Fabulous Phlox

Phlox subulata - Creeping Phlox @Briargate 17may2008 LAH 002r

How would you like a perennial that is hardy from USDA zones 3 through 9, tolerates browsing deer, drought, and smog, while attracting butterflies with its brilliant flowers? Moss phlox (Phlox subulata, also known as moss pinks and creeping phlox, does all that, and more. A very low growing groundcover that barely reaches six inches in height, moss phlox spreads to a diameter of two feet, making it ideal for the front of a border. The leaves resemble short, prickly pine needles, and are a gray-green in color. But it’s the flowers that cause me to run to the garden center for more.

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Charming Saponaria

It’s such a pretty plant, petite and delicate, only a few inches high and covered with quarter-inch flowers of the softest pink. It’s the kind of groundcover perfectly suited for small spaces, rock gardens, and fairy bowers. It can even be used as a lawn substitute, as it tolerates limited foot traffic. With so much to recommend it, I’ve often wondered why this hardy perennial isn’t more popular. Perhaps it just needs a better name. “Soapwort” fails in the marketing department!

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Drifts of Spring

Anemone blanda_Windflower_PtDefiancePark-Tacoma-WA_LAH_0560Carpeting the ground with drifts of white, pastel pink, and soft blues, Grecian Windflowers are the epitome of spring. The large, star-shaped flowers are set off by ruffled green foliage that form a mat a foot across and only a few inches high. Anemone blanda is a delightful addition to any informal landscape.

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No Junipers for Me

Juniperus sabina 'Monna'_Calgary Carpet Juniper_DBG_LAH_4004I really don’t like junipers, but it’s not their fault. Rather, I blame the landscapers.

Think of the countless homeowners who plant Pfitzer junipers (Juniperus chinensis ‘Pfitzeraiana’) in front of their living room windows, then shear them to a fraction of their normal size. That’s not fair to the plant, it’s unattractive, and it makes a lot of work for the gardener.

Similarly, junipers are planted along sidewalks and in parking lots (where they tenaciously hang on despite compacting foot traffic and scorching summer heat). Quickly outgrowing the space allotted, they’re pruned at the edge of the pavement, resulting in a wall of dead, brown branches.

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A November Garden Beauty

Eriogonum umbellatum var aureum - Sulfur Flower Buckwheat_DBG_10200118_LAH_7145My daughter was staring at the planters surrounding her patio, full of bedraggled and wilted plants. “I know it’s November, but is there something I can plant that will look nice now?”

Of course we’re not going to get the delicate flowers or green abundance of late spring or summer, but dead doesn’t have to mean ugly. Some plants manage to look good even after freezing nights and the season’s first snowstorm.

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Hardy Ice Plant

delosperma_hardy-ice-plant_xg_lah_2583Covering the ground with a solid mass of eye-searing fuchsia-purple flowers, Hardy Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi) demands a second look. The succulent green leaves glimmer in the sun, giving the plant its common name, while the flowers have glistening thin petals surrounding a yellow center.

Waves of bloom carpet the foliage from late spring until late summer. The show even continues in winter, when plants turn a deep burgundy-red. Other species of Delosperma, with yellow or salmon-pink flowers, are also now available. Some have earned PlantSelect® honors.

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Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica)

myosotis-forget-me-not-dbg-lah-011rAppearance
The petite, sky-blue flowers of forget-me-nots have charmed gardeners for ages. Also available in delicate pink or white, the blossoms are suspended by wiry stems above crinkled, heart-shaped leaves of forest green. The plants form a groundcover six to twelve inches high and two feet wide. Even though the species is native to Europe, it has naturalized in North America to the extent that the Forget-me-not is the state flower of Alaska.

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Aubrieta deltoidea

 

Appearance
aubrieta-deltoidea-var-macedonica-dbg-lah-002rAfter months of dreary landscapes, Aubrieta’s vibrant purple flowers bring welcome color to the April garden. The diminutive blossoms have four petals arranged in a cross, with a clump of yellow stamens in the center. In early spring, they bloom enthusiastically, completely hiding the low growing mats of evergreen foliage. The plants only reach six to twelve inches tall but they can extend as far as two to three feet wide.

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Angelina Stonecrop – Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’

sedum-rupestre-angelina_dbg_10200118_lah_7253xAngelina Stonecrop is a garden asset all year long. In summer, the low-growing succulent forms spreading mats of cheerful yellow-green, adorned with clusters of yellow star-shaped flowers. These blooms attract butterflies. But it is in winter that Angelina really shines, when those same fleshy leaves turn an incredible, brilliant orange, with subtle shades of red and yellow. The colors are so intense, the ground appears to be on fire. Such a show would be welcome at any time, but is especially appreciated when everything else is dead or dormant.

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Cotoneaster Offers Berries, Fall Color

cotoneaster-apiculatus-cranberry-cotoneaster-dbg-28jul04-lah-411As summer’s flowers fade, plants that produce berries take center stage. Branches covered with bright red berries make cotoneasters especially attractive now, but they offer year-round interest. In spring, tiny but abundant white to pink flowers may be obscured by the shiny round green leaves. Foliage turns orange-red in fall. Finally, the berries persist into winter, or until the birds pick them clean.

cotoneaster-in-winter-dbg-lah-002The hardest part of growing cotoneaster is pronouncing it correctly (it’s “ko-TON-ee-AS-ter”). These shrubs thrive with little attention, handling poor soils, full sun to afternoon shade, and moderately low amounts of water. New shrubs should be coddled a bit until vigorous growth begins. Give plants room to spread, pruning only to remove oldest wood and enhance appearance. As with all members of the rose family, cotoneasters are occasionally susceptible to fire blight; some new varieties are tolerant of this disease. The many different species in cultivation vary in hardiness. Most will survive zone 4 or 5 winters, but check the label for the variety you are purchasing.

There is a size and shape for every use. Spreading plants under three feet high make good groundcovers. Try planting them where their arching branches can spill over a wall. Small, stiffly erect shrubs may be used as informal hedges. Tall, fountain-shaped growers form good screens.