Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Southern Superstars in the Garden

We lucky southern gardeners are blessed with some of the best options for landscape plants. Our mild winters enable us to grow many plants that would not be reliably hardy in northern climes, though our tough summers can sometimes test a plant’s limits (not to mention a gardener’s). While it’s hard to limit to just a few, I’ve selected a few of my own favorite plants to highlight below. These are plants that will really go to work for you and show their stuff during the upcoming spring and early summer months. I've focused on woody landscape plants and perennials, since you will have these for years to come once they are planted.

Woody Landscape Plants add structure to your landscape and provide winter interest through their shapes and texture—often called the ‘bones’ of the garden because they provide the framework for other plants. We’re not just talking trees—shrubs, in particular, are often overlooked. I tend to lean towards flowering trees and shrubs, as I want to get as much seasonal interest as I can out of each plant. Beautiful flowers, often accompanied by lovely fragrance and interesting fruit later on, are exceptional bonuses in my book. Consider adding the following southern superstars to your garden:

The fluffy white floral clusters of the Snowball Viburnum (Viburnum opulus) stop passersby in their tracks here at the Garden, and will do the same at your home. It resembles a massive 25-30’ hydrangea—gorgeous! As it fades, the blooms of the Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus) are gearing up. They are more delicate—feathery dangles that change from pale chartreuse to a soft white as they develop. Though it seems exotic, it’s actually a southern native. Another great native is the Oak Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), which begins its floral show in June. Its snowy white panicles are visually cooling, and then turn a soft pinkish red color as they dry and remain through the summer. It’s a shrub with multi-season appeal as it provides fall color and winter interest with its peeling, cinnamon-colored bark.

Perennials live for multiple years-- often many, many years-- though they die back to the ground each winter and re-grow from the roots once spring weather is conducive to their growth. Collectively, they provide a changing palette of color and texture through the season as they come in and out of bloom, so add interest and keep the garden from looking the same throughout the season. Many are referred to as ‘passalong plants’ since you can divide them and share them with friends as the clumps increase in size from year to year. There are many choices (really!), but here is a sampling of some of my own favorites for the southern garden:

Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) is one of the first perennials to show color in spring, and heralds the onset of many old-fashioned favorites like spicy-scented Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) and simple but lovely Shasta Daisies (Leucanthemum superbum). Yarrow (Achillea spp.) offers lacy, fine textured foliage as well as flowers and will re-bloom for a long time if spent flower heads are removed—called deadheading—as will many other perennials including Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Beebalm (Monarda didyma), and Speedwell (Veronica spp). All of these are very easy to grow, and will provide years of pleasure for very little work on your part.

As you can see, there are many wonderful plants for great southern gardens—those listed above provide just the briefest of starting points, and I didn’t even include bulbs, or vines, or … the list is endless. However, those are blogs for another day. Now, get outside and plant a superstar in your garden, or drop by and enjoy a few plantful moments here. Happy spring, everyone!

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