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Acanthus mollis is prized for its bold clumps of shiny green leaves topped with striking, 3-foot-tall spires of white flowers which are clasped by showy purple bracts. This is a great plant for an eye-catching structural element in a part-shade border.
A classic plant for both herb gardens and borders, anise hyssop is composed of erect branches of mint-and-licorice-scented, medium green leaves ending in fuzzy spikes of small lavender flowers. The plant grows to 3 to 5 feet tall and 1 foot wide and reseeds freely. The flowers are edible and are charming crumbled into salads. The flowers are highly attractive to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
The drumstick allium has egg-shaped flowers in summer that start off green, then bloom and develop to pink and then clover red-purple. These plants are attractive in a bed or border, especially peeking up through other plants, such as roses, so that their nondescript foliage is hidden. Their vertical presence and eye-catching flower shape are valuable additions to the garden, and they naturalize freely.
Satiny deep green to black leaves and glowing white veins on 18-inch-long leaves make this elephant's ear great in containers, in a shady border, at the edge of a pond, or as a houseplant. It also has pale stalks with purplish banding. 'Frydek' is very tolerant of a range of soil pH, heat, humidity, and heavy soil. It can even take about a half day of sunlight.
'Casablanca' Peruvian lily is the closest to white that this genus has gotten as of yet. Inside its amaryllis-shaped white flowers, reddish dashes on a yellow wash and a pale pink throat add interest. 'Casablanca' is also taller than most other Alstroemerias. They make great cut flowers and are frequently used by florists; they also add a tropical feel to beds and borders. Roots are very brittle and care should be taken when planting.
A. ficoidea ‘Red Threads’ is a slender-leaved perennial selection that doesn't wander, forming a textured carpet in shades of deep burgundy. A single plant makes a mound about 8 inches tall and 14 inches wide. It blooms on and off all year, but you may never notice. The small, pale flower buttons are held in the leaf axils, where they are nearly indistinguishable from the foliage unless you're paying close attention. Use 'Red Threads' at the base of taller plants in the border to provide vibrant color echoes or contrasts. Grow as a warm-season annual in cooler climates, mass the plants in beds, or use in a formal knot garden as the Victorians did.
'Yellow Form' Alternanthera is an easy-to-grow, tropical plant with a fast-spreading habit and pointed, chartreuse-yellow leaves. It forms a mat of color from spring's frost-free date to fall's first frost. Like others of this genus, it makes a great edging, bedding, or container plant. In formal landscapes, it can be used in a knot garden. It looks great with dark-leaved plants.
Angelica is a striking ornamental biennial or short-lived perennial with jade green, glossy, bold leaves and large umbels of white flowers. It makes a unique statement in the garden.
Argyranthemum is often mistaken for or offered as Chrysanthemum. It is a great plant in containers where it isn't hardy. A. 'Jamaica Primrose' and A. 'Vancouver' will survive in Zones 7-11.
Unlike many other shade garden plants with their cool blue colors, 'Cowardly Lion' rex begonia offers rich warm tones. Chocolate-colored leaf veins veil the golden leaves, which become darker with age and make a fine counterpoint to yellow-based foliage plants. -Rita Randolph, Rex begonias, Fine Gardening issue #120
'Escargot' takes its name from the snail-like curl pattern at the base of the leaf. The foliage is striking enough to stand on its own but it's a good mixer, too. Use it with other foliage plants and brightly colored blooms. This is an extremely popular Rex hybrid begonia. -Rita Randolph, Rex begonias, Fine Gardening issue #120
Like other Rex begonias, 'Fireworks' is noteworthy for the coloration of its foliage. Its silvery leaves are edged in purple and have a black burst of fireworks in the center. Use it in a container or shady garden, or grow it as a houseplant. -Rita Randolph, Rex begonias, Fine Gardening issue #120
The leaves of 'Green Gold' are predominantly silver with deep green veining. New leaves are edged in burgundy. The silver color brightens up shady areas. 'Green Gold' grows vigorously and harmonizes well with other shade plants. -Rita Randolph, Rex begonias, Fine Gardening issue #120
'Marmaduke' Rex begonia sports chocolate-colored speckles across golden leaves. The earth tones of 'Marmaduke' go well with solid-colored foliage plants and yellow or rusty-hued blooms. -Rita Randolph, Rex begonias, Fine Gardening issue #120
Unlike other Rex begonias, 'River Nile' isn't flashy. Its charm comes from the leaves, which are green and ruffled, with a deep bronze edging. -Rita Randolph, Rex begonias, Fine Gardening issue #120
Swan River daisy's lacy foliage and small but profuse blue-purple flowers have a long season of impact in the garden. Its compact, bushy shape, pretty fragrant flowers, and gray-green leaves make it attractive from planting time through frost. It flowers so heavily that the foliage is often obscured. 'Blue Zephyr' has especially fine foliage and only reaches about a foot high. It is excellent in hanging baskets, window boxes, or other containers, or at the front of a bed or border.
This 3-foot-tall canna from the 1920s has impossibly deep, pure-rose flowers recalling orchids and leis. It's an old French variety.
A great canna to start with if you're convinced you hate them is 'Madame Paul Caseneuve', from 1902. The pearly-bronze leaves and almost purple stems of this 3- to 5-foot-tall antique beauty are the perfect foil for its elegant, sensual flowers of soft pink shading to peach and apricot.
Growing to 6 or 7 feet, 'Sémaphore' features slender, dark-bronze leaves topped by spikes of narrow-petaled flowers of an unusual glowing color that's not quite yellow and not quite orange; perhaps flickering tongues of flame would be the best description. It is a Victorian classic from 1895.
Tropicanna Gold is perhaps the showiest of all of the variegated cannas and one of the best for hot, humid, sunny southern gardens. Favored for its bright green and yellow variegated foliage and deep tangerine flowers, Tropicanna Gold will grow at the edge of ponds in shallow water as well as in normal garden conditions. It is adaptable to heat and humidity. Protect in the northern part of its range, or lift tubers in fall where not hardy and store over winter.
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Use plant combinations that focus on complementary colors, textures, and forms
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