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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.
The starry white blooms of this European native are commonly called star-of-Bethlehem (shown with Spanish bluebells). Approximately 100 species of ornithogalum exist, many of which go by this common name. Plant height varies by species, and some grow as tall as 3 feet. The flowers, however, are similar, with six delicate petals fanned out to expose six stamens. Star-of-Bethlehem is a good choice for naturalizing because it spreads assertively and holds its lovely blooms for 1-2 weeks.
Plant ornithogalum bulbs in the fall in locations with full sun or part shade, spacing bulbs 2-3 inches apart and planting them 3-4 inches deep. A great choice for woodland gardens, ornithogalum naturalizes easily. In fact, bulbs multiply quickly and the plants self-sow readily, so you may want to limit their territory. Although propagation is unnecessary, you can lift plants following their bloom period and remove the small bulbs growing around the larger one. Replant the small bulbs immediately in another spot.
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.
Double-flowered tulips stand out because their blooms are packed with petals. Some have so many petals that they are referred to as peony-flowered tulips for their resemblance to those flowers. Bloom time depends on type; some bloom in early spring and others bloom late. Regardless of when they show off their flowers, the blossoms last a long time because the flowers have so much substance.
Double tulips' large, heavy blooms can be a drawback: Rains and strong winds easily damage the flowers, so plant them in a protected location. Or grow double tulips in containers that you can easily protect during storms. Staking the 10- to 16-inch-tall stems may also be necessary.
Pictured above: Uncle Tom tulip
Fosteriana tulips bloom early in the spring with large cup-shape flowers. The large bloom size has earned them the alternate name of Emperor tulips. The flowers may be red, orange, yellow, pink, or white, and some varieties are fragrant. Foliage may be glossy green or gray-green. Some are mottled or striped with maroon.
Use Fosteriana tulips in mass plantings, beds and borders, or containers. They naturalize well.
Pictured above: Orange Emporer tulip
Single early tulips are available in nearly every color of the rainbow, including white, red, orange, yellow, and purple. Pastel colors of pink, peach, apricot, and cream are also available. Generally, the flowers are borne on short, strong stems, which means they can tolerate wind and rain better than some types of tulips. Those with the shortest stems may not work well as cut flowers, but those in the taller range make fine bouquets. Some varieties are fragrant, too.
Use single early tulips in flowerbeds, borders, container gardens, rock gardens, or for indoor forcing. Because they bloom early, they generally need less chilling to force them into bloom than later-blooming types.
Shown above: Purple Prince tulip
Single late tulips are also sometimes called May flowering tulips because in most regions they bloom in May after all other types of tulips have finished. These tall tulips grow up to 30 inches tall, making them excellent as cut flowers. They come in a wide range of colors, including red, yellow, orange, pink, purple, black, and white as well as bicolors and blends.
Pictured above: Dreamland tulip
If you want long-lived tulips, pick the species types. These include wild varieties and selections developed from those species. Most are smaller in stature and bloom size than hybrid tulips. Because they are variants of wildflowers, species tulips are usually long-lived, hardy, and withstand stormy spring weather conditions. Many multiply and spread from year to year.
Species tulips are especially suited for growing in rock gardens or tucked into beds and borders. Many open only in sunny conditions, keeping their blooms closed on cloudy days or in the evening.
Pictured above: Batalinii tulip Red Hunter
A result of crossing early and late single tulips, Triumph tulip varieties come in almost every imaginable color and make up the largest grouping of tulip types. As a group, they flower in early midseason and grow between 10-20 inches tall.
Triumph tulips make good cut flowers and work well for forcing into bloom indoors. They retain the classic cuplike shape of their single tulip parents.
Pictured above: Passionale tulip
Little known and underused in spring gardens, leucojum earns its name from the Greek "white violet." Larger, but similar in looks to galanthus, leucojum has nodding, bell-shape blooms borne on stalks that, depending on the variety, are 9-14 inches tall.
The plants hold their bloom for one to two weeks. Leucojum autumnale is a small, fall-blooming cousin.
Plant leucojum in the fall in locations with sandy, well-drained soil that receive full sun or part shade. Plant bulbs 3-4 inches deep and 4 inches apart. Crowded clumps can be dug and divided after the foliage has withered in summer. This bulb naturalizes well and produces lovely, white, bell-shape blooms and attractive foliage that becomes more dense every year.
Dark green color and fine-textured needles make yews a softer, often hardier, replacement for other evergreens in the landscape. The tall, stately English yews are must-haves for garden history buffs in temperate climates. Otherwise, the intermediate hybrids and Japanese yews offer plush texture for hedges, screens, groundcovers, and topiaries. Yews grow in fertile well-drained soil, either alkaline or acidic, from sunny to heavily shaded sites. Yews are tolerant of dry soils and air pollution. The clear red berries appear on female varieties.