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Expert Plant Picks: Eastern United States

comments (6) December 6th, 2011 in blogs
Ruth Ruth
28 users recommend

Hamamelis X intermedia Jelena
Nepeta X faassennia Walkers Low
Rudbeckia Goldsturm
Hamamelis X intermedia Jelena Click the image to enlarge.

Hamamelis X intermedia 'Jelena'

Photo: Jennifer Benner

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Expert gardeners reveal their favorite plants for the Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeastern states.

See picks from other parts of the country...


Jennifer Benner is a freelance garden writer and photographer, as well as former Fine Gardening staff. She resides in Roxbury, Connecticut. 

  Ensete ventricosum 'Maurellii'
   Ensete ventricosum 'Maurellii'

1. Solenostemon scutellarioides 

2. Betula nigra 'Heritage Cully' 

3. Picea pungens 'Montgomery' 

4. Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation' 

5. Viburnum nudum 'Winterthur' 

6. Artemisia 'Powis Castle' 

7. Schizachyrium scoparium 

8. Echinacea Big SkyTM series

9. Rudbeckia hirta 'Indian Summer' 

10. Plectranthus 'Lemon Twist' 

11. Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'  







 Jo Ann Gardner, author of Brightening Damp Shade, lives in Essex, New York.


Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'
 Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'
1. Pulmonaria officinalis
Comments:  Incomparable early spring bloom greets the first hummingbirds. 

2. Lamium maculatum 'White Nancy'
Comments: Groundcover, companion for sun or shade. 

3. Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'
Comments: Late summer color, long-lasting. 

4. Lactuca sativa 'Pablo'
Comments: Does well in heat or cold, doesn't bolt, and is beautiful! A crisp-leaved Batavian lettuce. 

5. Beta vulgaris 'Perpetual Spinach'
Comments: Never bolts, is always sweet, and produces new leaves all season. An heirloom chard (1869), still very popular in France, hardly known here. 

6. Supertunia 'Bordeaux'
Comments: A great container plant with largish flowers that never need deadheading. 

7. Sedum telephinium  'Autumn Joy'
Comments: Good form all season, dependable long-lasting fall color. 

8. Spirea 'Goldflame'
Comments: Great spring and fall color, and garden accent. Easily grown and propagated. 

9. Phlox paniculata 'Eva Cullum'
Comments:  Long flowering from midsummer through fall, good distant accent. 

10. Hosta sieboldiana 'Elegans'
Comments: Tolerates drought and resists slug (a bonus in hostas), a good hedge in difficult conditions (dank shade) and attractive alone as an accent. 

11. Rosa 'Champlain'
Comments: Absolutely hardy, no black spot, blooms nonstop in thick clusters, which is unusual in a hardy rose. 



 Contributing editor Amy Goldman, author of The Heirloom Tomato, lives in upstate New York. 


'Speckled Roman' tomato
 'Speckled Roman' tomato
1. Solanum lycopersicum 'Sara's Galapagos'
Comments: Kids love the delicious tiny red tomatoes borne in profusion all summer long. 

2. Solanum lycopersicum 'Black Cherry'
Comments: A maroon cherry tomato that tastes like plum stone fruit without the stone (pit). 

3. Solanum lycopersicum 'Speckled Roman'
Comments: A psychedelic plum-shaped tomato: red with orange zigzags. Fruity and sweet, makes eating tomatoes fun for the uninitiated. 

4. Solanum lycopersicum 'Gold Medal'
Comments: A superbly delicious and eye-catching bicolor (orange, yellow and pink) 

5. Cucumis melo 'Queen Anne's Pocket Melon'
Comments: An enchanting melon: pocket-sized, with red and yellow stripes, that gives off an unforgettable perfume. For sniffing and not eating (taste is insipid). 

6. Cucumis melo 'Snake Melon'
Comments: This elegant long-necked creature can coil like a snake when grown on the ground. Tastes like a cucumber, only better, and produces a huge crop to delight any child. 

7. Cucumis melo 'Golden Midget'
Comments: An outstanding little watermelon with penciled yellow rind and salmonpink flesh. With a builtin ripeness indicator: the fruit (and plant) turn yellow when ripe. 

8. Cucurbita pepo 'Jack Be Little'
Comments:  This palm-sized pipsqueak is undeniably fanciful. Looks like a miniature pumpkin but is in fact a type of acorn squash. Not just for ornament! Makes a great afterschool snack: bake one whole, cut a lid and scoop out the seeds, and drop in some creamy butter and maple syrup. 

9. Cucurbita pepo 'Winter Luxury Pie'
Comments:  A fabulous orange pie pumpkin with a fine white filigree. Makes the best pumpkin pies. 

10. Cucurbita maxima 'Atlantic Giant'
Comments: The biggest pumpkin in the world. Materializes like magic. 



Kristin Green is the interpretive horticulturist at Blithewold Mansion Gardens and Arboretum in Bristol, Rhode Island.  


Hamamelis X intermedia 'Jelena'
 Hamamelis X intermedia 'Jelena'
1. Lavandula X intermedia 'Grosso'
Comments:  Ever since I was a kid and someone gave me a beanbag full of lavender flowers, I have had to have its scent around me and in my garden. Also it requires starved soil. Somehow I've always been able to give it what it needs. 

2. Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'
Comments:  All gardeners need something that blooms in February/March. 

3. Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)
Comments:  A must have for any gardener that loves butterflies. 

4. Malus sargentii (crabapple)
Comments:  On my list because I don't have one yet and want one for the birds. 

5. Salvia guaranitica
Comments:  Hummingbirds love it. 

6. Calamintha nepeta
Comments:  Bees love it and it's one of those rewarding, no fuss, blooms constantly, plants that can make any gardener feel like a genius. 

7. Cynara cardunculus 'cardoon'
Comments:  Because it's outstanding. Literally. 

8. Beta vulgaris var.flavescens 'Bright Lights'
Comments:  To go where no hosta can (full sun). Besides they're more beautiful than hosta and tasty too. 

9. Echinacea purpurea 'Virgin'
Comments:  Virgin is hands-down a great plant for being an upstanding citizen with non-stop blooms. And it's another for the birds, gold-finch love Echinacea seeds. 

10. Zinnia 'Benary Giants' or 'Profusion series'
Comments:  They're just so easy and so fun. 

11. Pelargonium tomentosum (peppermint-scented)
Comments:  It's softer than a kitten and smells a lot nicer than puppy breath. It's a great pet plant for the kiddos. 





Andrew Keys hosts Fine Gardening's Garden Confidential podcast. He lives in Topsfield, Massachusetts. 


Nepeta X faassennii 'Walker's Low'
Nepeta X faassennii 'Walker's Low'
1. Buddleia davidii  'Black Knight'
Comments: Best butterfly bush by far for bloom, fragrance, and ease of growth. 

2. Baptisia X variicolor 'Twilite'
Comments: Beautiful in flower (purple) and leaf (blue). 

3. Nepeta faasenii 'Walker's Low'
Comments: Indestructible catmint. 

4. Phlomis russeliana
Comments: Pale yellow Jerusalem sage. 

5. Pennisetum orientale 'Karley Rose'
Comments:  Best medium sized grass ever. Pale pink flowers over a very long season. 

6. Achillea anthea.'Anblo'
Comments: Palest yellow yarrow. 

7.  Aralia spinosa
Comments: Devil's walking stick. Wish it were more widely available. 

8. Vaccinium corymbosum

9. Kolkwitzia amabilis
Comments: The old fashioned beautybush. Hard to beat. 

10. Polystichum acrostichoides
Comments: One of the toughest plants I know. 

11. Yucca filamentosa
Comments:  That's right! Plain ole Yucca much maligned but well loved. 



 Dean Riddle's upstate New York garden is largely self-sown (see a slideshow). 


'Sun Gold' cherry tomato
   'Sun Gold' cherry tomato
1. Buxus var. koreana X B. sempervirens hybrids 'Green Mountain'
Comments: Sheridan hybrid, excellent for hedging. 

2. Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora 'Limelight'
Comments: Hard-prune in early spring. 

3. Syringa meyeri 'Palibin'
Comments: Top-grafted, standard or "tree" form. 

4. Betula nigra 'Dura Heat' 

5. Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio' 

6. Hackonechloa macra 'All Gold' 

7. Geranium 'Rozanne' 

8. Verbena bonariensis 

9. Sedum telephium 'Autumn Joy' 

10. Tulipa 'Spring Green' 

11. Sun Gold cherry tomato 




Connecticut gardener Steve Silk  is a former managing editor of Fine Gardening magazine. Visit his Clatter Valley blog.


Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light'
   Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light'
1.  Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'
Comments: Spectacular presence, bold effect, easy to overwinter. 

2.  Canna Tropicana®
Comments: Colorful foliage makes it a great host for all kinds of combinations. 

3.  Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream'
Comments: How can you go wrong a Japanese maple, any Japanese maple, but especially this one, with its sultry orange foliage in spring? 

 4. Euphorbia
Comments: Distinctive way the foliage is borne makes euphorbia's welcome in almost every combination 

5.  Lespedeza thunbergii
Comments:  Delicate texture makes it a great player, and the thing is just awash in blossoms in latest summer, tough as nails. 

6.  Aralia elata 'Aureovariegata'
Comments: You only need one, but this stupendous shrub boasts singular form, exquisitely colorful foliage, and a wild, tropical quality yet is tough and hardy. 

7.  Iris 'Caesar's Brother'
Comments: One of the most beautiful flowers, vivid color. 

8.  Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light'
Comments: Any grass is a good one, but this beautifully fountain-shaped grass, with its subtle variegation, compliments any place it is planted. 

9. Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'
Comments: Another grass with unmatched grace, this one looks like a tiny waterfall in the garden, and having lots makes it possible to create flowing streams of intensely pleasing beauty. 

10.  Epimedium
Comments: Interesting flowers, terrific foliage, drought-tolerant as all get out, easy to divide and establish large areas quickly. What's not to like? 

11. Tulipa
Comments:  OK, I said it, got to have tulips. By the time they arrive, I am so starved for color and tulips provide it, Different colors and cultivars every year, so the spring show is always enriched by their presence. Treat as annuals. 

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Comments (6)

AtochaLady writes: I can't thank you for covering my region. I have noticed not only on this site but other gardening sites as well that the coastal south is mostly ignored. Funny when you consider the vast area, the subtropical and tropical climate which flourishes with flowers, trees, shrubs, forests and swamps.

Texas the largest state (save for Alaska) with every climate represented. Houston (The 4th largest city in the United States) is not mentioned at all. Yep, we grow stuff here too. What's with you gardener sites?

Try and think: "southern, coastal, subtropical, Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Tallahassee, Miami, etc " and hook up with expert gardeners here who also have a list of favorite plants and a few good ideas. Posted: 10:13 pm on January 28th
Plantastic writes: Awesome list! As a plant lover, I recently discovered the TickleMe Plant. The TickleMe Plant is native to Brazil and other tropical counties. What makes the TickleMe Plant unique is its ability to fold its leaves when Tickled. Now it can be grown indoors as a house plant. Just search TickleMe Plant on Amazon
to easy grow your own. Posted: 12:15 pm on April 20th
djlw51554 writes: Thank you for these lists for our region! They renew my faith in you. It seemed to me that including lists by 2 nursery owners in the last issue represented a fairly glaring conflict of interest. Nothing against those two nursery owners, but I can't help but wonder if their choices were influenced by their current plant inventory....Just sayin'... Posted: 3:39 pm on January 1st
gardengal4 writes: So just for the heck of it, I tried my hand at a Northeast list. Granted, a lot of it is personal preference, but I think staying power (predominantly woodies)is called for. This is my quickie list (not exactly ten, but any 10 would be better than article's IMO):

Tree: Magnolia lobneiri 'Leonard Messel'
Tree: Heptaconium miconiodes
Tree: Acer griseum
Shrub: Hydrangea Paniculata 'Quickfire' (or 'Limelight')
Shrub: Physocarpus 'Diablo' (or 'Summer Wine')
Shrub: Hibiscus syriacus 'Lucy' (or 'Blue Satin')
Rose: Knockout Rose or The Fairy
Perennial: Peony, Echinacea, Hosta, Dicentra, Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm', Salvia 'May Night'
groundcover: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
grasses: Hakenechloa (any), Karl Foester
vine: Clematis Jackmanii, Hydrangea petiolaris

Yes, some are older classics, potentially overplanted, and not flashy new varieties, but that is intentional for a list to have staying power I think.

That's my gardening effort for the winter.... back to movies and books ... :-)

Posted: 1:47 pm on December 31st
gardengal4 writes: Just read the Northeast picks in the magazine. What kind of Top Ten Plant list is that??? Two annuals, three tender perennials(annuals for me), and a questionable zone 5. What are you guys smoking? That is hardly a northeast EXPERT plant list.

Very disappointed. The non-regional list was a much more appropriate Northeast list. And a very nice list it was.

It would be nice if the article stated the criteria that the plants needed to have to be included in a Top-10.

Posted: 1:25 pm on December 31st
remmulp27 writes: I can't believe it. Only one fern among all the picks. No Rhododendrons, No Mountain Laurel. Very, very few are among my top picks. Posted: 4:06 pm on December 10th
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