The ideal shrub for lending a tropical feel to your yard, Azzurri Satin rose of Sharon offers awesome hibiscus-shape flowers in a stunning shade of lilac blue. It blooms all summer long. A seedless variety, it puts more energy into blooms -- and won't drop a mess of seedlings in your yard the next year like older rose of Sharon varieties. Growing 10 feet tall and 5 feet wide, it makes a perfect tall flowering hedge. Or plant it with a Little Lime hydrangea for an unforgettable, practically carefree summer display. Zones 5-9
'Annabelle'-type hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) are fantastic North American native plants that offer lots of great garden benefits, including the fact that they bloom on and off all summer long, and you can cut them back in spring and not affect their blooms. Endless Summer Bella Anna is an especially exciting new variety that shows off clear pink flowers. They're great for cutting and a natural to pair with purple-leaf shrubs such as Little Devil ninebark. Zones 3-9
I adore ninebark (Physocarpus) because it's one of those no-brainer plants: It resists heat and drought, most varieties have fantastic foliage, and it's a North American native. Older varieties such as Diabolo get a little big in the garden (to 12 feet tall and wide), but Little Devil is a cool improvement because it's more compact, growing only 4 feet tall and wide. It bears rich purple foliage from spring to fall and thrives in full sun. Zones 3-7
Like a mad scientist at work, the Supercal series combines the best of petunias and calibrachoas. Offering a ton of flower power, these hybrids have medium-size flowers in jewel tones of pinks and purples. These annuals are fantastic in hanging baskets, don't have sticky foliage like petunias, and hold up to cool temperatures later in the fall. Try them with Profusion zinnia or 'All Around Purple' globe amaranth for a no-fail summer combination.
One of the most stunning tree varieties I've seen in a while, The Rising Sun redbud starts off the season with the typical pink flowers. It really shines after the flowers fade and the tree leafs out. The new foliage comes out tangerine-orange and fades to chartreuse before maturing green. The leafy show continues until autumn. Plus, it's a compact variety, staying around 12 feet tall. I underplanted it with a groundcover of 'Aztec Gold' veronica for a cool gold-on-gold foliage combo. Zones 5-8
It's a bit ironic that Flutterby Petite Blue Heaven butterfly bush has such a long name; it's one of the smallest varieties on the market. Growing 2 feet tall and wide, this stunner has fragrant, violet-blue flowers all summer and fall; it was still in bloom on November 5 in my Iowa garden! The reason: It can't produce seed, so that energy goes into producing more blooms (and it won't be an invasive pest). I've also found it holds up exceedingly well to drought. Pair it with Sombrero Sandy Yellow coneflower and 'Mesa Yellow' blanketflower for a combo butterflies won't be able to resist. Zones 5-9
There's angelonia in my garden every summer because the plant is so tough. It holds up to heat like a champ, doesn't mind drought, and even looked good during week after week of heavy rain. The Archangel series is brand new and noteworthy for its extra-large flowers and sturdy stems. It's awesome with airy plants such as Breathless euphorbia or Lucky Yellow Glow lantana.
'Gryphon' begonia is a seemingly perfect plant for the shade garden. It offers big, bold, hand-shape foliage liberally marked in silver. The texture and color alone make it a standout. I paired this annual with Japanese painted fern, and the two created a delightful combo of silver and green. Even better? It's a fantastic houseplant, so you can dig it up at the end of the season and bring it indoors.
Traditionally, I'm not a fan of osteospermums. I love their daisy-shape flowers in spring, but they always disappoint when they stop flowering once summer heat kicks in. 3D Purple, while not fully heat-tolerant, did continue to throw off a bloom or two throughout the summer and has a fun anemone form. The tuft of petals in the center keeps the flowers from closing at night, so you get more enjoyment time from the blooms. I loved it over a carpet of Shock Wave Denim petunias.
I wasn't sure what to expect from a plant named 'Evil Ways', but I was pleasantly surprised by its showstopping golden-yellow leaf color. While I think the foliage is the highlight of this variety, it's hard not to love the fragrant deep violet flowers that attract butterflies. It's not a sterile variety, so gardeners in some areas won't be able to grow it because of its invasive potential, but it's a stunner where you can grow it. Zones 5-9
I never really understood the appeal of brown plants until I started growing 'Sweet Tea' foamy bells. This delightful little woodland perennial looks good with just about everything, thanks to the copper-color leaves that have cinnamon-color veins. Pair it with Black Scallop ajuga or 'Solar Eclipse' foamy bells for one of the shade garden's most interesting combos. Zones 4-9
Superbells Cherry Star calibrachoa caught my eye at a trade show last year; the hot pink blooms are marked with a warm-yellow star pattern. They're striking -- and, it turned out, very easy to grow in containers. The plant spilled over a planter box on my front porch, greeting guests all summer long. I paired it with Colorblaze Velvet Mocha coleus, which features finely cut burgundy-purple foliage that thrives in full sun and grows about 30 inches tall.
Featuring bold yellow color and no-fuss garden performance, Profusion Yellow zinnia is a perfect choice for beginning or busy gardeners who want a practically plant-and-forget-it annual. Growing about 15 inches tall and wide, it blooms profusely every day from spring all the way to hard freeze. It's a natural partner for purple -- I thought it combined beautifully with Superbells Grape Punch calibrachoa, a brand-new variety that stopped me in my tracks with its violet-purple flowers that blend to deep purple at the center. It's an awesome trailing plant, perfect for hiding the sides of a container.
I adore lobelia's true-blue color, so I welcome most lobelias in my garden. Superstar, living up to its name, set a new standard. This profusely flowering variety offers cobalt blue flowers brilliantly marked with a white star in the center. It's a top-notch container plant that looks stunning when paired with practically any blue, pink, white, purple, or yellow flower.
A fantastic pick for hot, dry spots, 'Phloxy Lady Pink' annual phlox earned its spot in my garden because of its low-care nature. It has a compact habit that, when massed, gives a groundcover effect carpeting the landscape in pink. It grows 1 foot tall and wide, and it's as fantastic in containers as it is in the ground. Try it with blue angelonia or pink lantana for a truly showstopping garden display.
Any plant that has variegated foliage catches my attention, so when I first saw pepper 'Purple Flash', I stopped in my tracks. There's a lot to love about this plant: dark purple leaves splashed with lavender and white, teardrop-shape fruits, great drought tolerance, and a compact (15 inches tall by 20 inches wide) habit. I love planting it with angelonia and silvery licorice plant.
There are so many varieties of calibrachoa on the market that it takes something special to stand out. The MiniFamous series certainly does that: The plants feature ruffled, double flowers that visitors to your garden might mistake for miniature roses. Like other calibrachoas, MiniFamous Double Amethyst is a spreader that will cascade over the edges of container gardens. Mix in some lobelia and an ornamental pepper such as 'Black Pearl' or 'Purple Flash', and you'll have an amazing container combo.