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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.
Ajuga is one of the most indispensable groundcovers around. It has many uses and looks great much of the year.
Also known as carpetweed or bugleweed, ajuga forms a 6-inch-tall mat of glossy leaves that always seem to look neat and fresh. In many cases, the leaves are colored with shades of purple, white, silver, cream, or pink. Individual plants grow as a rosette, but they intertwine to form a solid carpet that withstands some foot traffic. Blue, lavender, pink, or white flower spikes adorn plants spring to early summer.
Ajuga is great in rock gardens, in the front of beds and borders, under leggy shrubs or small trees, along paths, and just about any other place in the landscape you want to cover the ground with attractive foliage and little flowers.
Alliums may be in the onion family, but these top-notch garden plants are anything but utilitarian vegetable-garden residents. Among the most carefree bulbs you can grow, alliums bloom in a wide range of colors (including shades of yellow, white, pink, and purple), seasons, and sizes (from inch-wide heads to volleyball-sized bloom clusters).
Alliums offer whimsical structures and great textural contrasts unique to the late-spring bulb garden. Clustered florets in a globe-shape flower head are held aloft on a thick stem. In the species, loose bouquets of flowers sprout from clustered, hollow stems. The larger allium flower heads are fun focal points for dried arrangements. Plant alliums in any well-drained garden soil in full sun. The smaller types are especially well suited for growing in rock gardens. Plant a few larger hybrids in a pot for a flowering surprise in early summer.
Anemones are lovely, delicate flowers that dance atop slender stems, giving them their poetic common name -- windflower. Depending on the type, anemones bloom in spring, summer, or through fall with pretty, slightly cupped flowers in rose, pink, or white rising over distinctive, deeply lobed foliage.
Plants grow best in partial shade but tolerate full sun in Northern regions. If you're lucky, they'll be happy where they're planted. In some cases, you may even need to divide plants frequently to prevent them from overtaking neighboring perennials.
Anemones naturalize easily in good garden soil, spreading their early-spring cheer in the ephemeral garden under bare trees and shrubs that later leaf out. These daisylike blooms feature thin, silky petals that quickly disperse in the breeze after flowering. A color range of white, sky blue, pink to the velvety reds and purples of poppy anemones provide jewellike tones for early in the season before the tulips open.
Soak anemone corms in warm water overnight before planting to speed sprouting. These hardy Mediterranean natives flourish in a well-drained, lighter soil in full sun to partial shade.
Old-fashioned annual statice is found more often dried in crafts stores than growing in gardens. But this easy-to-grow plant is a great pick for containers or the middle of a border, especially if you want to harvest it for everlasting bouquets indoors.
Statice bears papery flowers in a wide variety of colors. The flowers dry well -- so much so they practically dry on the plant. The plant is also very drought-tolerant, so you can enjoy its blooms even if you forget to water it from time to time. In fact, statice thrives in hot, sunny spots with well-drained soil. Plant them outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.
Arborvitae will flourish where no other evergreen does, spreading a lush screen of fan-like foliage that provides privacy and gives winter shelter to the birds. For garden sculptors, arborvitae offers just the right texture and growth habit for topiaries. Many dwarf varieties are available as fillers and vertical accents for smaller gardens. Arborvitae prospers in deeply cultivated, moist and fertile soil in full sun.
Grow artemisias for the magnificent silver foliage that complements nearly all other perennials and ties together diverse colors within the garden. They're nothing short of stunning next to white or blue flowers.
They thrive in hot, dry, sunny conditions such as a south-facing slope. A number spread rapidly to the point of being aggressive, so consider limiting yourself to varieties listed below that are well-behaved.
Astilbe brings a graceful, feathering note to moist, shady landscapes. In cooler climates in the northern third or so of the country, it can tolerate full sun provided it has a constant supply of moisture. In drier sites, however, the leaves will scorch in full sun.
Feathery plumes of white, pink, lavender, or red flowers rise above the finely divided foliage from early to late summer depending on the variety. It will spread slowly over time where well-situated. Most commercially available types are complex hybrids.
With its loose, billowy panicles of tiny single or double pink or white flowers, baby's breath provides a lightness and airiness to flower gardens. The creeping forms drape beautifully over rock walls. After bloom time, shear the plants to deadhead and for neatness. Plants prefer sweet (alkaline) soils with full sun and excellent drainage.
Bacopa was once an unusual flower, but in recent years it's become very popular in garden centers. And why not? It's adorable! This plant has long, cascading stems that smother themselves in tiny, perfect, five-petal flowers. It's become a favorite for selling in hanging baskets where its pretty trailing habit can be shown off. Also try in pots, planters, and window boxes.
Unlike many plants, bacopa doesn't tend to wilt when it gets dried out. Instead, it loses its flowers and may take two or three weeks to begin blooming again. Keep it evenly watered for continuous bloom.
Barberry paints the landscape with arching, fine-textured branches of purple-red or chartreuse foliage. In fall, leaves brighten to reddish orange and spikes of red berries appear like sparklers as the foliage drops. The mounding habit of barberries makes for graceful hedging and barriers, and the thorns protect privacy.
Japanese barberry is considered an invasive plant in the Eastern U.S. and the species is banned from cultivation in some places, so check local restrictions before planting.
With strawberry-like leaves and bright yellow spring flowers, barren strawberries are an alternative evergreen groundcover or edging plant. They tolerate dry soil well and colonize banks and along woodland paths and between stepping stones in light shade or sun. They spread by runners and can cover a space relatively quickly.
Barrenwort is a rare plant -- one that thrives in the dry shade beneath shallow-rooted trees! It spreads at a moderate rate, forming a graceful, dense groundcover. Almost as a bonus, it also produces dainty flowers shaped like a bishop's miter -- prompting another common name, bishop's cap. Its colorful foliage dangles on slender stalks, providing yet another moniker: fairy wings.
Basket-of-gold is one of those plants that loves to grow in the least likely of place -- cracks between paving stones, the edge of gravel paths and patios, rocky outcroppings, between the stacked stones of a retaining wall, and more. It loves a baked spot with excellent drainage but will struggle in hot, humid areas and tends not to do well in the South.
But where it does well, it's a showstopper. It will reseed prolifically in little cracks, filling an area each spring with dazzling neon yellows. After it finishes blooming, the grayish-green foliage makes an attractive mat in the perennial garden.
The glossy green leaves of bergenia look outstanding all year long. In fall they take on a magnificent reddish-bronze hue. The thick, leathery foliage squeaks when rubbed between your fingers, giving this plant the other common name of pigsqueak.
The pink, rose, or white blooms that appear on sturdy stalks in spring are just a bonus compared to the usefulness of the foliage. Not surprisingly, this is often used as groundcover. In cold regions, the semievergreen leaves are often damaged by spring frosts and can take much of the spring to recover.
Bidens is a perfect container plant. It spills down the edges of windowboxes, large pots, and planters with starry, yellow flowers and ferny, green foliage. Some varieties are fragrant so plant them where you can enjoy their sweet scent. Bidens likes rich, well-drained but moist soil. While it's a perennial in Zones 8-10, it's usually grown as an annual.
A key plant in American prairies, big bluestem is so named because it has attractive blue-green foliage through the growing season. As summer fades to fall, it takes on golden, red, and purplish hues, complementing the rosy forked seed heads. As you would expect from a native prairie grass, it thrives in poor, dry soils and in full sun.
Need a little plant to cover a big area? Rely on bishops's weed! This vigorous groundcover is great for filling shady spots with its elegantly variegated green-and-white leaves. It bears clusters of white flowers in summer that appear almost to float over the foliage.
Bishop's weed is also known as goutweed and snow-on-the-mountain. A fast-growing plant, it's also easy to care for and tolerates poor soil and shady conditions where little else will grow. Use it with caution in beds and borders, though because it can become invasive and even invade lawns.
Blanket flowers are wonderfully cheerful, long-blooming plants for hot, sunny gardens. They produce single or double daisy flowers through most of the summer and well into fall. The light brick red ray flowers are tipped with yellow -- the colors of Mexican blankets.
Blanket flowers tolerate light frost and are seldom eaten by deer. Deadhead the flowers to keep them blooming consistently through the summer and into fall. Some species tend to be short-lived, especially if the soil is not well drained.