As a self-professed plant geek, I’m compelled to try obscure varieties and plants that have a reputation for being difficult. I just can’t resist the challenge. But over the years I’ve learned that gorgeous gardens are created not with novelties, but with plants that are both beautiful and dependable. I’m always on the hunt for “no fail” plants with a lot of panache, those that I can count on for their vigor, ease of care and exceptional performance.
I have gathered quite a collection of these plants, tried and true they make up the framework of my garden. I can count on them to carry the day if one of my “experiments” fails. And while some of these plants may not be as exciting as say a Himalayan blue poppy, in the end I love them even more for their reliability.
Below is a list of my top ten favorite varieties that I either grow in my garden or I use in my garden designs. These are my “that’s the answer” plants, so called because they are never a problem and always a solution. Carefree and vigorous, you will find that these plants will never let you down.
Daylily ‘Hyperion’ – Daylilies are at the top of my list of “no fail” perennials. You just can’t go wrong with these plants. ‘Hyperion’ has called my garden its home for many years. It is an old timer, dating back to the 1930s. I like the long, elegant scapes that often reach 44 – 46 inches tall topped with clear yellow, lightly fragrant blooms. The flowers tower above many of the other plants in my garden and move gently with the slightest breeze.
zones 3 – 9, full sun to partial shade, bloom scapes 40″– 46″ tall, early season bloom
Siberian Iris ‘Super Ego’ – My first love in the iris world was a bevy of Siberian beauties. Siberian irises were some of the first perennials I planted in my garden. I am so enamored with these plants that they have become somewhat of a signature in my garden designs. The vertical grass-like foliage creates a striking focal point even after the blooms have faded. ‘Super Ego’ is a reliable variety that I grow for its delicate pale blue flowers. Whenever I see them planted en masse they bring to mind a soothing pool of water. In fact, I often use ‘Super Ego’ to represent water when space or budget does not allow for a pond or water feature.
zones 3 – 9, full sun to partial shade, 30″ tall, early summer bloom
Rose ‘New Dawn’ – Whether you have been a newsletter subscriber for years or just signed on this spring, you have already heard me sing the praises of this rose. I like ‘New Dawn’ for so many reasons: the pale pink blooms go with just about any color scheme, the flowers have a light fragrance and boy does this rose bloom! As one flower cluster fades it’s no time before it throws off another. ‘New Dawn’ is a vigorous climber that can grow up to 20 feet, so it is perfect for growing on fences or scampering up a trellis or even covering a small garden pavilion.
zones 5 – 9, full sun, 20′ feet, repeat bloom
Oriental Lily ‘Casa Blanca’ – Words cannot fully describe the luxurious quality of the Oriental lily ‘Casa Blanca’. Each giant 10 inch bloom is pure white with a slight green tinge at the throat and an especially rich fragrance. In fact, it is usually the perfume of ‘Casa Blanca’ that alerts me that the buds have fully opened in mid to late summer.
zones 4 – 8, full sun to partial shade, 36″ tall, mid- to late summer bloom
Purple Coneflower ‘Magnus’ – Purple coneflower is a tough North American native wildflower that thrives with little care. I grow the variety ‘Magnus’ for its 7 inch, intense magenta flowers that bloom on 36 to 40 inch stems. Another characteristic of this plant that I find attractive is that the petals extend horizontally rather than drooping as is the case with other coneflowers.
zones 3 – 9, full sun, 36″– 40″ tall, mid-summer bloom
Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’ – Hostas are the quintessential shade garden plants. I love the blue varieties because, even in deep shade, they add rich color and texture. ‘Krossa Regal’ is one of my long-standing favorite hostas primarily because of its blue-gray foliage. The surface of the leaf almost looks like it has been covered in fine silver dust. I also appreciate the upright, vase shape of the plant. It offers a nice contrast to looser foliage and plant forms.
zones 3 – 9, shade, 36″ tall x 36″ wide
Variegated Solomon’s Seal – I have been touting the virtues of variegated Solomon’s seal since my early days as a garden designer. When it comes to shade gardening this plant is without question, a must have. Gracefully arching stems rise 24 to 30 inches above the ground bearing alternate, lance-shaped leaves that are a vibrant green, edged in white. In spring, white bell-shaped flowers brushed in green hang like pearls from the stems. By autumn the blooms mature into inky-blue berries. I love to use this plant as a subtle accent in cut flower arrangements. A generous spreader, variegated Solomon’s seal is well worth the investment.
zones 3 – 8, shade to partial shade, 24″– 30″ tall
Tradescantia ‘Grape’ – Tradescantia is one of the most carefree plants I grow. It will flourish in poorly draining soils and a range of light conditions. The variety ‘Grape’ will brighten the shade garden with its 3 petal, deep purple blooms, sulphur yellow stamens and blue-green foliage. It is a natural for combining with other shade lovers such as hosta, Japanese painted fern and astilbe.
zones 4 – 9, shade to partial shade, 18″ tall, late summer bloom
Japanese Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ – I’ve grown Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ for many years with great success. I love the uncomplicated blooms with their simple white petals and yellow centers. Appearing late in the summer, they are a cheerful finale of the season. This plant will grow 2 to 3 feet tall and prefers rich, moist, but well-drained soil. Although this plant is often sold as tolerant of full shade, I’ve had the best results when it is planted in a location with good filtered light all day or a half day of sun. zones 5 – 10, shade to partial shade, 24″– 30″, late summer bloom
Royal Fern – I grow royal ferns in the dappled light of an oak tree in an area where the drainage is poor. For several years the spot was a thorn in my side because everything I planted there melted away before summer’s end. The royal fern’s moisture loving nature proved to be the solution to my problem. It thrives in the moist soil beneath the tree without the slightest effort, growing fuller and more beautiful every year.
zones 4 – 9, shade to partial shade, up to 6′ in ideal conditions