Most home gardeners likely think of the lush, reliable Boston fern when thinking about ferns as houseplants, but there are many other truly beautiful options for gardeners looking for something unique. Ferns make good houseplants because most prefer lower light levels. Follow their care instructions, and these indoor ferns should provide lasting beauty to your home.
Here is one of the easiest ferns you can grow, and it is a little gem. Button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia) reaches 6-12 inches high and has small, button-like pinnae. Grow it in filtered light or medium sunlight and provide even moisture. Mist occasionally to keep the fronds looking their best.
Crested Japanese Birdsnest Fern
Rather than having an airy look like most ferns, Crested Japanese Birdsnest Fern (Asplenium antiquum) has dense fronds with rippled edges. The variety ‘Leslie’ is especially wavy and pretty, and the twisted fronds of ‘Hurricane’ give the plant a twirly windswept look. It will tolerate partial sunshine or light shade. Mist regularly and water two times weekly in the cool winter months. More water may be required in warmer summer months.
If you are looking for a small, specimen fern, choose the delicate eyelash fern (Actiniopteris australis). When mature the plant only reaches (6-8 inches). The fine, palm-like fronds make the rare fern especially pretty. Most garden centers won’t carry eyelash fern, but specialty several plant vendors sell them online. High humidity is required for eyelash fern, so consider growing yours in a terrarium filled with Black Gold All-Purpose Potting Soil and a layer of decorative sphagnum peat moss on top.
Dragon’s Wing Fern
Be sure to provide plenty of space for a Dragon’s Wing Fern (Microsorum punctatum ‘Dragon’s Wing’), if you choose to grow one. The large fronds have a winged look and happy plants have been known to reach as much as 4′ across in time. A substantial pot and plant stand are required, but the beauty of the fern is worth the effort if you have the space. Provide filtered sunlight, regular water, and ample humidity.
At first glance, most might not recognize heart fern (Hemionitis arifolia) as a fern at all, but the beautiful specimen plant is truly a fern. The leaves have a leathery texture and distinct heart shape. The plants reach no more than 10 inches when mature. They prefer slightly moist soil and high humidity–making heart fern another potential terrarium specimen.
Staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) need substantial support, but they are truly beautiful. The large ferns naturally make their home in trees found in the rainforests of Java, New Guinea, and southeastern Australia. Specimens are generally wall-mounted or hung indoors. In warmer climates, they can be grown on trees or patio mounts outdoors. They enjoy warmth, humidity, and regular water–low-mineral spring water is preferred. (Elkhorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) is a particularly pretty and easy-to-find species.)
Most ferns grow best in fertile potting mix with a slightly acid pH. Good water-holding ability and drainage are also necessary soil requirements. Both Fafard Professional Potting Mix and Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix are good choices. Most ferns prefer to be watered regularly with low-mineral water, or bottled spring water and require pots that drain well. Misting and higher-than-average humidity are also recommended to discourage leaf-tip drying. Some gardeners opt to bring a humidifier into a room with potted ferns.
Flowering shrubs are garden mainstays for bringing structure and seasonal color to beds, front borders, and large containers. 2024 brings a wealth of new, beautiful flowering shrubs to US gardeners. All selected are colorful and most will flower for months.
Bailey Nursery and First Editions Plants have outdone themselves with the charming new Big Leaf Hydrangea, Eclipse® bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9). The ruby red flowers of Eclipse glow in summer against the shrub’s large, dark purple leaves. Fully grown specimens reach 5′ tall and wide and grow in full to partial sunlight.
Two colorful new hydrangeas for more compact gardens include Monrovia’s reblooming Seaside Serenade® Kitty Hawk Hydrangea(Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Hokomapfloy’, Zones 5-9), a new 3′ x 4′ selection with starry pale pink flowers and an ability to grow beautifully under tougher conditions. It thrives in full sun to partial shade. The equally cute and resilient Tuff Stuff Top Fun™Reblooming Mountain Hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata Tuff Stuff Top Fun™, Zones 4-9) is a recent Proven Winners introduction. The lacecap flowers are profuse and shrubs reach only 3′ x 3′.
Monrovia’s Eau De Parfum™ Berry Rose (Rosa ‘Noa11356′) is a new shrub rose with all of the fragrance and old-fashioned romance of an heirloom. The disease-resistant rose reaches just 4′ x 4’ and produces loads of fully double, berry-red flowers from late spring to fall. Their fragrance is strong and outstanding, so plant yours near a patio or bench where their aroma can be enjoyed.
The delicately colored, disease-resistant Champagne Dreams Floribunda Rose (Rosa ‘JACgobesho’, 4 x 3′, USDA Hardiness Zones ) is a Jackson & Perkins exclusive shrub rose for 2024. The floribunda rose becomes laden with double, pale-apricot flowers from late spring to fall. The blooms are produced in clusters and have a light, fruity fragrance.
Other Select Shrubs
Looking for a truly miniature summer-blooming shrub that has the double bonus of attracting butterflies? Then try Butterfly Candy’s™ New Butterflybush Li’l Lavender™ (Buddleia davidii Li’l Lavender™, Zones 5-10). The 2′ x 3′ shrubs have large flower clusters of lavender. Plant the sun-loving shrub where soil drainage is satisfactory.
Reblooming Encore azaleas changed azalea growing forever. The shrubs truly rebloom in summer and the new Autumn Moonstruck™ Encore Azalea (Rhododendron ‘Roblezf‘, Zones 7-10) is a fine addition to the collection. Large, white, semi-double flowers bloom profusely on 4′ x 5’ shrubs with variegated foliage of ivory and green.
Proven Winners: Juiced® OrangeJessamine (CestrumcorymbosumJuiced® OrangeJessamine, Zones 7-10). Southern gardeners can enjoy the sunny golden orange blooms of the evergreen Juiced® OrangeJessamin. The sun-loving shrubs reach 5′ x 4′ and produce clusters of golden orange, fragrant flowers in the warm summer months. Butterflies are attracted to the flowers.
I had to include Proven Winners Berry Box™(X Pyracomeleshybrid, Zones 7-9) because the miniature (3.5′ x 3′) fruitful shrub offers both spring flowers and bright orange-red berries in fall and winter. Berry Box™ will grow beautifully in a large container.
Shrub Planting and Care
Shrubs are a long-term investment, so make certain to know the needs of any shrub before planting. For further information, I recommend reading the invaluable article, How to Plant and Site Trees and Shrubs, by horticulturist Russell Stafford. It will provide all the details for how to choose the best location in your yard for any shrub of interest. Additionally, when planting any in-ground shrubs, I recommend amending the ground soil with Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost. The natural and organic amendment is formulated for organic gardening.
New roses are being bred with intoxicating fragrance once more, bringing a winning marriage of old-fashioned fragrance and new-rose vigor. Rose fragrances vary a lot, so scents come with lots of pleasing descriptors, such as citrusy, fruity, musky, spicy, and sweet, among others. Here, I have hand-picked newer roses for both their effortless beauty and first-class fragrance, while adding a few beautiful antiques along the way.
New fragrant roses are rooted in the past. Many storied antique roses are the parents of today’s most aromatic new varieties. They are the originals grown for perfumery and flavoring. Those who garden for fragrance can’t be without one or two of these classics, which fill the garden with romance.
Historic Fragrant Roses
Bourbon roses are old French hybrids of China roses that have unmatched spicy, fruity fragrances. Most are voluptuous doubles that are still grown today (hybridization records go back a couple hundred years or more). They tolerate heat and drought once established and perform well in the South. One that is still popular is the nearly thornless climber ‘Zephirine Drouhin‘ with large, double, deep-pink blooms all summer but does require spraying to stave off fungal diseases. Its flowers have a sweet, fruity fragrance. Plant it along a pergola trellis for summerlong enjoyment. (Click here to see more Bourbons for sale.)
The highly fragrant Gallica roses (Rosa gallica hybrids) were the earliest European roses in cultivation. The spreading shrubs originated from central and southern Europe, and many heirloom varieties still exist. One of the oldest is the semi-double, rose-pink Apothecary’s rose or red rose of Lancaster (R. gallica ‘Officinalis’, Zones 4-11, 4 x 4 feet), which has been valued for its traditional wild-rose scent and beauty since Medieval times, possibly earlier. The 1860 Gallica heirloom ‘Reine des Violettes‘ is another heirloom worth growing that has fragrant, fully double flowers of rose-purple. Expect lots of bees to visit the flowers.
The Asian Musk Rose (Rosa moschata, Zones 6-10, 6-12 feet) has famously fragrant roses with an intense musky scent. The large shrub rose has single-white blooms and attractive grey-green foliage. They bloom once in a season towards late spring or early summer. Bees love them!
Musk and Gallica roses were crossed to produce the powerfully fragrant Damask Rose (Rosa × damascena, Zones 5-11), which is still the predominant rose scent that you will find in perfumery, rose oil, and rose water production. Many old forms are still sold. The double, pink damask ‘La Ville de Bruxelles‘ (Zones 5-11, 5 x 4 feet) from 1849 is one to try. It only blooms once in a season, but its spectacular fruity-scented flowers are divine.
New Fragrant Roses
Pink and Apricot Fragrant Roses
Gabriel Oak English shrub rose (Zones 4-11, 4 x 4 feet) has dense, double roses of deepest rose-pink with the strongest fruity fragrance imaginable, according to David Austin Roses. Its flowers are so intensely pink that they are almost magenta.
Boscobel English shrub rose (Zones 5-11, 4 x 4 feet) is an effortless bloomer that has big, coral-pink roses that are fully double and wonderfully scented. David Austin Roses describes them as having a “myrrh fragrance” with “delicious hints of hawthorn, elderflower, pear, and almond.”
Over The Edge (Zones 5-9, 4 x 3 feet) is new in 2022! The Jackson & Perkins floribunda rose introduction has big double blooms of apricot with a dark-pink edge. Each flower has a fruity, spicy, strong scent that will waft through the garden. Its fantastic beauty and high disease resistance have put this all-around winner on my list of must-grow roses.
Red Fragrant Roses
The deepest red, cupped, double flowers of ‘Munstead Wood‘ (Zones 5-10, 5-6 feet) English shrub rose have a pungent, antique-rose scent with fruity notes of blackberry, blueberry, and damson plum. The 2007 introduction blooms continuously and commemorates the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll’s home in Surrey, England.
Firefighter® (Zones 5-10, 5-6 feet) is a 2009 introduction whose initial proceeds went to help victims of 9-11 through the “Remember Me” fund. It’s a real beauty of a long-stemmed, velvet red, hybrid tea rose that’s vigorous, disease-resistant, and reblooming. The highly fragrant flowers have a classic rose scent, and the stems have few thorns, which makes them a delight for cutting.
Yellow Fragrant Roses
David Austin Roses gives ‘Charles Darwin‘ English shrub rose (Zones 5-11, 4.5 x 4 feet) the best rating for fragrance. The dense, double, yellow blooms (140 petals/bloom) are cupped. The fragrance is “strong, delicious and varying between soft floral tea and pure lemon.” The repeat bloomer is also ideal for cutting.
The citrus-scented ‘Radiant Perfume‘ (Zones 5-10, 5-4 feet) is a long-stemmed Grandiflora rose with big, double blooms of lemon yellow. It flowers continuously and is highly disease resistant. The Jackson & Perkins introduction looks so good, I am hooked and plan to grow one this season!
Ch-Ching!™ (Zones 5-10, 6 x 5 feet) is an everblooming shrub rose with spectacular large, double, golden-yellow flowers that have a strong, sweet rose scent. The 2007 AARS winner is a must-have in the fragrant rose garden.
White Fragrant Roses
The old rugosa rose, ‘Blanc Double de Coubert‘ (Zones 4-9, 4 x 7 feet), is an 1892 heirloom with clear white, semi-double, fragrant roses that are produced all summer long. Later in the season, it bears huge red hips that look pretty and attract birds.
The hybrid tea rose Pope John Paul II (Zones 5-9, 4 x 5 feet) has large, fully double roses of ivory that smell strongly of fresh citrus. The award winner gets top marks for floral form, disease resistance, and performance. It is an excellent variety for cutting.
Planting New Roses
Plant roses in the spring. Full sun is required for most of them to grow and bloom to their fullest. They prefer fertile soil with a slightly acid pH of 6.5 and good drainage. If your garden has poor drainage and fertility, then it’s a good idea to amend it by evenly working Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost or Topsoil into the existing soil before planting. Because good drainage is required, some gardeners choose to build soils up and berm them to facilitate better drainage when planting roses. After planting, be sure to keep your plants lightly moist and fertilized as needed. One of the best all-natural fertilizers for newly-planted roses is alfalfa meal (3-1-2).
For an excellent overview of how to plant and site shrubs, click here. To learn how to grow roses with no fuss, click here.
What a great year for new tomatoes! The breeders have been busy. 2022 has so many new tomato introductions that I had trouble fixing on my favorites. The final picks were chosen for beauty, top trial ratings, disease resistance, and MOST OF ALL, taste.
I am a sucker for beautiful fruits and vegetables, and tasty tomatoes in wild colors are ever-present in my garden. That’s why I’ll be trying the new bi-colored green and red ‘Captain Lucky‘ (75 days, indeterminate) slicing tomato from Johnny’s Select Seeds. Its excellent flavor challenges that of best heirloom tomatoes, and when sliced the fruits are a psychedelic yellow, green, pink, and red. Another for beauty and flavor is the Baker Creek exclusive, ‘Alice’s Dream‘ (80 days, indeterminate) beefsteak tomato, which has an orange-yellow exterior striped with purple and a deep orange-yellow interior that is described as tasting sweet and tropical.
Those looking for a classic red slicer must try Burpee’s ‘Bodacious‘ (80-85 days, indeterminate) big slicing tomato. The large, red, tasty tomatoes are aromatic and produced on vines that resist blight. Each plant can produce 40-50 fruits in a season. Another good traditional tomato is ‘Enroza’ (70 days, indeterminate) from High Mowing Organic Seeds. The classic slicer is deep pink, and the vines are super disease resistant. It produces continuously, and the fruits are meaty, flavorful, and juicy. for lovely dark-red, medium-large fruits grow ‘Rubee Prize’ (60-70 days, indeterminate) hybrid tomato. It is a taste-test winner, and the vines resist many diseases.
If you are looking for more really tough, disease-resistant, slicing tomatoes with great flavor, try ‘Tough Boy Gold‘ (75-85 days, indeterminate), which is resistant to blossom end rot as well as several viral diseases. Its sweet, golden fruits are medium-sized, flavorful, and resist cracking on the vine. The deep-red, medium-sized fruits of ‘Loki‘ (70-75 days, indeterminate) are also borne on highly disease-resistant vines. It is high-yielding and its fruits have an old-fashioned, heirloom-tomato flavor.
Cherry, Grape, and Salad Tomatoes
On the top of my cherry list is ‘Black Strawberry’ (60 days, indeterminate), cherry tomato, which bears lots of fruits in neat trusses. The fruity, super-sweet tomatoes are orange-red with a mottled overlay of purple-black. Their flavor is described as very fruity and almost plum-like.
‘Sun-Dried Cherry‘ (60-65 days, indeterminate) is a cool new cherry tomato that was developed for sun drying. The sweet fruits easily dry on the stem, and vines yield lots of tomatoes!
The beautiful small/salad tomato ‘Purple Zebra‘ (70 days, indeterminate) is one of several 2022 AAS winners. Its tart-sweet dark-red fruits are striped with dark green, and the prolific vines resist disease. I will be growing this one! The red-striped golden grape tomato ‘Sunset Torch‘ is another of this year’s AAS winners. In addition to having fruity cherry tomatoes in sunset colors, it is disease resistant, productive, and the ripe fruits resist splitting after rain.
Sauce and Paste Tomatoes
The small-medium, reddish-pink tomatoes of the ‘Rugby‘ (60-65 days, indeterminate) hybrid are meaty, high in beta-carotene, and have a well-balanced flavor. They are great for canning, sauce, and fresh eating. The vines also resist disease. The unique miniature Marzano-type tomato ‘Marzito‘ (50-55 days, indeterminate) is very early to bear and produces lots of small, deep red, sauce tomatoes that are meaty with a balanced flavor. They are also good for fresh eating. Finally, sauce lovers with less space should grow the new compact Roma tomato, ‘Bellatrix‘ (65-70 days, determinate). It grows beautifully in containers, is highly disease resistant, and its delicious fruits are perfect for sauce and salsa making.
These are the best tomatoes for containers and hanging baskets. My oldest daughter Franziska fell in love with the heart-shaped miniature tomato, Heartbreaker Dora Red (75-85 days), which just reaches 16 inches high and becomes laden with lots of heart-shaped cherry tomatoes that are flavorful and sweet (9 Brix). Another with a cartoonish name is the ‘Grinch‘ (65 days, determinate) dwarf cherry tomato, which boasts lots of bright yellow-green cherry tomatoes with a mild tart and sweet taste. They are great for snacking. The bushy plants reach 4 feet and may require minimal caging or staking.
Container tomatoes such as these grow beautifully in quality potting mix, such as Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Soil. Choose a large container that drains well, and be sure to feed with a fertilizer formulated for tomatoes.
Any of these amazing tomatoes would be a great addition to your summer vegetable plot! Whether you just garden in containers or have a big vegetable bed, there is a new tomato for you.
Specialty house plant vendors are popping up nationwide because house plants are so popular. That means cooler, more wonderful hybrids and species are available as growers compete to provide more and more enticing plants. This trend has been good for the Philodendron. Some of the specimens available now are unbelievably beautiful, and as a rule, they are generally easy to grow.
There are nearly 500 species of Philodendron, which are largely tropical evergreens that inhabit forested areas across Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. Many are climbers but there are also many non-vining terrestrial forms. They may have small or enormous leaves, depending on the species.
Many common varieties are well-liked because they are tough and easy to grow as well as being beautiful. The popularity of choice cultivars has driven prices up, so I am including fine specimens that are rare and expensive as well as those that are uncommonly beautiful and reasonably priced.
Ten Must-Have Philodendron
1. ‘Ring of Fire‘ (large-leaved climber) is a spectacularly showy, climbing philodendron. The large, cut-leaf philodendron has deep forest green variegated leaves splashed with ivory, orange, bright red, and pink. At maturity, the leaves can reach up to 2 feet long, so an indoor specimen would require both space and substantial support for climbing. According to Ken’s Philodendrons of Hampton, Florida, it is the most desirable Philodendron in the world. Buy it and be the envy of your house-plant-loving friends. Prices run high.
2.Philodendron brandtianum (compact, small-leaved, vining) is an uncommon, small-leaved climber with heart-shaped, olive-green leaves mottled with silver. It is tough and well-behaved. Grow it if you have little space but a place to train a non-aggressive climber. This one is quite reasonable in most shops.
3.Philodendron ‘Prince of Orange‘ (compact, small-leaved, non-vining) is so beautifully colorful, reaches just 24 inches high, and is easy to grow. Its newly-emerging, glossy leaves are bright orange and change to bright yellow-green and then finally bright green. The leaf stems are red. The comparable ‘McColley’s Finale‘, but has bright orange-red, newly emerging leaves and is a little more compact at a final height of 20 inches. Prices are reasonable.
4.Philodendron erubescens ‘Pink Princess’ (compact, small-leaved, vining) is a fantastic variegated climber with elongated, heart-shaped green leaves splashed with pink and cream. It is truly a collector’s plant, and prices reflect it, but mature specimens are spectacular.
5.Philodendron esmeraldense (large, large-leaved, vining) needs space, but if you have it then grow it. Its enormous, elongated leaves are leathery with quilted venation. They are deep green and stunning. Train it up a strong support system. Prices are moderate to high.
6.Philodendron melanochrysum, (large, large-leaved, vining) commonly called the black gold philodendron, has large, elongated, velvety leaves of the deepest green. The leaves of mature specimens can be quite dark and reach up to 2 feet! Mature plants need a large support system, and this species is intolerant of cool growing temperatures, so give it plenty of warmth. Mature specimens of this rare species are spectacular. Prices are moderate to high.
7.Philodendron plowmanii(large, large-leaved, non-vining) has some of the most spectacular large, heart-shaped leaves that are deeply pleated, darked veined, and marked with lighted green and flecks of silvery green. It is noted for being very easy to grow. Provide a large pot for this substantial plant. Prices are moderate.
8.Philodendron ‘Birkin’ (small, small-leaved, non-vining) is one of the prettiest variegated hybrids with veins of bright white. It is noted for being very easy to grow. Add a pot to any dull corner to give it a bright, fresh look. It is a more reasonably priced variety.
Each new variety or species that you grow may have a few specialty growing requirements, but there are a few growing basics to consider for these tropicals as a whole.
Light: Provide high to moderate indirect light. Most can take lower light, but they will not grow as well and look as good.
Water and Soil: Keep pots moderately moist at all times. They can take periods with dry soil, but they will not grow as vigorously. Plant them in well-drained pots filled with high-quality, porous potting mix, such as Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix.
Fertilizer: Feed with an all-purpose fertilizer for house plants. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions as these can vary.
Heat and Humidity: Tropical forest and rainforest plants such as these like humidity to at least 50-60%, though they can generally tolerate less. If the air is too dry, the leaves can develop brown tips or edges. Temperatures between 65 degrees F and 80 degrees F are ideal. They can seasonally take much warmer temperatures if taken outdoors in the summertime.
Supports: Vining Philodendron like to grow up supports such as sturdy stakes or logs. Tying of clipping them helps gardeners better train them as they grow.
If you want to share one of your new, prize Philodendrons with a friend, simply take a stem cutting, place it in water, and it should root in a matter of weeks. Pot it up for easy gift giving.
Some fall seedheads bring life to changing, late-season gardens, whether by adding structure and texture to beds or bringing beauty to dry arrangements. Many also do double duty by providing fatty, nutritious food for wildlife. Our favorites even continue to look attractive into the colder months.
Part of enjoying fall seedheads is knowing which should not be cut back. Fastidious gardeners need to hold back with their shears and trimming instincts with these plants. Only when they have served their purposes–whether by adding garden interest or feeding wildlife– should they be cut. Here are several of the best perennials with the prettiest seedy heads for fall.
Perennials With Decorative Fall Seedheads
Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia species and hybrids) have small, dark seedheads that remain attractive if you do not cut them back. Branched stems are topped with seedheads that songbirds cannot resist. Wait to cut them back until spring. The heads continue to lend garden interest and catch winter snow beautifully.
False Indigo (Baptisia species and hybrids, Zones 4-9, ~2-3 feet) has lovely pods that stand above the foliage and turn from green to black. In fall and winter, the dry, black seeds rattle and look attractive. The seeds eventually break open, and seedlings usually follow, but these are easily raked away with a hoe and mulched with Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost over in spring. Some songbirds, such as black-capped chickadees, also eat the seeds in winter.
ChineseLanterns (Physalis alkekengi, Zones 3-9, 1-2 feet) are beautiful in fall–providing glowing lanterns that dry to bright orange-red, which are not seedheads but in essence seedhead covers. The upside is that they remain beautiful in the garden or dried arrangements for a long time. The downside is that these perennials spread quickly, so I recommend container-planting only for these rowdy but attractive plants. Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Mix is an excellent choice for potting up perennials. Cut off the lanterns by late fall to reduce self-sowing.
Clematis (Clematis species and hybrids) of all types, vining, and non-vining, produce fluffy seedheads that remain on the plants through fall if left undisturbed. As they dry, they become super fluffy, and finally, they shatter. The seeds are then spread far and wide by the wind. Many hybrids produce sterile seeds, so you do not have to worry about seedlings overtaking your garden.
Coneflowers (Echinacea species and hybrids, hardiness and heights vary) have reliably attractive seedheads that birds cannot resist. Many gardeners may be tempted to cut back the old flower heads in summer, but refrain from the temptation. Your reward will be lots of songbirds in the garden, and sturdy stems that dry to lend garden appeal all winter long. Expect some seedlings in springtime to move about the garden or share with friends.
Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum, Zones 4-9, 5-7 feet) is a tall, native perennial that makes an impressive statement when in bloom and in seed. The fluffy seeds are attractive to birds and the structural heads and stems remain attractive into winter. Cut them back when they start to break apart. Expect some welcome spring seedlings.
Milkweed (Asclepias species and hybrids, hardiness and heights vary) have become garden favorites because they are essential for monarch butterflies, but many species also have very interesting and beautiful seedpods and seeds that break open and fly in the wind in fall. Keep the pods up in winter for interest. Seedings occur on occasion. Be sure to move them about the garden to increase its butterfly appeal.
Tomatoes are America’s favorite garden vegetable (technically fruit). That’s why each year there are loads of tomato taste tests across the country. I have reviewed several of these taste tests to identify the best-tasting tomatoes among them. I also used taste tests conducted at universities and other horticultural institutions. This list comprises the 10 tomatoes that rise to the top, time after time.
Because taste test results vary, I also added my own two cents. I have grown over 50 different tomato varieties, all noted as having superior flavor. Many of my own favorites were also official taste test winners.
10 Best-Tasting Tomatoes
‘Sun Gold‘ (cherry tomato, Indeterminate) fruits are borne in quantity on prolific vines and are prone to cracking after heaving rains, so plant them in well-drained soil, and harvest ripe fruits before heavy rains.
‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green‘ (beefsteak, indeterminate, heirloom (date of origin unknown)) turns bright yellowish-green when mature. Fruits can reach up to 1 lb each. If green tomatoes are not your thing, look past the color like Sam I Am would say about Green Eggs and Ham. This outstanding tomato is sweet, tart, and full-flavored. It has won taste test after taste test. The heirloom was discovered in the garden of Ruby Arnold of Greenville, Tennessee. It had been handed down by her German immigrant grandfather.
‘Cherokee Purple‘ (slicer, indeterminate, heirloom c. 1809) fruits are large, deep purplish-red, and have a meaty texture and good balance between sweetness and old-fashioned tomato flavor. Count on productive vines. As the story goes, this very old heirloom variety originated from a Tennesee family who reportedly received the seeds from area Cherokee Tribe’s People in the 1890s. Its longevity as a garden favorite is due to its reliable award-winning flavor.
‘Kellogg’s Breakfast‘ (beefsteak, indeterminate) is the finest tasting of the orange slicing tomatoes. Its large, slightly lobed fruits are bright orange with smooth, meaty flesh that is fruity, sweet, and flavorful. The heat-loving vines produce heavily. Not only has this Michigan heirloom gotten top taste-test marks, but Sunset Magazine food editors named it one of the best-tasting tomatoes of all time.
‘Gold Medal‘ (beefsteak, indeterminate, heirloom c. 1920) is arguably the top bicolor for taste. The giant 1-3 lb fruits are perfectly marbled with red and yellow and are large, meaty, and juicy. It has won lots of taste tests where it has been described as luscious and superb. I have grown it for years and heartily agree. If only the vines were a bit more prolific. Still, this is one heirloom you must grow for flavor.
‘Carbon‘ (slicer, indeterminate) has large, firm, juicy fruits of deepest purplish-red. The smooth tomatoes have won many taste tests, most notably one at Cornell University, and are produced on prolific, disease-resistant vines. The flavor is described as rich and complex.
‘Big Rainbow‘ (beefsteak, indeterminate, heirloom (date of origin unknown)) is truly big and beautiful as well as delicious. Taste testers note the marked fruity sweetness of the yellow fruits, which are marbled with red. One tomato can reach up to 2 lbs, so stake the vines well. The flesh is very soft and juicy, so treat the fruits with care. The heirloom originates from Mauckport, Indiana.
‘Red Brandywine‘ (beefsteak, indeterminate, heirloom c. 1889) is one of several Brandywine tomato varieties, but it is likely the best-known. The deep red fruits are juicy, tart, and big on sweet tomato flavor. Lovers of classic red slicing tomatoes should grow this one! Amy Goldman, the author of The Heirloom Tomato, describes it as perfection.
‘Brandysweet Plum‘ (plum tomato, indeterminate) is a more recent introduction that is believed to be a cross between ‘Red Brandywine’ and the ‘Sweet 100’ cherry tomato, both flavorful tomatoes. The result is a stellar plum tomato that is sweet, juicy, and excellent for fresh eating or sauce making. It has appeared with top marks on several taste tests.
‘Flamme‘ or ‘Jaunne Flamme’ (saladette, indeterminate, heirloom ) is an early bearer that produces loads of small, round, bright orange salad tomatoes on productive vines. The French heirloom is noted for citrusy, fruity tomatoes that have won many regional taste tests. Amy Goldman gives it an “excellent” rating for flavor.
To learn more about growing tomatoes from seed to harvest, we recommend watching this handy video.
<p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-DuYxxNpSEc" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></p>
<h2><a href="https://blackgold.bz/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Black-Gold_GYO_Tomatoes-From-Seed-To-Harvest_8.5x11_031820-Final.pdf">Click here for a Step-by-Step PDF.</a></h2>
Some apartment dwellers, or those with small homes, may relish the idea of filling living spaces with big, clambering house plants for a jungle-like look, but others can take a subtler approach with space-saving miniature plants. They demand less care and provide more elbow room while keeping the water bills low.
A sunny tabletop can hold several small plants rather than one large specimen and still have a place for magazines and a cup of coffee. Our favorites look like popular big house plants, only miniature or micro-miniature, and all are full-on cute.
(One important caveat when choosing mini-plants: Don’t be fooled by small-looking plants sold in tiny pots. Lots of plants sold in tiny pots will grow quickly and eventually become large. Always look at the final height and width of a plant on the tag before purchasing it.)
Miniature Golden Begonia (Begonia prismatocarpa): This is one of many tiny begonias. The little begonia reaches 5-6 inches and originates from the forests of western Africa. Its small habit, bright green leaves, and little golden-orange flowers are truly beautiful.
Miniature Cape Primroses (Streptocarpus hybrids): Big, colorful tubular flowers in shades of white, pink, purple, and lavender appear on little plants periodically throughout the year, particularly from fall to summer. Water from the base of the pot, as you would an African violet, and place it in bright, indirect light. Be sure to keep the foliage dry.
Miniature Wax Plant (Hoya lanceolata subsp. bella): When compared to most vining hoya, which reach several feet in length, 12-18 inches is quite small. This lovely wax plant develops clusters of pink-centered white flowers with fantastic fragrance. It makes a perfect hanging basket specimen for a partially sunny spot.
Lightning Bolt Jewel Orchid (Macodes petola) is an outstanding small foliage plant from the forests of Indonesia. Its leaves look as if riddled with nerves or lightening bolts. Ten-to-fourteen-inch spires of white or pinkish-orange flowers rise from the stems yearly, but the foliage stays low and compact–usually to 6 inches. Plant it in loose sphagnum peat moss and water with distilled, room temperature water to keep it moist. Bright, indirect light is preferred.
Easter lily sea urchin cactus (Echinopsis subdenudatum ‘Dominos’) reaches 3-4 inches Easter lily sea urchin cactus and is spectacular in bloom. The non-prickly little cactus ‘urchins’ has sparse tufts of white spines. In spring or summer, is bears huge, 6-8-inch-long, white, tubular flowers are produced that are fragrant and night-blooming. (In the wild, bats and moths pollinate them.)
Baby rubber plant (Peperomia obtusifolia) and Ruby Glow Peperomia (Peperomia graveolens ‘Ruby Glow’) are two compact, succulent peperomias that are very easy to grow and attractive. The 6-inch Ruby Glow has curved, succulent leaves with attractive red undersides. Baby rubber plant looks much like the large rubber plant (Ficus elastica), but it is tiny in comparison maxing out at around 12 inches rather than many feet. Be sure to provide them pots with drainage holes and porous, high-quality soil such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix. Allow the pots to become moderately dry between watering.
Most living stones (Lithops spp.) are so small that they stay under 1-inch in diameter. Others grow a bit larger, reaching 3 inches maximum. They form little clumps of pebble-like plants. Mature plants will flower, producing one starry yellow, pink, or white flower per stone, depending on the species. The plants themselves can be grey, blue-green, green, brown, and even reddish and orange hues. Some are even have textural markings across the top like real stones. Give these true desert plants the sharpest draining pots, and plant them in pebbly soil. The top 1 inch of medium should just be fine gravel. Water sparingly and keep in partial to bright, indirect sunlight.
Bold serrated leaves make Philodendron ‘Little Hope’ look like big varieties, but it stays comparatively small at 1-2′. Indirect light and regular moisture are recommended for this rain forest plant.
Any one of these little house plants would light up a small space in your home. And, small means that you can have more, so choose them all.
In spring they give us clusters of fragrant white flowers. In summer, their lush foliage and appealing habits take center stage, but fall is when native viburnums really perform. Their leaves turn glowing colors, and fruits of red, orange, yellow, or black, make a decorative statement before they are picked off by cardinals, finches, and waxwings. Some fruits may even be maintained into winter.
Native viburnums have a few more things in common. They are tough and resilient once established. Give them full sun, and well-drained, fertile soil amended with quality products like Fafard Premium Topsoil, and they will be happy. Average moisture will ensure the best flowering, fruiting, and fall color. Most are remarkably hardy. Bees and butterflies feed on the spring flowers, and all manner of wildlife enjoy the late-season fruits. Altogether, they are outstanding landscape shrubs that will not disappoint.
Few shrubs are as tough as arrowwood (V. dentatum, Zones 3-8), an eastern native with a distribution that extends from New England down to Texas. Autumn Jazz® (10-12 feet) is a fall fireball with leaves of red, orange, and yellow. The somewhat shorter Blue Muffin® (5-7 feet) develops clusters of bright blue fruits and burgundy-red leaves at season’s end. Finally, Chicago Lustre® (8-12 feet) is especially tolerant of heat and drought, and its lustrous leaves turn shades of yellow, orange, and burgundy-red. If more than one shrub is planted for cross-pollination, the clusters of ivory spring flowers develop into blue-black fruits. The flowers are especially valued by bumblebees, and the caterpillars of the spring azure butterfly feed on the leaves.
Native to the whole of eastern North America, possumhaw (Viburnum nudum, Zone 5-9) grows best in moist, loamy soils. Clusters of fragrant white flowers welcome spring. Through late summer and fall, the fruits turn from green to pink to blue-black. They are tart but edible when mature. The glossy dark green leaves turn shades of burgundy and dark red. Brandywine™ (5-7 feet) is one of the best varieties for a fantastic display of fruit and reliable burgundy leaf color. Plant more than one shrub to ensure a fruit display.
Few shrubs are as beautiful as a fully fruited American Cranberrybush (V. opulus var. americanum (Syn. Viburnum trilobum), Zones 2-7 ) in fall. Birds cannot get enough of the drooping red fruits, and the maple-like leaves glow in the sun like embers. Its leaves are also important to spring azure butterfly caterpillars. A mature specimen can reach between 8 and 12 feet, so give it plenty of space.
Nannyberry (V. lentago, Zones 2-8) is the largest of the viburnums mentioned and grows more like a small tree than a shrub. Fully mature specimens can reach up to 20 feet and tolerate moister soils than most. Natural populations extend far up into Canada, making it an unusually hardy plant. Its clusters of ivory flowers appear in mid to late spring. Black fruits and bright red or orange leaves comprise its fall show. The caterpillars of the spring azure butterfly feed on its leaves, and the sweet fruits are edible to humans as well as wildlife.
Any of these exceptional shrubs will enliven your garden’s show, especially in fall and winter. Their high wildlife value will also draw more bees, butterflies, and birds to your yard.
My favorite carefree American wildflowers of summer are untamed, grassland natives that blow in the breeze and bring color to less formal, airier plantings. Their waves of flower color glow on warm days when pollinators are most active. These are flowers that you slow down to look at along roadside meadows but are tame enough for gardens. Each year their seeds gently sprout here and there, creating beds with ever-changing character.
Another welcome trait is that they require no special skills to grow. Plant them in full sun, average soil with good drainage, (Fafard Natural & Organic Compost is a good amendment to add at planting time), give them a little water on dry days, weed as needed, and they will essentially care for themselves.
Plant them together in colorful swaths or among ornamental grasses for a free and beautiful meadow effect. (Click here to learn more about meadow gardening.) Most of these American wildflowers are perennials with one annual added to the mix.
Carefree American Wildflowers
Winecups (Callirhoe involucrata, Zones 4-10) knit and weave themselves around other flowers and grasses to provide hot color with its cups of deep magenta flowers. It has a deep taproot and is quite drought tolerant, reducing the need for supplemental water. Just provide winecups with full sun and a spot of dry to average soil that drains well, and it should be happy. Expect flowers from mid to late summer.
The hairbell (Campanula rotundifolia, Zones 3-7) is named for its delicate bells of violet to pale blue that hang from slender 12- to 18-inch stems. The plants look sleight but will tolerate quite a bit of drought once established. Plant them in full to partial sun, provide average moisture, and watch them produce their pretty flowers from early to late summer.
The annual Dyer’s coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) bears lots of small gold or gold and burgundy daisies atop slender stems in the summer months. The 1- to 2-foot plants can sometimes flop. Planting them among upright perennials and grasses helps provide stability. Bees and butterflies love the flowers, and no special skills are needed to grow it. Just sprinkle the seed on worked ground in spring, keep it moist, and watch them sprout and grow. Expect them to gently self-sow. The variety ‘Mardi Gras‘ is extra pretty with its quilled petals of gold and maroon. Dyer’s coreopsis is also valued as a traditional dye plant (click here to learn more).
Pale purpleand purple coneflowers (Echinacea pallida and E. purpurea, Zones 3-8) are valued for their beautiful large-coned daisies and wildlife benefits; few native wildflowers can beat these. They’re a snap to grow, bloom over a long period in summer, especially if deadheaded, and provide a few seedlings each year. Leave the last wave of autumn seedheads up to dry and feed winter birds.
Purple coneflower begins to bloom in early summer, has large leaves, bright purple-red flowers with large cones, wide radial petals, and bears many blooms. The wilder looking pale purple coneflower has fewer flowers with drooping lavender-pink petals and slender leaves. But, it has an elegant, untamed look that is appealing in mixed plantings.
Blazing star (Liatris spicata, Zones 3-11) is a bold bloomer with many tall (3 to 5 foot) spikes of fuzzy purple flowers that are prettiest in midsummer. Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies line the purple wands when they are in full bloom. When not in bloom, the plants have neat clumps of grassy foliage. Site blazing star in a spot with full sun and average to moist soil, and it will grow beautifully.
The numerous tall, thin stems of yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata, Zones 3-9) can reach up to 4 feet (sometimes more). Its golden daisies are visited by bees and butterflies and have prominent central cones with drooping yellow petals that move in the wind. Plant yellow coneflower in full sun and average soil. Established specimens will tolerate drought. Flowering extends from mid to late summer.
The unusual, tiered pink flowers of spotted horsemint (Monarda punctata, Zones 3-9) have some of the greatest pollinator power around, especially when it comes to feeding bees. The fragrant plants have a long bloom time that can extend from summer to fall. Well-drained soil and full sun are musts. The plants can reach between 2 to 3 feet, and maintain tidy clumps that do not spread, unlike other popular garden Monarda.
Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba, Zones 3-9) is a short-lived perennial known for its drifts of tiny golden daisies with brown eyes that delight the eye from late summer to fall. Ease of growth and a tendency to gently self-sow will ensure it will remain in your garden for years to come. Butterflies and bees are regular visitors to the flowers and finches enjoy eating the mature seeds.
These carefree flowers all grow well together. Plant your favorites in a wild border and watch the summer color, pollinators, and birds light up the garden.