The best in the garden: 11 plants that sparked delight

To celebrate the holidays for our December book club get together, we decided to compile a list of things that bring us delight. Naturally, I thought of my garden and specifically - plants that put a smile on my face. Some are new introductions, others are not, but all of them brought me delight! Here’s my take on the best of 2022.

Heuchera ‘Peach Flambe’

Heuchera ‘Peach Flambe’ hasn’t gotten the message that summer is over - it’s still hanging on for dear life. Heucheras generally die out in my dryish garden beds, but they flourish in containers. This one gets my vote for the most enduring (and endearing) foliage and color. I took the above photo a few days ago, the bottom one in June - not much difference!

Heuchera ‘Peach Flambe’ newly planted.

I had forgotten how much I liked Signet marigolds until I was leafing through the Select Seed Catalog. 'Tagetes tenuifolia ‘Lemon Gem’ added the right amount of pop to the hot mix in the container below. Aside from the bright yellow flowers, the delicate leafed foliage provided textural interest. Plus, it was just the right size (about 12”). It was a good filler too, though this rampant little devil required periodic pruning to keep it in check. No matter, I liked it so much I planted some in the garden where it got a little taller and leggier but no less striking. Although I have read that it requires deadheading, mine received none and looked pretty good until late fall. Maybe next year I’ll try some of the other orange, red and bi-colored varieties.

'Lemon Gem'Tagetes tenuifolia Lemon Gem’ (Signet marigolds)

There’s nothing like Beebalm to add a little buzz to the garden (literally!), but the red, burgundy and pale pink varieties didn’t get me excited. I discovered Monarda fistulosa ‘Claire Grace’ while perusing the Bluestone Perennials Catalogue and it was exactly what I wanted, a clear lavender pink. Great flowers! To my delight, the hummingbirds and bees entertained me by dive bombing it all summer. My only complaint is that the foliage looked a little ratty after it finished flowering. It probably wasn’t a good plant to locate at the front of the border as I did here. I’ll have to hide it behind something else with stronger foliage - maybe more Perovskia (Russian Sage).

Monarda fistulosa ‘Claire Grace’

And speaking of Perovskia, heads up - if you’re a fan of this perennial, but tired of it’s tall gangly habit, try Perovskia atripiplicifolia ‘Blue Jean Baby’ instead. This new dwarf variety is only about 20” tall and is a much stronger plant in terms of flower and longevity. If you like blue, it’s a no brainer.

Perovskia atripiplicifolia ‘Blue Jean Baby’ paired up with Monarda fistulosa ‘Claire Grace’

Here’s another more diminutive variety of a favorite grass - Schizachyrium scoparium aka Little Bluestem. If you’ve longed for the bluish textural waves it provides but can’t find room in your garden for a lanky 3-4’ grass, Schizachyrium scoparium 'Standing Ovation' is what you need. This more compact version (about 2-3’ tall and 15x18” wide) is every bit as showy as it’s larger counterpart. I couldn’t resist pairing it up with that Castor Bean plant (below photo). Encore please.

Little Bluestem Standing Ovation

Schizachyrium scoparium 'Standing Ovation' (aka Little Bluestem) coupled up with Castor Bean (Ricinus communis)

Pycnantheum muticum (Mountain Mint) is a butterfly magnet I’ve longed to have in my garden. I finally found it locally at Amandas Native Garden in Dansville, NY (you can order online as well). The flowers are small and sweet, but the highlight is the foliage. It looks best when planted in groups to show off the silvery bracts. It’s presence has significantly increased the bee and butterfly population in my small domain.

Pycnantheum muticum

After hearing a friend rave about Coreopsis ‘Uptick,’ I decided to give it a try. This is a newly introduced perennial that checks all the boxes. A big bright bouncy wow and a good border plant (only 18”) - we all know how hard that is to find! If that’s not enough, it flowers like crazy from July to October (no deadheading), doesn’t flop, has tidy foliage and no apparent insect problems. The jury is out as to how it will overwinter (I have found some coreopsis to be unreliable), but if it makes it til spring, I’m ordering more.

Put your sunglasses on, Coreopsis ‘Uptick’ is in full tilt boogie.

On to shrubs….I have to rave about Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’ once more before the snow falls. This showy little shrub has brought me so much pleasure. It’s diminutive size (2.5ft) is just right for a small garden or massed together in a large one. It flowers a long time and is easy to grow in sun or some degree of shade. It’s so cute, I want to pet it.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’

I found Betula x plettkei ‘Cesky Gold(dwarf Birch) while thumbing through the summer edition of the Proven Winners catalogue and was intrigued by the delicate gold foliage. When I saw it at Oriental Garden Supply in Pittsford, NY, I scooped it up. In addition to planting it in my own garden, I’ve used it in several others - all with good results. Its finely textured gold leaves aren’t the only attributes. It’s tough - hardy in zones 3-7, compact (2-4’) and has a graceful fountain-like appearance. If you’re addicted to gold plants and you want something a little different, give it a try.

Here it is in all it’s goldness - Betula x plettkei ‘Cesky Gold(upper right)

I have grown other Ninebarks, but as far as I’m concerned, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’ (dwarf Ninebark’) is one of the best. In fact, I prefer all of the dwarf Ninebarks over the larger varieties which get too tall, leggy, and are susceptible to fungus. ‘Tiny Wine’ is smaller (3-4’), has a neater habit and isn’t bothered by fungal problems. The burgundy foliage doesn’t fade out and it flowers prolifically in late June. Definitely a plant that can liven up a shrub border.

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’ (Dwarf Ninebark’)

Last but not least - here’s a viticella Clematis I ordered last year from Brushwood Nursery. My heart melted when this dear little thing, aptly named ‘Minuet’ began to flower. It’s a moderate climber, 8-12 ft tall - perfect for any spot you’d want a climber that doesn’t get too rambunctuous. The memory of it just might get me through the winter. What plants brought you delight this summer? Please share!


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