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Maples are the premier trees for providing shade and dramatic fall color. And happily, there's a maple for just about every garden -- from the smaller varieties that stay under 20 feet tall to big species that can reach 100 feet or more. And if you think maples are only showy for their leaves, think again. Some types (such as paperbark and coralbark maples) display intriguing branch color and texture. Others have brightly colored flower clusters.
Note: Some species, such as Norway maple, can become invasive pests; check local restrictions before planting.
Like a scrim on a theatre stage, the elegant stems and fuzzy flowers of meadow rues create a delicate screen through which to view the rest of the garden. These often-towering plants are grown for their delicate leaves as well as their flower. They lack petals but have delicate and conspicuous stamens and, sometimes, persistent colored sepals that are attractive. Tall species are excellent in the back of a border or midborder in front of shorter but bolder plants, in wild gardens, or among shrubs. Put small species in rock gardens or troughs. Meadow rues prefer lightly shaded spots where soil is humus-rich.
The perfume of mock orange blossoms is a sweet enough memory to last all year in the garden. Mock orange plants grow lanky and have fairly nondescript foliage except for 'Aurea', the golden mock orange. Newer compact varieties are your best bet for a plant you can tuck away and forget about until it comes into bloom in early summer. The larger varieties make useful screen plants. Pest-free and drought tolerant, mock orange does best in a fertile, well-drained soil.
Deep purple flowers with rich golden centers give Paraguay nightshade a royal appearance. This fast-growing shrub with slender, arching stems is a lovely addition to a mixed border or container garden. It blooms from summer through fall and grows best with weekly watering. Expect it to grow 6-8 feet tall and wide. Restrain its growth with pruning. For a formal appearance, shear it annually after flowering.
Tall, ruffled flower spikes rise dramatically above broad, strappy leaves in this tropical member of the hyacinth family, quenching the thirst for exotic architecture in mixed borders. New varieties of the pineapple lily are hardier and even more colorful, with wine-color stems and foliage contrasting beautifully with the small rose or pale green flowers that open along the bloom spike. Some varieties can even tolerate full sun. In more temperate climates, the foliage will die back to the ground and resprout in late spring. Plant pineapple lily in warm, sunny locations in well-drained soil. Excessive winter moisture will cause the bulbous base to rot. Pineapple lily is also a great accent plant for large containers.
This vigorous foliage plant drapes neatly over container rims, making it ideal for window boxes, hanging baskets, and containers. Plectranthus is available with green-and-white, green-and-gold, and silver foliage; there's something to compliment any container planting. The foliage is extremely fragrant.
Many types of plectranthus are actually perennials in warm-weather areas of Zones 9 and 10. You can also grow many as beautiful houseplants.
With their glorious crepe-paperlike blooms in a wide variety of brilliant hues, annual poppies add a ton of color to the garden. They're easy to grow and often self-seed, allowing them to appear year after year. It's best to grow them from seed directly in the ground as most do not transplant well. They work well in cottage-style landscapes scattered among late spring-blooming perennials.
Crisp, neat foliage and charming flowers that resemble anemones, in a broad color range, ensure that potentilla always has something going in the garden. Flowers bloom over a long period of time from late spring to autumn. When the leaves drop in fall, a reddish peeling bark is revealed. Good drainage is a must, and all potentillas prefer full sun.
Choose this fast-growing, glossy-leaf plant to form a handsome hedge or screen in warmer climates. Its foliage shows a hint of red, and the sweet-scented, spiky flowers are a highlight in summer, followed by black berries in fall. Plant variegated or gold varieties in full sun for the best color show. Privet requires a well-drained soil to prevent root rots. Shear privet hedges twice a season.
Known as a symbol of remembrance and friendship, rosemary fills a garden with aroma, flavor, and activity -- busily pollinating bees love the blooms. This herb comes in various forms, from stiff and upright, ideal for a hedge planting, to mounded and spreading, perfect for scrambling along a slope or wall. The secret to beautiful rosemary is to give plants a hot, dry footing. Grow plants in well-drained soil or a raised bed and surround them gravel mulch for best results. Rosemary thrives in containers, too.
In coldest zones, overwinter rosemary in an unheated room with a fan. Protect overwintering plants from extreme humidity. Too low humidity can cause plants to drop leaves; too high can favor powdery mildew.
This shrubby aromatic herb has been used for medicinal and culinary purposes for centuries. It is rarely used nowadays in American cuisine because the leaves have a bitter flavor. Rue grows best in full sun but tolerates light shade. It must have good drainage to survive, however. Rue has fine-texture blue-green foliage and bears yellow flowers in summer. Rue self-seeds, so remove flower heads before they set seed to avoid more plants. This shrub can be clipped into a neat hedge, making it an ideal herb for knot gardens.
You just can't overdo sage in the garden. This perennial herb earns its keep with fast-growing ways, beautiful blooms, and a flavor deer find distasteful. Once established, plants shrug off drought, although it's wise to keep plants well-hydrated through the hottest parts of summer if you want a steady supply of supple foliage.
Some gardeners pinch out flower buds to keep leaves forming, but the blooms are beautiful. If you choose to let plants flower, when blossoms fade, cut plants back to beneath where flower buds formed. Don't cut back to woody stems that have no leaves; those most likely won't sprout again. Sage plants typically require replacing every 3-4 years, as plants become woody and produce fewer leaves.
The uses of sage are beyond measure. Besides its popular use as a culinary herb, sage is also commonly pressed into service in cosmetics, perfumes, and soaps. Some naturalists rub it on their skin as an insect repellent. Hanging dried leaves among woolen clothing deters moths. Burning sage removes unpleasant odors, such as lingering cigarette smoke or cooked fish smells.
Sedums are nearly the perfect plants. They look good from the moment they emerge from the soil in spring and continue to look fresh and fabulous all growing season long. Many are attractive even in winter when their foliage dies and is left standing. They're also drought-tolerant and need very little if any care. They're favorites of butterflies and useful bees. The tall types are outstanding for cutting and drying. Does it get better than that? Only in the fact that there are many different types of this wonderful plant, from tall types that will top 2 feet to low-growing groundcovers that form mats. All thrive in full sun with good drainage. Ground cover types do a good job of suppressing weeds, but seldom tolerate foot traffic. Some of the smaller ones are best grown in pots or treated as houseplants.
Delicate foliage and cascading branches of white or pink spring flowers are two traits that earn spirea its rightful place in the mixed border. A beautiful flowering companion for spring bulbs, the bridal wreath spirea is a traditional favorite.
Other types have colorful light-green or gold foliage that contrasts with purple-toned perennials and shrubs. Compact spirea varieties form mounding backdrops in small-space gardens.
Spireas thrive in a fertile, moist soil with good drainage.
Holding their dense branches aloft, spruce trees grow into perfectly shaped pyramids that become the grace note of any landscape. Most spruces thrive in cold-winter climates and their thick boughs provide a habitat for winter birds. Many varieties develop colorful reddish or purple cones in spring in contrast with the dark green or blue-green needles. Spruces thrive in cool, moist soil but can also tolerate some drought.
There are hundreds of different spurges -- and most are valued by gardeners because they're drought-resistant and almost always ignored by deer and rabbits. Spurges are surefire picks for adding color to the garden. Many also turn gorgeous colors in the fall, enlivening the fall garden.
Come rain or come shine, this is one gorgeous grass. After a shower, the delicate clouds of switchgrass seed heads are spangled with raindrops that glisten in the sun. In dry weather, these mostly upright grasses are beautiful in slanting sun, which highlights their green, purplish, or bluish leaves.
In late summer, lightly branched panicles of spikelets (flowers) appear above the foliage, presenting an airy picture. In fall, the foliage often takes on dramatic red, yellow, or gold tones, then it turns buff in winter. Some self-seed freely. Provide average, well-drained soil in sun or very light shade for best results.
Elephant's ears are lush, tropical accents that look good in any climate. These elephant's ears are hardier than their close relatives (alocasias) and their leaves are heart-shape and larger. When summer's warm weather arrives, they grow fast, achieving a large spread of at least 5 feet. Colocasias languish in drought but thrive in wet soils.
Temper hot summer days with trailing indigo bush. Its soft green-blue foliage and tiny purple flowers give it a cool appearance in the blazing desert climate it calls home. Trailing indigo bush has a creeping, mounding habit and is also good in container gardens. In time it develops woody growth near the center and looks best when it is allowed to sprawl around nearby plants and under trees. Use it as a groundcover to stabilize a slope, or plant it in a mixed border, where it will act as a living mulch and suppress weeds. It is a tough plant; count on it to stand up to drought and high temperatures. Trailing indigo bush is native to areas of Texas and New Mexico.
Like a plant in a Dr. Seuss book, tree sonchus has a pleasingly odd, wayward appearance. Its finely dissected foliage resembles fern fronds, and its flowers look like sulfur-color dandelions. It blooms for weeks in spring and requires little supplemental watering. Plant tree sonchus in a mixed border or container planting to add intrigue and drama to the scene. Its easy-care nature makes it a valuable member of the semitropical garden.