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12 Underutilized Landscape Plants

Many gardeners, including me, love to have flower beds bursting with color all season long. As you might guess, there are thousands of annuals, perennials, and shrubs available to plant in your garden. While we all have favorite plants that we return to year after year, it’s also great fun to add new options to your plant palette. Brand new plants are often a sirens call but don’t overlook older plants that just haven’t quite taken off yet. Here are 12 plants that deserve a chance to steal your heart. Once they’ve taken root in your garden and your heart, be sure to share the secret with your friends!

Contributors: Kerry Meyer

Annuals

 

Spider FlowerSenorita Cleome

 

Cleome seems to be thought of as an old-fashioned plant and it has been grown in gardens for a long time. However, many people may not realize that the Senorita Cleome varieties are not your typical spider flowers.  Senoritas have dark green foliage, and their habit is almost shrub-like. They can reach 48” tall and come in both lavender-pink and white and are perfect for the middle or toward the back of your flower beds. The plants are very well-branched and are virtually maintenance and pest-free. The Cincinnati Zoo reports that their peacocks will munch the flowers, but I’m guessing most of us aren’t worried about peacocks. Fortunately, deer don’t particularly like Senorita Cleome, an unwelcome garden visitor that many of us do have problems with. You shouldn’t need to trim them back, but if you do so they will quickly recover from even a substantial cut back. They’ll bloom from spring until a hard frost in fall.

Annual. 24-48” Tall. 18-24”Wide. Full Sun.

 

Summer Snapdragon
Angelface® Super Angelonia

 

Most of the Angelonia you find in garden centers are compact plants that work for the front or close to the front of the bed. Angelface Super Angelonia, however, can reach 36-40” in height and are great for the middle to the back of your flower bed. Angelface plants love heat and humidity and can tolerate a wide range of soil moisture. They grow well in normal garden soil, but will also tolerate wet and dry soils. These are wonderful garden plants, but at the garden center when the plants are small, it’s difficult to see why they are different and special. These low maintenance plants won’t ask much of you, a bit of water if things get extremely dry and a dose of controlled release plant food when you plant—it doesn’t get much easier than this!

Annual. 30-40” Tall. 12-18” Wide, Full Sun.

 

 

Salvia
Rockin’®

Salvia is a huge group of plants, but for a very long time only a few Salvia were regularly available to gardeners and they were ubiquitous.  However, that left a wealth of Salvia that were only known to true, hard-core Salvia fans. In the past decade or so, Salvia-loving plant breeders have managed to create incredible new garden salvia such as our Rockin’ series. These plants top out around 36” tall, they love heat and humidity, thrive in full sun, and look their best in the dog days of summer when other plants start looking bedraggled. Salvias do best with moist soil but can tolerate periods when the soil is dry. Add a bit of slow-release food when planting and they will ask nothing more of you. The best part, though, is nonstop color. They will bloom like crazy, but that isn’t the only way they’ll deliver color to your garden. Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds adore Rockin’ Salvia and these beauties will flock to your garden. Be ready to sit back and enjoy the show!

Annual. 30-40” Tall. 24-30” Wide. Full Sun to Part Sun. The plant size will vary somewhat. Check tags or www.provenwinners.com for specific information.

 

Globe Amaranth
Truffula Pink Gomphrena

My first introduction to Gomphrena was the petite bedding plant version. For decades that was the only version of globe amaranth that I’d ever seen. They were kind of cute, but that’s pretty much where my interest ended. Then a few years ago I was introduced to Truffula Pink. It is Gomphrena, but it is anything but typical. Truffula is a mound of pink puffballs, accented by yellow stamens, on 24” tall plants. Truffula Pink is densely branched, doesn’t need deadheading, and will work perfectly towards the front of landscape beds—pumping out flowers all summer long. They thrive in hot weather but will do well in cooler temperatures too. Use a controlled release plant food in spring and water if the plant gets quite dry – although they can tolerate dry soils as well. Be ready for the bees and butterflies to enjoy your garden as much as you do.

Annual. 22-28 Tall. 22-26” Wide. Full Sun.

 

 

Perennials

 

Goatsbeard
‘Chantilly Lace’ Aruncus

This part shade-loving plant produces beautiful sprays of lacy, cream-colored flowers in late spring to early summer. It is very floriferous when it’s in bloom, completely covering the deep green foliage. Goatsbeard is similar in appearance to Astilbe in the garden, but it is more drought-tolerant. 'Chantilly Lace' will be shorter if grown in full sun, closer to 24" tall, than if grown in shade or a sun-filtered area, where it will grow to a height of 30-32". Deer don’t particularly like this plant so be sure to consider it for your cut flower garden. Though Aruncus tends to be a slow-grower the first couple of seasons, once it is established it puts on a fabulous show year after year. Make sure it has plenty of room to grow when you first plant it; transplanting this species is a difficult task.

Perennial. 30-32” Tall. 40-48” Wide. Sun or Shade. Zones 3-7

 

 

Bluestar
‘Storm Cloud' Amsonia

 

Native perennials are wonderful additions to gardens and Bluestar is the classic North American perennial! ‘Storm Cloud’ is an exciting variety that performs well for both northern and southern gardeners. In spring, new stems emerge near-black with leaves that are very dark green with silver veins. The stems stay dark throughout spring, while light periwinkle blue, star-shaped flowers completely cover the foliage in late spring, and rebloom for many weeks afterward. Although the main interest of this plant occurs in spring, it maintains a great garden presence throughout the summer and fall. Its wide, mounded habit lends itself well to be used in place of shrubs in the landscape. Younger plants will have more of a vase-like habit, but make sure to give this plant some space for when it reaches its mature size. This easy-care, heat, and humidity tolerant, deer resistant perennial is an excellent choice for gardeners looking for low maintenance or native perennials. It is deer resistant and is a good cut and dried flower.

Perennial. 24-30” Tall.  38-42” Wide. Part Sun to Sun.  Zones 4-9

 

Heartleaf Brunnera
‘Jack of Diamonds’ and ‘Queen of Hearts’

 

Brunneras are classic perennials that are treasured for their shade tolerance and lovely blooms. They make a fantastic groundcover, though the variegated forms may be slower to spread than the species. Try growing Brunnera in containers too, this way they will be close at hand when you want to snip a few blooms for a spring bouquet. This stunning foliage perennial will be the queen of the shade (and your heart). Jack of Diamonds has huge 9-10” leaves that overlap dramatically at the base, giving it a shape similar to the snail delicacy escargot. Overall, the foliage is circular from a distance. Compared to its companion plant 'Jack of Diamonds', 'Queen of Hearts' has more heart-shaped leaves and a pronounced silver overlay with narrower bands of dark green veining. From mid to late spring, baby blue, forget-me-not type blossoms are held in clusters above the foliage.

Perennial. 14-18” Tall (Foliage). 28-36” Wide. Part Shade to Shade. Zones 3-8.

 


Switch Grass Panicum

 

Panicum is a highly underutilized North American native prairie grass—it is well adapted to the conditions found in our climates. These are very durable grasses and can adapt to a range of growing conditions, including those that are less than ideal. They prefer full sun, and moist to dry conditions, but do not adjust well to wet feet. They deliver good winter interest and can provide a winter habitat for birds and other wildlife while also supporting butterfly populations. We have three varieties; ‘Totem Pole’ is the tallest at 6’ and the narrow base of the plant makes it an ideal candidate for small spaces in the garden that need height and vertical structure.  ‘Cheyenne Sky’ tops out at 3’ and forms a tight, vase-shaped clump of blue-green foliage that begins turning wine red in early summer. By late summer, most of the plant is drenched in color and is topped by matching wine-red flower panicles held just above the foliage. Last but not least we have ‘Apache Rose’, a 4’ tall variety with a dense, upright, columnar habit with grey-green leaves. In the fall, the tips of the leaves are flushed with a hint of rosy-red.

Perennial. 3-6’ Tall and 18-30” Wide - depending on variety. Full Sun. Zones 4-9.

 

Shrubs

 

Sweetshrub
‘Aphrodite' Calycanthus x

 

Looking for something a little different? You've found it in 'Aphrodite' calycanthus! Covered in big, glossy leaves, this shrub explodes with enormous cupped flowers that look a bit like a deep red magnolia. They start in early summer and continue through the season—in cooler areas, they bloom all summer long. This is a large shrub that needs plenty of space to look its best, but if you have room for it, there are few better ways to use it! 'Aphrodite' is a hybrid between our native Calycanthus and the Asian species, xSinocalycanthus. You're probably wondering if it's fragrant, and the answer is - it depends. The scent varies based on the age of the bloom, the time of day, and the flower itself. Some people say they smell like pineapple, others apples, others bubblegum, and some perceive no scent at all. Even if you never sense a whiff off this plant, its fabulous flowers are more than enough reward!

Shrub. 5-8’ Tall. 5-6’ Wide. Part Sun to Sun. Zones 5-9

 

Buttonbush
Sugar Shack® Cephalanthus

 

Buttonbush has long been prized as a native, but it was way too big for most landscapes. Not anymore! Sugar Shack® Cephalanthus is half the size of conventional varieties, adapting it to many home landscapes. Large, fragrant, orb-shaped blooms in summer become ornamental red fruit, which persists through fall. Glossy foliage and easy to grow. The fragrant flowers also attract pollinators including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. It is also deer resistant and tolerant of clay soils. It is also well suited to live in wet to boggy soil, which makes it a great choice for a rain garden. This is a fun and unusual flowering shrub.

Shrub. 3-4’ Tall. 3-4’ Wide. Part Sun to Sun. Zones 4-10

 

Hydrangeas
Tuff Stuff Mountain

This series of Mountain Hydrangeas is so pretty, it's hard to believe it's so tough!

But indeed, Tuff Stuff mountain hydrangea lives up to its name. It shares the showy blooms and beautiful pink or purple color of big-leaf hydrangeas, but because it grows wild on the chilly mountain tops instead of the mild seaside, it naturally developed a stronger cold tolerance. The sturdy lacecap blooms will be pink or blue, depending on your soil pH, and the handsome dark green foliage resists wilting. If you've had trouble getting big-leaf hydrangeas to bloom reliably in your landscape, try Tuff Stuff - it's the reblooming hydrangea that actually does rebloom! We recommend a minimum of 4 hours of sun each day for best flowering and color. In hot climates, shade during the hottest part of the day is imperative. Tuff Stuff hydrangeas do not need pruning except to remove any dead wood in early spring. You should not cut back or trim this plant at any time of the year, as doing so will remove flower buds. There are 4 different Tuff Stuff options to choose from.

Shrub. 2-3’ Tall. 2-3’Wide. Tiny Tuff Stuff is 18-24” Tall and Wide. Part Sun to Sun. Zones 5-9.

 

Roses
Oso Easy® Landscape Rosa

Some people just make things look easy. You know, the friend who whips up dinner for the group with only twenty minutes' notice. Or the person who is perfectly dressed at all times (and never spills their coffee). Yo-Yo Ma and Michael Jordan are renowned for their hours of practicing and paying special attention to the things they don't do well. That's good - we should all strive for that discipline. But sometimes we could use a shortcut, like a plant that makes us look like a professional gardener with very little effort. Oso Easy roses are exactly that kind of plant. Give them tons of sun and keep them watered and they’ll be perfectly happy. These are varieties that will provide a lot of color without much work. We’ve chosen these specific roses to have deep green, glossy foliage and exceptional disease resistance, which makes them durable plants, and they are rebloomers that won’t need to be deadheaded. Many people still believe that roses are hard plants to grow. Choosing the right rose for your garden will show your friends how easy these can be to grow, and enjoy!


Shrub. 1-4’ Tall. 1.5-3’ Wide. Full Sun. Zones 4-9.  Height and width will vary, check plant files for details.

 

Learn More:

Watch this Video about Shrubs for Foundation Plantings.

Learn more about How to Care for Landscape Roses.

Explore this Pinterest® board showcasing Layered Landscapes

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