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This plant has a rosette of broad sword-like, succulent, gray-green leaves. It provides a statuesque presence for sunny dry sites and under glass. It's also a classic plant for urns, thanks to the architectural splendor of its simple form.
Low-growing rosettes of long gray leaves covered in fine gray hairs and gray-white flowers in spring that resemble a cat's paw make Antennaria great plants for edging, pathways, or stone walls.
This is a high-drama native. Its gracious, high-impact, powdery-white shrubby mounded foliage grows to 4 feet tall.
This is the most drought-tolerant bergenia I’ve found and the only one that does well in Texas heat. The large, hairy, critter-resistant leaves do not resemble other members of this genus; they look more like hairy plates or giant African violet leaves—hence, it’s common name. Mature plants will send up 10-inch-long stems of white to pale pink flowers from spring to early summer, but the real reason to grow this plant is its remarkable foliage.In cooler regions, hairy bergenia grows not only in the shade but also in full sun. It isn’t particular about soil type or pH. Divide plants every three to five years to keep them vigorous. -Jimmy Turner, Perennials for dry shade, Fine Gardening issue #133
I have a penchant for vigorous, spreading plants: For the price of one plant I can get tons more for free. Plus, plants that spread out are naturals for dry shade; the expanded network of root systems feeds the whole plant, helping it get the water it needs. ‘Pink Octopus’ quickly forms wide mats of tall, deeply cut, light green foliage. Throughout spring, octopus-shaped, candy pink flowers float in a mass over the foliage, sporadically appearing throughout summer. I use this plant as the horticultural equivalent of a slipcover to coat large areas of shade quickly, especially because it can handle the extremes of my Texas climate. This perennial is maintenance-free, other than keeping it from encroaching on less vigorous plants. -Jimmy Turner, Perennials for dry shade, Fine Gardening issue #133
This stunning evergreen conifer can be a very large specimen tree (to over 100 feet) in the landscape. Its young, silvery foliage turns vivid glaucous blue as it ages; the sharply pointed leaves are arranged in whorls. Female cones are green and can be up to 4 inches long; they ripen slowly over 2 years to pale brown. This tree needs a lot of space to reach its majestic potential.
Snow-in-summer is great for rock gardens and dry areas, and also works well as a container plant. Plant it on a stone wall for a cascading effect. Snow-in-summer needs room to perform. A single plant can carpet an area as wide as a yard across. After the flowers fade, the silver/grey foliage shines on in contrast to more predictable shades of green.
Cardoon is an architectural splendor with bold texture, thanks to its large, prickly, almost dagger-shaped gray-green arching leaves and a statuesque, vase-shaped frame. It is topped with round, purple, thistlelike flowers in midsummer. Cardoon can reach up to 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
This variety has dark, glossy evergreen leaves arranged in tight rosettes, and it produces yellow-green bracts in mid-spring and early summer.
Regarded by some as the bluest blue fescue, this plant forms compact, cascading mounds of foot-tall, intensely blue, narrow leaves that are attractive in all seasons. Blooms are generally secondary to the foliage, but this cultivar blooms more heavily than most, with spikelets in summer. This cultivar is long-lived and very hardy. Grow in groups in a border or rock garden, or as a groundcover.
Chameleon plant lives up to its name, with red and yellow variegated heart-shaped green leaves. Its scrambling growth habit may overwhelm its neighboring plants, so grow chameleon plant in a window box or a hanging basket, where its growth can more easily be controlled. -Debra Lee Baldwin, Regional Picks: Southern California, Fine Gardening issue #127
This beardless, crestless iris produces blooms in midspring that are the color of terra cotta. Quick growing, with long, swordlike foliage, this plant attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, and works well in beds and borders.
Lavender-pink or white flowers up to 4 inches in diameter have purple veins and yellow throats. Sword-shaped medium green leaves can top 6 feet tall when grown in shallow water.
This giant waterlily produces massive, floating mid-green lily pads that can reach up to 8 feet across and can support the weight of a small adult. Its leaves are reddish purple and softly hairy on the underside. The ephemeral, pineapple-scented blooms appear in summer, lasting only two nights. The 16-inch flowers are white the first night, turning pink on the second night.
Anyone who gardens in the shade is familiar with heucherella. ‘Sweet Tea’ was bred using Heuchera villosa, a native of the eastern United States, as one of its parents, which has added enough resistance to heat, drought, and humidity to make it able to handle even the extreme climate of Texas. ‘Sweet Tea’ has large, stained, orange-bronze leaves with dark burgundy veins and short spikes of small white flowers that appear in early spring. Its brightly colored foliage, however, is the main reason to have this plant. Give it well-drained soil, and lift and divide it every couple of years. -Jimmy Turner, Perennials for dry shade, Fine Gardening issue #133
Experts Pick Their Favorite Plants
We asked 42 gardening experts from around the country to select their favorite plants. Now you can see the complete results of the survey.
Conifers for Shade
Yes, you can grow evergreen trees and shrubs in shade. Who knew?
by Christine Froehlich
Sweetly Scented Annuals
Pique your senses all season long with colorful, long-blooming beauties
by Danielle Ferguson
4 Ways to Design with Coleus
If you're having trouble finding the right plant for the right place, this versatile performer offers a multitude of options
by Ray Rogers
How to Prune Conifers
These plants are unforgiving, so make the right cuts for the right reasons
by Bert Cregg
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