Garden Designers Roundtable: Top 10 “Go-To” Landscape Plants

As always, I’m truly honored to be included as a Contributor to The Garden Designer’s Roundtable for April. This month we decided to take a look at some of our favorite plants. The Top Ten “Go-To” plants for my landscape or container design work are precious to me like children. In reality there’s no possible way that I can realistically keep my choices limited to only ten. That’s like asking a mother which child she loves most or which arm is your favorite. Though I do have my list whittled down for this post, these are my picks for the most reliably hardy performers here in the Northwest USDA Zone 7. These picks also have a wide variety of cultivars to choose from and in many cases possess the multiple personality traits that I require for great plant selections in my design planning.

My choices are in no particular order of favorites that would just be asking for trouble in the ranks. 🙂 Be sure to click on the pictures to enlarge. 

First up is Euphorbia. Almost any and all are welcome to my garden unless they seed SO prolifically that they take all the fun out of life. The particular cultivar above is certainly one of my absolute favorites, Euphorbia Myrsinites or Donkey Tail Spurge. It has personality for season after season of interest, and then some! When used as a ground cover or trailing over the edge of a pot, its frequently the plant that garners the most attention in many of my designs, spring summer, and fall.

Second up is a two-fer bonus. Hardy Geraniums and Nepeta or Catmint. The two go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly. Pictured here are 'Magnificum' for its fantastically large blue flowers that are uber showy. And not to be outdone, the large foliage on my favorite 'Magnificum' gets the most de-lish fall color! Plus, if you whack it back half way through the season, she just says "Bring it on!" And keeps flowering until frost while showing those fall jewel tones. Catmint, 'Walker's Low' is just a no brainer. Silvery foliage that looks great well before it ever blooms, drought tolerant, blooms ALL season until frost and Deer won't eat it! What more could you want?

Third is Sedum. How do I love thee? Let me count the names. Angelina, Voodoo, Chocolate Ball, Neon, Autumn Joy, Autumn Charm, October, Blue Spruce, Vera Jamison, Black Jack, Bertram Anderson, aaaaahhhh. Drought tolerant, tough and forgiving of bad soils. Need I say more? OK, foliage color, winter color, bloom colors, texture...

Fourth is the Hosta. One of the most architecturally perfect plants I know. If the seduction of the foliage and variety of colors and textures were not enough, the flowers of whites and lavender surely would be right? No? How about intoxicating fragrance as a cut flower in a vase? See, got ya!!!

Fifth is Robinia Pseudoacacia 'Frisia'. I desperately wish I had more pictures of this tree that I so dearly adore. This was taken in my last garden a number of years ago just as it was maturing. In the home before that I had three. I really should try to cram one into my "Barbie's Dream Garden" sized home now. The color is stop traffic gold. This picture really doesn't do it proper justice. I was introduced to it many years ago for the first time at the original beloved and now legendary, Heronswood in Kingston Washington. It took my breath away as I came upon it in the forest under a shaft of sunlight. yes, it was THAT stunning!

Sixth is Salvia Officianalis 'Tri-Color'. I think it pretty much speaks on its own behalf here. But, I will say this, drought tolerant, excellent foliage interest, summer blooms, not interesting to deer. I buy more of them every year. Period. 🙂

Seven is the Japanese Maple. I live in Japanese Maple country. The nursery I work for sells hundreds upon hundreds every year. Small ones, short ones, tall ones, fat leaves skinny leaves of red, yellow, green and orange, even coral! our cool and mild weather her in the NW is perfect for them here. My collection is small compared to my friends, not to mention my friends who are collectors! Yowza! This weeping one pictured was my birthday gift to myself a few years ago along with the pot.

This Japanese Maple was an Orphan looking for its third home. It's a very not so Coral, Coral Bark Maple or 'Sango-Kaku'. One of the traits for this cultivar is that as they age they lose the coral on the lower trunk line. This one was quite thoroughly abused before coming home to me. It had a major crack in the bark at the base and I thought for certain it would die in the first year. I consulted with experts who all gave me the same short-term diagnosis of certain death as well. I put an entire yard of gravel under her, along with an entire yard of brand new soil/compost mix, her very own soaker hose and lots of loving alfalfa meal and minerals. She's on year four now and her gash is healing and she's putting on new growth every year! It's a horticultural miracle Charlie Brown!

Eight is the Hydrangea Paniculata. My goal is to have as many of these in all varieties as I can fit into my tiny landscape. This defines the perfect Tri-Fecta plant for me to a T. OK, your challenge, read this all in one breath: It's easy-going from sun to part shade, it has lovely foliage that never wavers with disease issues. It has a huge number of flower styles, sizes and colors to choose from. It blooms forever (almost) AND it gets tremendous fall color all while holding those magnificent blooms into winter. -Phew, that exhausted me. :-)Pictured here: 'Quick-Fire' and 'Angel Blush' before the blush.

Heuchera is number nine, but not in my heart. These plants are a small addictive issue that I am trying to come to terms with every year. But then, dang it if they don't introduce a new one that I HAVE to have!!! Pictured here is 'Velvet Night' and 'Caramel'.My latest obsession is 'Rave On', appropriate eh? She flowered for over 5 straight months last year! Usually you don't really get them for their spectacular blooms but for the striking foliage and texture. But, 'Rave On' had me at her waving little cherry colored bells. I think I have to lay down now.

Number ten is Leucothoe, my beloved shrub that I can't live without. Pronounced 'Lew-co-the-way', it comes in a few cultivars, but I mostly use 'Rainbow', pictured above. These shots show it in both its fall color going into winter with the truck driver chick of Coleus 'Big Red Judy' and to the right in spring coming out of its winter color into it's lighter marbled shades to come of cream's and greens. It's softly arching growth habit and fragrant flowers in spring are bonus points for this glorious plant that takes shade to part sun and plays nicely with others. 🙂 I have heard recently that some have deer trouble with it, but the deer have never once bothered it here in my yard. Maybe they're too well fed by the time they get here?

Number eleven, yes 11, is Ilex Crenata 'Golden Helleri'. This is one of my newest friends as of last year, I am fully invested in obsession after it utterly sailed through our really rough early winter last season. In our gray climate this gold is a stand out above all else- 'nuff said. 🙂

Number twelve is the Euonymous family. This one pictured (Euonymous Fortunei 'Emerald Gaeity') is in my garden and she's putting on quite the show of her winter colors here even though I took this last week! this tells how cold it's been here lately. The whole family has been a useful addition to the landscape though I have amended my feelings about some of the larger shrub varieties that have performed weakly in the last few years of winters. But, if given just the right spot, THIS is what CAN happen. 🙂

Lucky number thirteen is Physocarpus 'Ninebark'- that MUST bode well right? This one is 'Diablo', but I also have 'Coppertina' and 'Center Glow' which are equally great if not better. The blooms, the seed heads, the foliage, the drought tolerance, the soil tolerance, it's simply an easy to please plant that delivers every year! Pretty peely bark and with proper pruning technique it can be an elegant screening plant too.

Be sure to read the other posts from talented designers from across the globe who contributed to the Garden Designer’s Roundtable this month! Here’s links to make it easy:

What a HUGE honor for us here in the GDRT Gang- Don’t miss this months’ super special guest poster, none other than Nancy Ondra

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Laura Livengood Schaub : Interleafings : San Jose, CA

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA

Also don’t forget to check us out on Facebook too! 

38 thoughts on “Garden Designers Roundtable: Top 10 “Go-To” Landscape Plants

  1. Pingback: Top Landscape Plants « Garden Designers Roundtable

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  3. Lovely combinations, Christina. You’ve convinced me that I must try Geranium ‘Magnificum’. And how neat to see the ‘Tricolor’ sage in bloom! It acts like an annual here, and until I saw your photo, I never realized that it doesn’t flower for me either.

    Congratulations on rescuing the coral bark maple: long may it live.

    • Thank you Nan! I’m honored and a HUGE fan of yours. 🙂 Let me know how your ‘Magnificum’ turns out for you. I adore mine!

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  7. Haha, when I say your title I KNEW you wouldn’t be able to keep it to ten! Magnificent choices; I envy that extra bit of lush you get up there. As always, your vast plant knowledge astounds me; and your photos are awesome! Thanks!

    • Laura Laura Laura, I consider it very HIGH praise indeed coming from you. I take my photo cues from you lady! Thank you. 🙂

  8. Pingback: Garden Designers Roundtable - Top Landscape Plants : Kill Me, Why Don't You??? - The Germinatrix

  9. Beautiful plant choices, Christina! You and I have so many common faves – euphorbias, heucheras, euonynus…all workhorses in California, too. I just wish we could grow Hostas like you guys can – lucky!! And I must find that Robinia – that’s a new one for me!! Thanks for the beautiful and informative post!!

    • That Robinia is TO-DIE-FOR! Susan said that she used to use it and forgot all about it. Now, she’s going to go try it again. Let me know if you use it in a design. I can’t wait to hear!

  10. Lovely range of plants and use of colour here.
    Using your first three plants in an arts and crafts garden we are planting up here in south west uk.
    Love that trailing aspect you mention for Euphorbia myrsinites.
    Thanks for sharing your choices.

    • Thank you Robert. That Euphorbia is a must for a trailing plant in all seasons here in the NW, so versatile!

  11. Like you, I love ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint. In fact, I just planted several in my deer-visited garden out front. We can also grow sedums and a few euphorbias here in Austin, although I’ve not run across Donkey Tail spurge — love it! Many of your others I can only dream about in our drought-plagued land, but I will see them in person this July, I hope, during the Garden Bloggers Fling in Seattle. Can’t wait to experience your region’s lush, green gardens for a few days.

    • Pam, I’m surprised that you haven’t had the Donkey Tail Spurge yet! I would think it would be everywhere there. Maybe it doesn’t appreciate the dry as much as I thought it would? The catmint more than makes up for it. 🙂

  12. Christina, You mentioned many of my favorite plants too, but also a few new plants I’ll have to check out. I do love hosta but they are a deer favorite and therefore are few and far between in my garden. But the combo possibilities with hosta are endless so I am envious that you are able to use them to your heart’s content.

    • Debbie, I’m so happy that I could introduce you to some of my fav’s, even if you can’t have the Hosta’s you can have a go with something that you might love more! Thank you.

  13. We definitely share a love for some of the same plants! You know, I haven’t planted a Robinia frisia in AGES! ‘Purple Robe’ has become one of my go-to street trees, but seeing it on both your post and Nan’s makes me want to revisit it.

    Thanks for the ideas!

  14. Great post…those are all wonderful plants…I actually planted a patch of Geranium ‘Rozanne’ with Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’ last spring and it ended up being an amazing non-stop floral spectacle…I’m a believer!

    • Great minds Scott! Does Rozanne get the great fall color for you? That’s one of my favorite things about Magnificum. 🙂

  15. Christina, as always your ways with foliage color stun me. Lovely combos! Why don’t I have more of those tricolor sages in my garden? Sheer oversight, and one I shall fix soon.

    • Awww, so sweet Genevieve. Thank you. Let me know how the Tri-Color Sage works out for you. 1 tip, NEVER prune them too early in spring. I learned that one the hard way over and over. 🙂 I wait until about mid to late April.

  16. Lot’s of great ideas, especially since your choices would work in my garden. I do have a bit of a heuchera addiction and each year tell myself I don’t need more, but I’ve already bought two this spring.

    • When does one NEED to stop buying Heuchera anyway? Let me know when you figure that out. 🙂 Thank you!

  17. There sure are a lot of players to choose from here–some are favorites of mine too. Some don’t grow here or the deer get them. My fav of your picks? Physocarpus opufolious. I saw it trained as a tree form last summer–Wowza. I can’t wait to do that!

  18. I am in love with Hostas and have found and collected a wide variety that will grow in the NE. The big problem is our deer love them. I have to spray repellant every 2 weeks but it is so worth it. Did you know there are over 40 species?

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