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Dianthus: The quintessential cottage flower. Pinks are treasured for their grasslike blue-green foliage and abundant starry flowers, which are often spicily fragrant. Depending on the type of pink, dianthus flowers appear in spring or summer and tend to be pink, red, white, rose, or lavender, but come in nearly all shades except true blue. Dianthus plants range from tiny creeping groundcovers to 30-inch-tall cut flowers, which are a favorite with florists. Foliage is blue-green.
Shown above: 'Firewitch' dianthus
While most gardeners are more familiar with the tree-type dogwoods and their lovely big flowers, the shrubby forms are also garden champions that offer season-long beauty. Most shrubby dogwoods offer the cheery spectacle of red or purple fruits clinging to bare branches that attract birds. Others bear brightly colored stems that shine against snowy-white or winter-gray backgrounds.
The lovely, butterflylike blooms of dogwoods herald the beginning of spring, and the show continues into winter with the cheery spectacle of red fruits clinging to bare branches. Dogwoods are versatile trees that do well in full sun and moist soil or shady spots. Most feature fantastic fall color in addition to the attractive blooms.
Elephant's ears are big, dramatic, tropical-looking plants grown for their bold foliage. Aptly named, many bear triangular leaves that are leathery and uniquely textured. These tropical plants enjoy the boggy soils around water gardens and can also be grown indoors as houseplants. The clumping foliage adds lush effects in the landscape and is especially effective in large containers. The plants sprout from large bulbous roots and achieve maximum growth in warm, humid summer temperatures.
Silvery eucalyptus leaves dance in the breeze, and the aromatic leaves and bark smell like a blend of menthol and sage. The tan to orange bark peels, exposing smooth, silky wood underneath. Despite its arid "down under" origins (eucalyptus hails from Australia), the tree thrives in consistently moist, well-drained soil. In colder climates, grow eucalyptus in patio containers, then move indoors for the winter.
A delicate appearance -- thanks to feathery cassia's needlelike foliage and branching structure -- might make you think this desert plant requires special care, but that's hardly the case. It survives on just two deep irrigations or rains a year and thrives when watered about every other month. In fact, too much water is detrimental, changing the plant's rounded, upright form to floppy and lackluster.
Feathery cassia is covered with blooms from winter through spring. The pealike yellow flowers are followed by papery seedpods. Plant feathery cassia in mixed borders, foundation plantings, and curbside areas where the soil is dry and the plant receives full sun.
Bejeweled with orange red berries set against a background of small, glossy leaves, firethorn is a winter spectacle. Wonderful espaliered against a wall, around a door, or grown as an upright shrub in a border. Thrives in a fertile, well-drained soil.
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.
Capable of blooming anytime during the year, regal gloxinias produce rich, colored flowers. Exclusively cultivated for indoor gardening, gloxinia will not successfully transplant outdoors. But that's just as well, because you'll enjoy its tropical blooms better inside. Growing 8-12 inches tall, the soft, fragile-looking gloxinia blooms are surrounded by large, dramatic-looking leaves. Gloxinia does best in bright, but indirect, light and enjoys temperatures of 60-75 degrees F.
Gloxinia blooms 4-10 weeks after planting. If you are potting up a gloxinia for the first time, use a 6-inch pot with adequate drainage and place one tuber per container. The soil mixture should allow maximum drainage; a commercial African violet mixture is good. When potting, set the tuber in the soil with the round side down, and leave its tip barely above the soil. Water generously. When the first buds appear, feed with a dilute solution of liquid houseplant food.
Grape holly is a flashy star for the shade, with its red new foliage and wands of sweetly scented yellow flowers in spring. Blue-black berries follow. The spiny leaves resemble holly foliage, but the color is a duller green that deepens to dusky tones in winter. Shield grape holly from wind and sunburn in winter, and mulch it to protect roots in winter. Grape holly thrives in moist, acidic soil.
A diverse group of plants -- ranging from ground-hugging evergreen shrubs to stately trees -- grevilleas are beloved for their spidery blooms that have a pleasing, sweet fragrance. These subtropical and tropical shrubs and trees sport a variety of foliage forms. Species with needlelike foliage are especially useful for adding interest to a planting of palms or other tropical plants with big leaves. Broad-leaf grevilleas are a welcome addition to any planting area. Grevillea foliage color ranges from yellow-green to medium and dark green. Bloom colors include white, pink, yellow, and orange.
Grevillea grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. Most varieties succumb to frost. If frost is a threat, plant grevillea near a building for protection. Be careful not to overwater. Watering in summer is especially detrimental. Water sparingly in fall, winter, and spring. Nature will provide most of the water grevillea needs.
A showy, small tree, the hawthorn breaks into clouds of white flowers in spring, followed by vivid fall color, and long-lasting red winter fruits. The fruits, which resemble rosehips, stand out in a snowbound landscape. Robins sometimes line the branches in mid- to late-winter, harvesting the fruits.
Hawthorns prefer a well-drained, slightly acidic soil but are unflappable in heat and humidity.
Blooming in winter and early spring when many other plants are taking a much-deserved break from the bloom scene, heathers are a welcome addition to beds and borders. Many varieties bloom in summer and autumn. Also commonly called heath, hundreds of different varieties of this evergreen shrub exist. Some sport dark green needlelike leaves, while others are cloaked with tiny silver, chartreuse, or blue-green leaves. Many popular cultivars are low-growing, standing 8-12 inches tall. They form a matlike carpet of fine-needle foliage that is decorated with white or pink bell-shape flowers for months at a time. Plant heather among medium to large shrubs, and it will serve as a pretty and effective groundcover by suppressing weeds. It also thrives in rock gardens.
Heather grows best in full sun or part shade and quick-draining soil. It will not tolerate clay or slow-draining soil.
The fine-texture foliage of heavenly bamboo is a more delicate stand-in for bamboo, with the bonus of red winter berries. Reddish new leaves mature to blue-gray as the showy flower spikes form and begin to bloom. In colder climates, the plants may drop their leaves; in warmer areas, the foliage reddens in winter. Heavenly bamboo forms an airy layer under trees in dry shade, but it performs best in moist, fertile, well-drained soil.
A favorite of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, hens-and-chicks are popular once again with gardeners looking for drought-tolerant, easy care plants. Darlings of today's xeriscape gardens, trough gardens, and rooftop gardens, these plants are appreciated for their easy care and tolerance for extremely dry conditions. The neat rosettes multiply freely by runners that form dense colonies. Flowering rosettes die after bloom time, but are quickly replaced. They are excellent between pavers on patios and walkways.
Any day is festive in the landscape when holly is present to cheer with its shiny dark green or green-and-yellow-patterned leaves and red berries. It always looks fresh, and some species such as yaupon can handle difficult soils where drainage is a problem. Tall American and yaupon hollies form the ideal deer-resistant hedge. Hollies typically are either male or female, so plant a partner nearby to ensure a good crop of berries. Holly prefers well-drained, moist, and fertile soil. Summer is the right time to prune a holly hedge.
This plant hardly grown 40 years ago is now one of the most commonly grown garden plants. But hosta has earned its spot in the hearts of gardeners -- it's among the easiest plants to grow, as long as you have some shade and ample rainfall.
Hostas vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that can be puckered, wavy-edged, white or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged -- the variations are virtually endless. Hostas in new sizes and touting new foliage features seem to appear each year. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer. Some are intensely fragrant. Hostas are a favorite of slug and deer.
Hydrangeas, which come in types that can flourish in sun or shade, offer huge bouquets of clustered flowers, in various arrangements from mophead to lacecap from summer through fall. Varieties of hydrangea differ in size of plant and flower shape, flower color, and blooming time.
PeeGee hydrangeas grow into small trees; the flowers turn russet and cling into winter. Oakleaf hydrangeas have the most handsome foliage, which reddens dramatically in fall. Some of the newer hydrangeas feature huge flowers on compact plants, ideal for containers and small gardens.
Hydrangeas thrive in a moist, fertile, well-drained soil in partial to full shade. If you're seeking blue hydrangea flowers, check your soil's pH level and apply aluminum sulfate in spring to lower pH to the 5.2-5.5 range. The change in hydrangea flower color results from lower pH and higher aluminum content in the soil.
Juniper is a great plant for filling in space fast, whether as a groundcover, a screen, or vertical punctuation in a border. Its scaly foliage is feathery and graceful, a good contrast to large-leaf plants. For low-water or rock gardens, the low-growing juniper forms a naturalistic mat that often acquires richer color in the winter. Juniper thrives in a full-sun site in well-drained soil. Most varieties are drought-tolerant once established.
Evocative of childhood memories, lilac fragrance need not mean making room for a large, leggy plant in your landscape. These days, there are some new dwarf lilacs to choose from. If you have the space, the old-fashioned common lilac can provide a lush, green screen when out of bloom or can be pruned and trained into a charming small tree.
But for flower borders and containers, the dwarf Korean lilac and other newer hybrids bring lilac perfume up close. All lilacs prefer a sunny site with well-drained soil that's neutral to alkaline pH.