Allan Armitage Suggests Plants That “Even My Neighbors Will Try”

Two years ago, I wrote a column about the plants that I knew my daughters, neighbors, and friends would like to see at retail.

But what about today?


Well, my neighbors are much like yours. They send their kids off to school, head to work in the morning, have dinner, and watch a little television in the evening. They may go out with friends, go to a game, or do some shopping on the weekends. They seldom think about their gardens.

Most of the time, for most of my neighbors, the lawn, flowers, and shrubs are similar to the paint on the house or the car in the drive. If they are not peeling or dead, they are just fine.

However, there are times in the spring and fall when the gardening bug bites and a few plants are lovingly put in containers or the landscape. Hope springs eternal when people play in the dirt.

So what do my neighbors like? Color, low maintenance, and convenience — what else is new? Here are a few plants that have caught my neighbors’ eyes, and perhaps yours as well. Some are old-fashioned. Some are less cold hardy or cold loving than others. But surprisingly, they are not mainstream plants like marigolds.

Two Shrubs We Should Be Pushing More

Deutzias: Let’s get with it gang. Deutzias have been around forever, but they are some of the finest shrubs we don’t talk about. Hearing about another hydrangea or rose is like hearing the “Twelve Days of Christmas” starting in October and going on and on and on. I begin to itch.

Some marvelous breeding has resulted in plants like ‘Chardonnay Pearls’ and ‘Yuki Snowflake.’ They are easy to use by the foundation or anywhere in your neighbor’s landscape, and are cold hardy to Zone 5 and into Zone 4.

Abelias: For the foundation, for the garden, for almost anywhere; there is an abelia. They have decent white flowers, good-looking foliage on many of the newer selections, and heat tolerance. They are less cold tolerant than many of us would like (Zone 6 in most cases). A dozen fine selections are available. My neighbors love ‘Silver Anniversary’ and ‘Canyon Creek.’

Two Grassy Things That Are Impressive

Carex: There is not any reason that we should not be pushing the heck out of these. They are cold tolerant, they are colorful, and they are absolutely maintenance free. The native, often green forms, are perfect for the native landscape, but most of my neighbors don’t know a native from a smay-tive. For them, the best plants include the variegated ‘Evergold’ or the old-fashioned ‘Bowles Golden.’ Plants that provide color and no work are what my neighbors are all about.

Panicum: We have been talking about the benefits of panicum for years. Their status as natives, their fall color, and their availability are all reasons people like these plants. However, the height of some of the older ones and their falling over in winds or rain were not what my friends wanted. They certainly don’t want to be out there staking up grasses when there is golf to play and wine to drink. The selections I recommend are relatively new ones: ‘Apache Rose’ and ‘Cape Breeze,’ although ‘Northwind’ is still excellent. There is no downside to any of these.

A Couple Of Others

Astilbe: Living in the north, I was a big astilbe fan. They offered so many colors and were cold hardy in my Zone 4 Montreal landscape. However, they do not do well in dry climates or in hot summers, and have been declining in popularity in many areas. Yet, I have had great success with the dark foliage form, ‘Chocolate Shogun,’ and my neighbors think it is pretty cool as well. The foliage color is excellent even in heavy shade and in the Georgia heat. Although the flowers on astilbe are mediocre at best, it is a plant we should be offering more.

Kale: Good grief, who ever heard of this stuff a few years ago, and who figured out all these recipes and salads that we now cannot seem to escape? Who really eats this stuff anyway? It turns out — everyone! Even my friend Burt wears kale attire. When I tell my friends and neighbors about ‘Kosmic’ kale, they have to try it. Really! The concept of foodscaping is alive and well, plus, the subdued colors on this must-eat veggie seem to make everyone happy.

These are just a few plants that are making my neighborhood a little more civilized. If you have friends and neighbors that are sticking their toes in the waters of the plant world, go slow, be gentle, and be patient. One plant today may extend to two or three next spring.