Super Plants for Kentucky Landscapes

Beautiful landscapes start with outstanding plants. These award-winners are perfectly suited to show off their charms in Kentucky gardens.

Superior woody and herbaceous plants for Kentucky landscapes are the focus of the Theodore Klein Plant Awards. Started in 1995, the program is named for superb plantsman Theodore Klein. He and his wife spent more than 60 years developing an exquisite private estate in Crestwood, Kentucky, with an extensive collection of rare plants. It later became Yew Dell Botanical Gardens. Each year, award-winners are selected by a panel of plant professionals representing Yew Dell, the Kentucky Nursery & Landscape Association, the University of Kentucky Landscape and Nursery Program, and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. The purpose is to promote enthusiasm and interest among Kentucky gardeners.

'Hummingbird' summersweet (Clethra alnifolia 'Hummingbird')

'Hummingbird' summersweet (Clethra alnifolia 'Hummingbird') Sweet is right—in late summer, this shrub will be covered in sweetly fragrant white flowers that attract butterflies. The blossoms look all the more beautiful thanks to a backdrop of glossy, deep green foliage. 'Hummingbird' was selected as an award winner because of its compact habit, growing just 2-4 feet tall and a little wider. It is small enough for foundation plantings and looks terrific in groups. It's unique in that it will still bloom in fairly deep shade. 'Hummingbird' summersweet has good yellow fall color and a tidy appearance all year long. The plant prefers part shade and consistently moist to wet acidic soils. Zones 4-9

Large Fothergilla major

Fothergilla major 'Mount Airy' This plant is prized not only for its honey-scented blooms, but for its incredible, long-lasting fall color. Each spring, just after the leaves unfurl, lovely bottlebrush-like flowers bloom in white and yellow, enveloping the entire shrub. The dark green foliage is bluish gray and looks neat all summer, then turns shades of yellow, orange, and red-purple in fall. A versatile plant reaching 3-5 feet tall and wide, this fothergilla is great for use in borders, foundation plantings, hedges, and native plantings. It prefers full sun to part shade in moist, acidic soils with good drainage. Zones (4) 5-8


'Henry's Garnet' Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet') This is a fine example of a shrub with three-season beauty. In spring, the dark green leaves appear on this compact shrub that grows 3-4 feet tall. In early summer, the fragrant, creamy white flowers bloom on 3- to 6-inch spires. As fall draws near, the leaves turn garnet red and persist well after the first frost. Sweetspire is also valued for its flexibility—it will grow in sun or shade and in moist to average soil. The flowers and fall color are extremely effective planted in groups or as a hedge. It will also naturalize and spread in a woodland garden. Zones 5-9 See more about Virginia sweetspire.

'Ivory Silk' Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata 'Ivory Silk')

'Ivory Silk' Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata 'Ivory Silk') Imagine a lilac with 12-inch-long flowers. The 'Ivory Silk' tree lilac grows 20-25 feet tall. It flowers in May or June, a little later than other lilacs. The flowers are creamy white, fragrant, and really can grow up to a foot long. The luscious blooms will attract hummingbirds and butterflies. This small, easy-to-grow tree is resistant to powdery mildew and other common lilac diseases. It's best grown in average, well-drained soil in full sun. Zones 3-7 See more about 'Ivory Silk' Japanese tree lilac.

Variegated fragrant Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum')

Variegated fragrant Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum') This shade-loving perennial is a must-have plant for any shade garden. Solomon's seal has lovely arching branches with creamy white and green variegated foliage. In spring, the fragrant, little bell-shape flowers hang down in perfect pairs. The blossoms are followed by blue-black fruit in autumn, just before the foliage takes on a clear yellow fall color. The stems look wonderful in flower arrangements even when they're not in bloom. The white variegation brings light to shady borders and woodland gardens. Solomon's seal combines beautifully with astilbes and ferns. Zones 3-8 See more about Solomon's seal.

Black gum or tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)

Black gum or tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) In the fall sunlight, this tree's leaves seem to glow in warm shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple. Its beauty will stop you in your tracks. This is a heavy nectar producer, important for the production of tupelo honey. Sour, dark blue fruits ripen in late summer, providing food for a number of bird species. The tree prefers moist, well-drained, acidic soil in full sun. Give it plenty of room to grow, as it will eventually reach 30-50 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide. Try planting it with yellow-twig dogwood, Carolina allspice, or swamp jessamine. Nyssa refers to a mythological water nymph, alluding to the tree's preference for moist sites. Zones (4) 5-9

'Raydon's Favorite' aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius 'Raydon's Favorite') In autumn, when most plants are winding down and everything is looking a little tired, Raydon's Favorite will lighten up the garden with hundreds of lavender-blue flowers. The mounds of gray-green foliage look great all season but really set off the flower color in fall. This showy perennial is low-growing, reaching 2-3 feet tall, and looks particularly pretty combined with ornamental grasses, sedum, catmint, bluebeard, and perennial sunflowers. Like most asters, it makes a wonderful cut flower and attracts butterflies. Maybe best of all, deer don't seem to bother it. Note: This plant is also known as Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'Raydon's Favorite'. Zones 3-8

Dixie wood fern (Dryopteris x australis)

Dixie wood fern (Dryopteris x australis) Dixie wood fern is an impressive natural hybrid. It's deciduous in northern Zones, but will remain evergreen in warmer regions. It grows up to 4 feet tall, so it's best to plant the perennial near the back of the border and give it some room. The plant will attract attention as a vertical accent and it makes a lovely backdrop for other shade-loving perennials. It will tolerate a range of sun and soil types, but will really flourish when planted in partial shade with a moist, acidic soil. Zones 5-9

Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' Even before the tree's foliage is out, large purple buds hold the promise of spring. The buds open to reveal fragrant, star-shaped white blossoms with 12 narrow petals. The contrasting colors of the buds and flowers, present on the tree at the same time, is truly divine. It's best to plant this 15- to 20-foot-tall magnolia in a somewhat sheltered spot so the cold winds of spring won't damage the precious flowers. Magnolias have a shallow root system and will appreciate a layer of mulch to help keep the soil cool and moist. Zones (4) 5-9

'Gibraltar' bush clover (Lespedeza thunbergii 'Gibraltar')

'Gibraltar' bush clover (Lespedeza thunbergii 'Gibraltar') Discovered at the historic Gibraltar Estate in Wilmington, Delaware, this bush clover is all about flower power. Long, arching branches can grow 4-5 feet tall and up to 10 feet wide. The show starts in August or September, when bunches of purplish-pink flowers blossom on 2-foot-long stems. 'Gibraltar' bush clover would be lovely planted in a perennial border where it has room to ramble. It is perhaps even more spectacular when allowed to cascade over a wall or down a hill. Prune the stems back in late winter to encourage new growth and more blossoms. Zones (4) 5-8


Raulston Allspice (x Sinocalycalycanthus raulstonii 'Hartlage Wine') This shrub is a special cross between native Carolina allspice and a very rare Chinese counterpart. All you have to remember is that the flowers are drop-dead gorgeous. It looks like native Carolina allspice on steroids. The spring flowers are a deep burgundy-red, and they have a pleasant fragrance. This is a vigorous grower that will reach 6-9 feet tall with glossy, deep green foliage and a golden-yellow fall color. Partial shade is best. Zones (6) 7-9 Image courtesy of Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs

'Blue Ice' bluestar (Amsonia 'Blue Ice') The color of this perennial's flowers is spectacular -- dark blue with a touch of violet. Flowers sit on the tops of the stems like little stars. Even when the plant isn't in bloom, it has a neat, upright, compact habit. The narrow, willowlike foliage gives this bluestar a terrific texture. It's perfect in borders, rock gardens, and cottage gardens. Growing to just a foot or so, this plant is also perfect for edging. It even has a clear yellow fall color. It's best in sun or light shade. Zones 4-9

Lacebark Pine (Pinus bungeana) The is an ornamental tree that grows 20-30 feet tall in a pyramidal shape. It often has multiple stems, but is easily trained to have a single one. The needles are long, lustrous, and bright green. The bark is highly unusual, especially as the tree matures. It begins exfoliating, showing irregular patterns of tan and cream and is very showy. Lacebark pines are slow-growing, and they prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Zones 5-7

'Cloud Nine' Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum 'Cloud Nine') Ornamental grasses are gaining in popularity, with good reason. 'Cloud Nine' is an especially good-looking switchgrass that grows 6 feet tall. The foliage is metallic blue, topped in summer by tiny golden flowers that seem to float over the tall, straight stems like a cloud. This switchgrass is made of tough stuff. It's heat and drought tolerant, and can withstand frigid temperatures. 'Cloud Nine' tolerates a wide range of soils, including dry ones, but it prefers moist, sandy or clay soils in full sun or light shade. Deer do not seem to favor this tasty dish. Zones 5-9 See more about 'Cloud Nine' switchgrass.

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