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Among the most architectural plants, agaves feature bold succulent leaves that set the tone for wherever they're planted. They're incredibly heat- and drought-tolerant and most are long-lived. Many varieties bear sharp spines along leave margins and at the leaf tip, which adds to their dramatic presentation. The bluish-green rosettes naturally spread by producing offsets at the base of the plant. It is an excellent choice for sunny, hot, dry areas, especially desert regions, with good drainage.
Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) is probably the best-known amaranth and for good reason -- it's a showstopper. The plant can hit up to 5 feet, but what's amazing is its dripping, tassellike red flowers, which look like no other.
Another type of amaranth, Joseph's coat, has showy, almost gaudily marked leaves in greens, golds, purples, and pinks.
It can be difficult to find love-lies-bleeding in garden centers as established seedlings, so start them from seed directly in the soil. Joseph's coat is usually easier to find as an established plant.
Angelica is a tall, hardy biennial herb with dramatic stalks that can be candied and used on cakes or cookies. The first year, the plant produces beautiful frilly green foliage. The second year, angelica sends up flower stalks and then produces seeds. The flowers and foliage make a dramatic back-of-the-border accent in perennial beds. The celery-flavor stems may be eaten raw or candied for use in baking. Use the dried root in tea. Plants might self-sow, but plant new angelica each year to ensure a constant supply. Grow it in full sun or dappled shade in rich, organic soil.
Angelonia is also called summer snapdragon, and once you get a good look at it, you'll know why. It has salvia-like flower spires that reach a foot or 2 high, but they're studded with fascinating snapdragon-like flowers with beautiful colorations in purple, white, or pink. It's the perfect plant for adding bright color to hot, sunny spaces. This tough plant blooms all summer long with spirelike spikes of blooms. While all varieties are beautiful, keep an eye out for the sweetly scented selections.
While most gardeners treat angelonia as an annual, it is a tough perennial in Zones 9-10. Or, if you have a bright, sunny spot indoors, you can even keep it flowering all winter.
A culinary classic, bay's glossy green foliage is a flavor favorite in soups, stews, and meat dishes. Bay only survives to 25 degrees, so it's commonly grown in containers, sounding a steady evergreen note on patios during the growing season and gracing sunny interior windows after frost. In the landscape, established trees are fuss-free and drought tolerant. Potted bay is susceptible to scale insects; hand-pick any offenders. Protect potted bay from intense sunlight in hottest zones. If you love to cook, keep dried leaves on hand; they're an essential herb for bouquet garni.
One of the most distinctive flowers in the garden, bells of Ireland has gorgeous, slightly fragrant blooms that are a striking yellow-green. You can use it almost like a foliage plant to set off more standard greens as well as yellow or white flowers.
Bells of Ireland is highly prized for bouquets, so consider it in a cutting garden. It also dries well. Plant it outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.
Most buckthorn varieties are easy-to-grow shrubs that make great privacy or backdrop plantings thanks to their dense habit and lustrous, dark green foliage. Many produce fruits that are poisonous to humans and animals, but attract birds.
Note: Unfortunately, many buckthorn varieties are invasive pests. In fact, common buckthorn is a noxious weed in many areas. Check local restrictions before planting them.
California poppy, a native wildflower, adds an easygoing dose of color hot, dry sites. Beautiful, satiny flowers in sunset colors wave above ferny, blue-green foliage. They like poor soils, especially sandy soils. If soil is too rich and moist, they won't bloom well. California poppies are a cool-season annual, which means they offer great color early in the growing season but fade once the heat of summer hits.
Plant them from seed in the fall or very early spring. They like moist conditions at first, but they are drought-tolerant once established. They dislike transplanting. When the plants start to brown and fade, pull them up. However, California poppies will reseed easily; for more plants next year, allow some flowers to ripen to seed on the plant and scatter when you tear up those plants. Replant in fall if you like, especially in warmer-climate areas.
Funnel-shaped white callas represent a simple cool elegance in the garden, but the colored callas add a new dimension to the plant. Now available in a rainbow of hues including lavender, purple, orange, yellow, and peach, these South African natives perk up container gardens and borders. The plants go dormant in colder winter areas of their hardiness range and do not emerge until temperatures warm up in late spring. Outside of their hardiness range, store the rhizomes in a frost-free place for winter.
Chrysanthemums are a must-have for the fall garden. No other late-season flower delivers as much color, for as long and as reliably as good ol' mums.
Beautiful chrysanthemum flowers, available in several colors, bring new life to a garden in the fall. Some varieties have daisy blooms; others may be rounded globes, flat, fringed, quill shape, or spoon shape. They work exceptionally well in container plantings and pots.
Exciting new selections with incredible foliage patterns have put coralbells on the map. Previously enjoyed mainly for their spires of dainty reddish flowers, coralbells are now grown as much for the unusual mottling and veining of different-color leaves. The low clumps of long-stemmed evergreen or semi-evergreen lobed foliage make coralbells fine groundcover plants. They enjoy humus-rich, moisture-retaining soil. Beware of heaving in areas with very cold winters.
No late summer flower garden is complete without crocosmia's vibrant wands of scarlet, red, orange, and yellow. They offer a late pop of color when many gardens are languishing in the dog days. Their narrow, bladed foliage provides vertical accents much like gladiola leaves. The tubular blossoms beckon hummingbirds, and the seedpods that persist into fall also attract feathered visitors. Plant crocosmia bulbs in well-drained soil in fall or spring.
An adaptable vine, Dutchman's pipe seems to thrive just about everywhere -- from sun to shade. It creates a rich curtain of big (to 10 inches wide), heart-shape leaves that usually hide the fragrant summertime flowers. The vine is native to areas of North America and it is a host plant for the pipevine swallowtail butterfly. It's rarely bothered by pests, making it an ideal choice for creating privacy.
One of the biggest challenges for late 20th-century rose breeders was restoring fragrance while improving vigor of new rose introductions. English-style roses provide a lush, romantic solution. The flowers are densely filled with petals, much like antique roses, and most possess a strong fragrance that harkens back to old-fashioned tea roses. Yet their growth habits, health, and, most of all, their tendency to repeat bloom, are an improvement on their ancestors.
English roses are a good choice for cutting gardens. Their full, intensely perfumed flowers make sumptuous bouquets. Some varieties climb if left unpruned and can be trained along a fence or arbor
Shown here: Heritage English rose
Spangled with dew in the morning or after a light shower, the silvery flower panicles of feathergrasses light up a garden. Fine-textured Mexican feathergrass dances at the slightest puff of wind, providing movement like a billowing wave. The tall panicles of giant feathergrass also catch the breeze and are so airy that they can be positioned in front of more substantial plants as a "see-through" companion. It may self-seed to the point of becoming a nuisance.
It's not hard to figure out where fleece flower got its name. In summer, it produces large spikes of beautiful, fluffy flowers in pink, red, or white. The foliage is also attractive, with lance-shaped leaves that are often attractively variegated. Succulent stems with conspicuous knots at the node give this plant its other common name, knotweed.
And a weed it can sometimes be. Some types are invasive; seek out those that don't spread so rapidly. The plant does best in soil that does not dry out in sun or part shade, but keep an eye on them to curb any invasive tendencies.
Many types of nicotiana are terrifically fragrant (especially at night) and are wonderful in attracting hummingbirds as well as fascinating hummingbird moths.
There are several types of nicotiana, also called flowering tobacco because it's a cousin of the regular tobacco plant. Try the shorter, more colorful types in containers or the front of beds or borders. The taller, white-only types, which can reach 5 feet, are dramatic in the back of borders. And they're ideal for night gardens; they're usually most fragrant at dusk. These plants do best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil, and they may reseed.
The most dramatic of spring-flowering bulbs, crown imperial is as easy to grow as any of its Fritillaria cousins. It's easy to care for, as the bulbs and flowers possess a scent that deters even the hungriest critters.
Especially well-suited to woodland plantings and open rock gardens, fritillaries deserve to be better known among bulb gardeners. Their bell-shape blooms are highly unusual and showy in form and color.
Gerbera daisies are so perfect they hardly look real. They bloom in nearly every color (except true blues and purples) and produce fantastically large flowers on long, thick, sturdy stems. They last for a week or more in the vase, making them a favorite of flower arrangers.
This tender perennial will last the winter in only the warmest parts of the country, Zones 9-11. In the rest of the country, it is grown as an annual. It does well in average soil; it likes soil kept evenly moist but not overly wet. Fertilize lightly.
The retro look of gladiolus flowers is popular once again. These easy-to-grow bulbs bring a lot to the garden party, including a huge color palette, vertical interest, and bloom times that harmonize well with summer's most colorful perennials. Plus, they're a versatile cut flower, and the ruffled single florets can even be plucked off the stem and arranged in vases and bowls. Plant gladiolus bulbs in well-drained soil either at the back of the flower border or thickly enough so they'll self support as the foliage grows. The perfumed Abyssinian gladiola is a rare plant that deserves a place by the back door or front porch.
In colder climates, gardeners can store the corms in a frost-free place for winter and replant them again in spring.