Allan Armitage: Plants I Am Finally Seeing More Of (About Time!)

Allan Armitage: Plants I Am Finally Seeing More Of (About Time!)

sporobolisThere will always be a few great plants out there that may not be in the mainstream market anymore, but haven’t quite disappeared altogether. Gardeners just need the opportunity to rediscover them. Here are four not-so-new plants I have been seeing more of lately, which I think are poised to break into the consciousness of both professional landscapers and home gardeners.

Prairie Drop Seed, Sporobolis

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Native grasses have always been strong, so this old-fashioned grass should be a mainstream in most of the country. It enjoys popularity in the Midwest, but not so much in the Mid Atlantic. Growers find it easy to grow, and landscapers are always looking for native grasses they can use as a meadow plant, a groundcover, or as a simple filler. It is not as showy as some of the taller, better-known grasses are, but it is tough and functional. And if you stick your nose in the airy, fall flowers, you will come away with a hint of spice, or even a touch of popcorn. Find it. Use it.

Height: 2 to 3 feet
Exposure: Sun
Zones: 3 to 7 (not a great plant for the South, although it will grow there)
Habit: Clump forming
Fall color: Tan, golden
Deer: 1.5 out of 5 (5 being irresistable to deer)

 

Vernonia lettermannii 'Iron Butterfly' from North CreekIron Butterfly Ironweed, Vernonia ‘Iron Butterfly’

I am now starting to see this plant everywhere, in botanical gardens (beautiful in Chicago and Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens), massed in landscape installations at New York’s High Line, and on availability lists of major perennial growers in the Mid Atlantic. It is an ironweed, no doubt about that, but one-third the size of the common species. Two characteristics have shot it into popularity with landscapers and designers: the height and the handsome foliage. People always comment that the plants look like Amsonia hubrictii during the season. The purple flowers cover the plants in mid-September into the fall. They are quite wonderful.

Height: 2 to 3 feet
Exposure: Sun
Zones: 4 to 8
Habit: Clump forming
Fall color: Late purple flowers, no foliar color
Deer: 2 out of 5 (5 being irresistable to deer)

 

tassle-fernTassel Fern, Polystichum polyblepharum

This is probably one of the most handsome ferns in the fern repertoire, so why has it taken so long to be mainstreamed? Other ferns, such as Christmas, autumn, and Japanese painted are forever being cited on landscape jobs. For good reason, to be sure, but the tassel fern needs a few more people to show it off. The fronds are lustrously evergreen, beautifully cut, and the plant is eye-catching wherever it is planted. It is not native here, but who cares? It is simply one of the finest ferns not being used.

Height: 1 to 2 feet
Exposure: Part sun to shade
Zones: 3 to 7 (not a great plant for the South, although it will grow there)
Habit: Clump forming
Fall color: No
Deer: 1.5 out of 5 (5 being irresistable to deer)

 

rudbeckia-deamiiDeam’s Yellow Coneflower, Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii

R. ‘Goldstrum’ has forever been the coneflower of choice. It has served us well. However, since it was introduced in 1937 and was the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) Plant of the Year in 1999, we probably should not be surprised that its overall quality is waning. In fact, there is a lot of second-guessing as to what could go in its place. I am seeing more of its close relative and native plant, R. var. deamii, being used in the Mid Atlantic, Midwest, and the Southeast. It is a little taller, but equally striking and for now, significantly cleaner. It is bee and butterfly friendly and a fabulous pollinator plant.

Height: 2 to 3 feet
Exposure: Sun
Zones: 3 to 9
Habit: Clump forming
Fall color: No
Deer: 2.5 out of 5 (5 being irresistable to deer)