I'm writing this post in response to Dave, who blogs at The Home Garden. He recently posted about his four favorite plants and asked others to do the same. To be honest, deciding was pretty hard. I have a lot of favorites in each of the four categories of annual, perennial, shrub and tree, and each is a favorite for a different reason. Some I love for their toughness, adaptability and willingness to thrive on neglect. Others I love because they are plants I grew up with, such as the redbud which graced the front yard of my childhood home. Others I love because they are just downright beautiful. How can I choose?
But choose I did. Here are my choices and a little bit of the reasoning behind those choices. Disclaimer: these choices are valid for today only. Ask me tomorrow and the answers might be slightly different!
Tree: Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata), and I don't even have one of these in my yard. Although I have a very big soft spot for dogwoods and redbuds (and sourwoods and river birches and cryptomeria), I chose the Japanese Zelkova because if I had a space for one, I'd have it in the ground in a minute. I love their beautiful, graceful vase shape and their oblong, pointed leaves. But it's their scarlet fall color, which is just spectacular, that makes this tree my favorite (today).
Shrub: Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet') and I DO have these in my yard. I'm wild about hydrangeas, lacecaps that is, and I'm pretty much in love with Sweetbox (Sarcococca ruscifolia). I also have strong feelings of affection for my Doublefile Viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var tomentosum), but it's the sweetspire I love the most. I love its beautiful, arching growth habit and the fact that it is the perfect size for my landscape. It's the perfect size for YOUR landscape, too. It has fuzzy little bottlebrush flowers in the spring, and the fall color is just a spectacular red wine hue. Mulch sweetspire, and it will sucker just enough to give you babies to plant elsewhere, and believe me, once you get a few of these beauties, you will definitely want more. This shrub is about as perfect as they come.
Perennial: Oh, my. This one is really hard. If Garden Man were looking over my shoulder, he'd be chanting "daylily daylily daylily." But he's not, and it's not. If you've read many of my posts, you will probably have figured out I just swoon over hosta. I'm also loving hellebores more and more - the deer won't eat them, and they've eaten pretty much everything else I have. Each year I'm more and more amazed at the peonies I planted - they are tough, reliable and downright gorgeous. Agastache and salvia are also favorites, and so is penstemon. And our oriental poppy is one we watch every spring. Did I say this was difficult? Choosing just one is almost impossible, but I'll do it. If I can only choose one I'd have to say (today) it's oriental lily. It amazes me how those funny looking roots produce tough stalks with amazing flowers, and many multiply each year. The flowers are so crazy perfect they don't even look real, and some of them smell like Heaven. And there are so many lovely colors to choose from. This is one plant that if you haven't grown, you should try. It gives huge payoff for very little investment, both dollars and effort.
Annual: Coleus. Hands down. I know, I know! How pedestrian, how common. But how can you argue with a plant that will grow in sun (some varieties) and shade, in pots or in the ground and thrive? How can you not like a plant that will brighten up a dark corner and make all its companions look good? How can you refuse a plant that grows like a weed and still looks great when you pinch it back (and gives you more plants from those tips you pinched)? And how can you choose from among the hundreds, if not thousands, of color combos? There has to be one, or three or seven that will shine in your garden. My favorite is "Royal Glissade" and I look for it every year if I've not rooted cuttings. With coleus, my eyes are always bigger than my garden space, so you'll find them tucked in pots all over the place, making my garden look good.