Charity 102220


By the middle of autumn, all of your plants have given their best and you have a good sense of what is working or not.  It may be time to begin doing some horticultural "editing" of the landscape.   

As a garden designer, I always have an eye open for something new to add to a client’s landscape or container planting. However, buying new, somewhat untested, plants can be a gamble. To turn the odds to my favor, I use an internal checklist. The more criteria a new plant meets, the more likely I am to purchase and use it.

It has a “wow” factor. 

I’ll take a chance on plants with show-stopping features, such as boldly colored foliage or corkscrew tendencies. Planting a group of three special plants can take part of your garden, from looking simply nice to “WOW” and special.  

89707 Eryngium Big Blue

The first such plant that comes to mind is Sea Holly Big Blue (Eryngium x zabelii). The color blue is infrequently found in the garden and this perennial has it in spades. Combine that cool color with drought-tolerance and distinctly different texture and you have a winner. 

It has long-term interest and presence.  

One season of interest for a plant is good, but year-round interest is much better. I look at it as ‘more bang for the buck.’  

The Variegated Redtwig Dogwood shrub (Cornus alba Elegantissima) has white compound flowers in spring, accompanied by creamy-white margined leaves in spring and summer, white berries with red-orange leaves in autumn and, finally, there are those great rich red twigs year-round. This tough and reliable shrub asks nothing, and delivers a lot. 

It solves a problem.

I often replace messy or unruly plants with ones that require less cleanup, pruning and/or pesticides. Let’s face it … I’m not getting any younger and sitting in the garden is more fun than working in it. 

The original garden phlox (Phlox pilosa) is a prairie native. It’s nice, but is prone to rust and powdery mildew. Many Phlox paniculata (Red Magic) are disease resistant, have a nice scent, are great pollinators and come in a range of colors. We have another winner! 

It is not that new.

It is fun to have bragging rights to a new plant not seen by others, but I tend to stay away from new cultivars that have just hit the market. Unless bred to be tough, new cultivars are often weaker than the straight species and their resistance to disease and insects may be more of a guess than a fact.  

Finally, new cultivars have a premium on price. For instance, Hardy Geranium, Rozanne, once selling at $25, can now be found for $7 - $15.  She blooms all summer long and is a good pollinator.

Rozanne 102220


It is environmentally friendly.

The key phrases to look for on a plant tag or on an internet search are wildlife habitat (for birds), pollinator (for bees and others), noninvasive, drought tolerant, and/or disease resistant (meaning it won’t require pesticides). This keeps the pets and kiddos who might be running around your yard a whole lot safer. Native plants also fit into this category.  

An Oregon Grape hybrid called Charity (Mahonia x media) fills a spot in my side yard and ticks off all of the criteria. It is a cultivar of a Pacific Northwest native plant, looks great year round, offers late winter flowers to hummingbirds and pollinators and has seed pods in winter. 

Remember to check what a plant has going for it, beyond being pretty, before you make an impulse purchase. You can have longer bloom times, an attractor for butterflies and hummingbirds or, simply, a plant that will cause you less work. Do your research before buying!

Do you have a plant or gardening topic you would like to have discussed in future columns? Send your idea to me at Happy Gardening All!  

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