Tough Plants

giant purpletop (Verbena bonariensis)

giant purpletop (Verbena bonariensis)

Just as we are getting ready to install our spring gardens, three publications come along to give guidance in plant selection.
One book, by Sharon Amos, is called “Tough Plants,” and bears the subtitle “Unkillable Plants for Every Garden.” Amos has taken some poetic license here. Having personally grown many of the plants in her book, I can testify to their strengths, but not to their immortality. Every plant has its weaknesses, insects and fungi can decimate the stoutest botanical specimens, and few garden plants will survive complete neglect.
There is one characteristic that many of the plants listed in this book have in common: Their lives will be shortened by a regular watering regime or irrigation schedule. Plants should be watered not when it is convenient for the gardener to do so but when they truly need to be watered. It is also better for tough plants to be soaked with a hose at their roots rather than be sprayed overhead with sprinklers. In this category of water-thrifty plants, all highlighted by Amos, are the following: crepe-flowered rock rose (Cistus), tall and daisy-flowered Cosmos, Cotoneaster, silverberry (Elaeagnus), purple-flowered and self-sowing Verbena bonariensis, yellow-blooming Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) and red hot poker (Kniphofia).
“Giant Perennials: Star Performers for the Garden,” by Susan Berry, will be of interest to those who seek to create dramatic botanical effects. Globe thistle (Echinops) produces prickly mauve spheres on silver stems ranging from 6 to 15 feet in height, depending on the species. Giant ornamental onions are famous for 4-inch-diameter flower balls, each consisting of more than 50 individual star-shaped blooms.
Globe artichokes are not only edible; the plant they grow on is a majestic specimen, growing to 6 feet in height with deeply lobed silvery leaves. Artichokes like lots of sun but are not terribly fussy about their soil, as long as it drains fairly well. In early summer, the fat flower buds that form the edible parts of the plant are harvested. If you do not pick your artichokes, they will open up into attractive violet flowers.
Gunnera is a truly exotic perennial with leaves that are 5 feet in size. It is partial to wet soil, so if you have a water pond or a shady garden spot that does not drain well, you may want to consider planting Gunnera in that area.
“Front Yard Gardens: Growing More Than Grass,” by Liz Primeau, is the most inspiring garden book I have seen in some time. The beauty of this volume is in the variety of possibilities, all photographed, that it describes. You will begin to “think outside the box” of conventional landscaping ideas as you flip through the pages of this book.
Touring Amsterdam a number of years ago, Primeau was inspired by the front yards she encountered there “which flowed continuously from the foundation of the house to the roadside.” Some of the plants she used to transform her own front yard would include catmint (Nepeta mussinii), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), Bergenia and a redbud tree (Cercis).
All of the garden books mentioned above are published by Firefly Books.

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