothy white or pink flowers develop atop the stems in midsummer.  Like wild senna, it grows best in full sun to light shade and moist, relatively fertile soil, and is native to much of central and eastern North America.

    FRD_TopsoilThe steppes of Central Asia are another hotbed of large, handsome perennials, including the misleadingly dubbed Russian sage.  In fact, Perovskia atriplicifolia (and its near-twin, Perovskia abrotanoides) is from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tibet, rather than Russia.  No matter; it’s still among the best architectural perennials for hot, sunny garden habitats with dry, lean soil.  Technically a subshrub, it sends up 2- to 5-foot, silvery stems from a low, woody framework.  Dainty, fuzzy, aromatic leaves line the stems’ lower reaches, below branching clusters of misty lavender-blue summer flowers.  Numerous selections and hybrids of the species are available, including lace-leaved ‘Filigran’ and dwarf ‘Little Spire’.

    Aralia racemosa inflorescence

    The starry flowers of Aralia racemosa add unique appeal to shaded gardens.

    Two of the finest groups of perennials for shady gardens have both Asian and North American roots.  The genus Aralia offers architecture aplenty, comprising some of the supreme foliage plants for partial to full shade.  Eastern North American native spikenard (Aralia racemosa) gradually matures into a 4- to 6-foot clump of immense compound leaves that suggest something tropical.   Sprays of small, white, starburst flower clusters stand tall in midsummer, ripening to purple berries.   Some forms of spikenard have burgundy-purple stems that add to the drama.  East Asian aralias include A. cordata and its radiant chartreuse-yellow cultivar ‘Sun King’.

    Members of the erstwhile genus Cimicifuga (recently lumped into Actaea) also loom large in the shady perennial border, both literally and figuratively.  With their artfully divided leaves and showy candles of fragrant white flowers, bugbanes are perfect for bringing life and light to the garden.  Maroon-leaved cultivars such as ‘Black Negligee’ are the current darlings of designers, but perhaps the gem of the genus is Actaea rubifolia, from the mountains of the Southeast U.S.  The luxuriant, jagged, maple-like foliage alone puts it in the first rank of perennials, and its showy white wands are the equal of any bugbane.

  2. Variegated Evergreens for Winter Landscaping

    Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ has spectacular winter color! (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Daylight starts its annual return with the Winter Solstice, but cold gray days continue well into the New Year. Gardens, shorn of flowers and deciduous leaves, are stark. In winter, evergreens make all the difference. And variegated varieties, their leaves edged, striped or splashed in contrasting tones, add zest and color to the landscape. With choice specimens available in many sizes and shapes, the only constant is variety.

    2014-08-29_13_46_38_Variegated_English_Holly_at_the_Pinelands_Preservation_Alliance_headquarters_in_Southampton_Township,_New_Jersey

    English holly ‘Argenteomarginata’ has bright white edges. (photo by FaMartin)

    Variegated Holly

    English holly (Ilex aquifolia), brightens landscapes and winter arrangements with glossy green leaves and vibrant red berries on female plants. Variegated varieties include ‘Argenteomarginata’, with white leaf edges and ‘Aureomarginata’, featuring yellow borders. Both can be grown as large shrubs or small trees, reaching up to 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide, with a pyramidal habit. Variegated English holly thrives in full sun to light shade. Nearby male varieties provide necessary pollination for female plants.

    ‘Golden King’ is one such male. An English holly hybrid (Ilex x altaclerensis), it features slightly more rounded leaves than its parent and golden variegation on the leaf edges. Developed at England’s Highclere Castle, home to TV’s “Downton Abbey”, it grows up to 24 feet tall and 12 feet wide.

    Variegated Winter Daphne

    Winter or fragrant daphne (Daphne odora) is aptly named. The fragrant flowers appear very early—in late winter or early spring. With leathery leaves and a mounding habit, shade-tolerant winter daphne makes a good hedging or specimen plant, especially in alkaline soil. Tempting variegated varieties include: ‘Aureomarginata’,with yellow leaf margins, ‘Rubra Variegata’, featuring rosy pink flowers and white-edged foliage and ‘Variegata’, with soft pink blooms and bright yellow leaf margins.

    Variegated False Holly

    It’s easy to mistake false holly or holly olive (Osmanthus heterophyllus), for the real thing. The dense, spiny leaves resemble those of English holly, though false holly does not produce its namesake’s bright red fruits. Osmanthus is a densely-leafed, upright shrub that grows into an oval shape and usually tops out at 8 to 10 feet tall and wide. It can also be clipped into standard form. Variegated false hollies abound, including ‘Aureomarginata’, with yellow leaf edges; the eye-catching ‘Goshiki’, bearing foliage marked with flecks of gold, cream and green; ‘Kembu’, featuring white leaf margins and flecks and ‘Variegatus’, with white-edged leaves.

    Variegated

    Variegated wintercreeper is one of the easiest evergreens to grow.

    Variegated Euonymus

    The large euonymus genus contains many variegated evergreens. Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) is one of them. Some of the best known varieties are low-growers, less than 12 inches tall, with small, dark green or blue-green leaves. With its spreading habit and adaptability to varying light situations, wintercreeper works as a groundcover, rock garden subject, or erosion controller. Among the many variegated varieties are: ‘Emerald ‘n Gold’, with yellow leaf margins on leaves that turn pinkish in winter; the taller ‘Gold Splash’, which grows to 3 feet tall and wide; ‘Moonshadow’, with green-edged yellow leaves; ‘Silver Queen’, featuring yellow margins that age to white and ‘Sunshine,’ bearing gray-green centers and gold edges. Use wintercreeper carefully. It has been reported as invasive in some areas. One way to keep it in check is to grow it in large pots and trim as necessary. Give containerized wintercreeper a good start by using a quality potting mixture like Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Mix.

    Japanese Euonymus (Euonymus japonicus) is a shrubby plant, topping out at 10 to 15 feet tall and half as wide. Like most euonymus, the species bears shiny green, ovoid leaves that are opposed on the stems. Variegated varieties of this rather formal hedging plant include ‘Albomarginatus’ and ‘Aureomarginatus’, bearing white and gold leaf edges respectively. ‘Latifolius Albomarginatus’ also features white margins, but has broader leaves than ‘Albomarginatus’ and gray-green leaf centers.

    Variegated Spotted Laurel

    Shade-loving spotted laurel (Aucuba japonica) is easy to spot. The hardy plants, often used for hedging, grow up to 10 feet tall, with a nearly equal spread. Spotted laurel leaves are somewhat leathery and up to 8 inches long. Purple spring flowers are an added bonus, giving way to red fall fruits on female plants. ‘Mr. Goldstrike’, a male plant that can serve as a pollinator for female spotted laurels, is dramatic and generously dappled with golden speckles. ‘Variegata’ is a gold-flecked female variety, originally introduced in 1783 and known as the “gold dust plant.” Another notable spotted laurel is ‘Goldieana’, featuring a solid splotch of gold on each long, green leaf.
    Evergreens provide the horticultural music in quiet winter gardens. Variegation makes that music swing.