When the Garden Designers Roundtable chose Top Landscape Plants as this month’s topic, I thought to myself, “Hey, no problem, I can write that in my sleep.” I mean, enthusing about plants is kind of my thing, you know?
But given that this is book excerpt week here at North Coast Gardening, I thought it’d be fun to hand over the stage to five favorite writers, and let them enthuse for me. While each writer comes to plants from a different perspective, they share a love of gardening and language that makes each a pleasure to read.
Without further ado, here are five of my top landscape plants:
Borage (Borago officianalis)
From The Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler:
“If, while strolling through a garden, you see little blue shooting stars exploding over a fountain of fuzzy leaves, you have stumbled upon borage. The luminous clusters of pinky-purple buds start off pendulous, then rear up and make themselves known with a burst of color. The edible grayish-green fuzzy leaves and stems of borage are a wonderful foil for darker foliage in the garden.”
While borage is a rampant self-sower in my climate, the cheerful blue blossoms attract honeybees and a number of other pollinators. This makes it a joy to photograph, since there’s always a bumbling somebody ambling along, ready for their close-up.
Fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica)
From The Food-Lover’s Garden by Mark Diacono:
“I have never been a great fan of fuchsias to look at. They remind me of the gardens of the retirement homes I walked past on my way to school, and I loathe their gaudy red/purple flowers. It took me a long time to allow the possibility of growing one, it really did, but I kept finding the odd reference to them being delicious if you could lay your hands on the right varieties. So buy one I did.
. . . their flavor is so very special, with suggestions of kiwifruit, plum, and sweet grapes, as well as a gentle edge of pepper that comes along near the end.”
While I don’t share Mark’s abhorrence of the fuchsia flower (I’d call them deliciously flamboyant, not gaudy!), I do share his adoration of fuchsia berries. In an organic garden, you can feel safe eating the berries of Fuchsia magellanica, a 6′ x 6′ shade-loving shrub that comes with either the traditional magenta and purple flower or a gentle lilac-colored flower, with foliage in green, gold- or cream-variegated. Mark has a recipe for fuchsia fruit roll-up that’s perfect for people like me, who have grown up in body but not necessarily in spirit.
Hellebore (Helleborus orientalis)
From Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart:
“Low-growing perennials produce dramatic, dark green foliage and beautiful five-petaled blossoms in shades of pale green, white, pink, red, and maroon that appear in winter and early spring. All parts of the plant are poisonous. The sap is irritating to the skin, and symptoms of ingestion include burning of the mouth, vomiting, dizziness, nervous system depression, and convulsions.
The First Sacred War (595-585 BC) is believed by some historians to have been won after a Greek military alliance poisoned the water supply of the city of Kirrha with hellebore. This would have been one of the first instances of chemical warfare in history.”
Well, if all that hasn’t put you off of hellebore as a garden plant, may I point out that it is also low-maintenance, deer-resistant, tolerant of shady locations, and blooms at a time of year when little else is going on? And that the leathery leaves are of such a texture that nobody in their right mind would chew on them? And that breeders have come up with new varieties in shades of apricot, yellow-with-speckles, and metallic blue-black, among others? Really. It’s a very nice plant.
Hardy Stonecrop (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’)
From Mrs. Greenthumbs by Cassandra Danz:
“Sedum, that bastion of the dry sun-drenched garden, is also very accommodating in dry shade. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, with its grayish fleshy leaves and deep red flowers, has a lot of style, and no garden should be without it. Trouble is, this sedum is so popular, practically no garden is without it! But even though they may not be exotic, drifts of sedum are a welcome sight in September.”
Thank you Cassandra, for pointing out that just because a plant is common, is no reason to shun it. Heaven forefend you should end up with a plant that grows lusciously, has a long season of bloom, and is nearly trouble-free. Which, let’s face it, when a place has all of those fine qualities, it generally becomes popular in short order.
Let’s get rid of garden snobbery and just commit to doing new and interesting things with some of these tried-and-true favorites.
Hook Sedge (Uncinia uncinata)
From Fearless Color Gardens by Keeyla Meadows:
“Orange offers that special adventure of versatility. Orange can be very modern. Orange can be that comic book blast of “pow!” It can be a sublime chorus of the devoted, standing at the shore at sunset, receiving the day’s last rays. Orange is an orangutan of a color, swinging from the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to the edgy explorations of the artistically inclined.”
Whenever I’m bored with thinking about or writing about plants, I pick up Keeyla Meadow’s book on color and just let her words wash over me. She IS fearless, and her bold take on color is generally just what I need to shake off any garden doldrums and get that new-gardener’s sense of awe and excitement back.
On to Uncinia: this easy grower is the ultimate Halloween plant. Orange all year, with black blooms in September that hang on through Halloween and make a fun foil to any black flowers you care to cultivate nearby. It has a simple dignity most of the year, but is unafraid of the spotlight; I think Keeyla would approve.
Where do you find plant inspiration? Let me know in the comments below!
And be sure to check out my fellow designers’ posts in this month’s Garden Designers Roundtable: