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Beautiful, Low-Maintenance Plants

Amp up your garden’s wow factor by planting one of these no-fuss showstoppers

Understatement has its place in garden design, but every now and then, you need a plant with impact, one that stands up and demands attention. You know the type: those sporting outrageous color, enormous leaves, or outlandish textures. But with plants, as with people, glamour sometimes comes with a fussy temperament, so I’m always on the lookout for perennials and woody plants that make a statement but require relatively little care. Here are six flamboyant favorites of mine, all of which are as easy to grow as they are eye-catching.

Savor hot pink blooms from spring to fall

Name: ‘Ann Folkard’ hardy geranium (Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’)
USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9
Size: 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; prefers moist, well-drained soil

 
This sprawling perennial dots its lime green foliage with 2-inch-wide flowers in a magenta so intense it looks electrified. A distinct black eye at the center of each flower adds to the impact. ‘Ann Folkard’ hardy geranium starts blooming in late spring and doesn’t let up until the first hard frost cuts it down. With its bold color and constant blooms, this hardy perennial commands the spotlight.

No-fuss qualities: Disease-free; tolerates all types of soil and climate conditions; grows rapidly but is noninvasive; blooms continuously. Click to enlarge image No-fuss qualities: Disease-free; tolerates all types of soil and climate conditions; grows rapidly but is noninvasive; blooms continuously. Photo/Illustration: Jerry Pavia

Make a statement with spikes and stripes

No-fuss qualities: Grows quickly but is noninvasive; adapts to a wide variety of soils Click to enlarge image No-fuss qualities: Grows quickly but is noninvasive; adapts to a wide variety of soils Photo/Illustration: Jerry Pavia

Name: ‘Sparkler’ sedge (Carex phyllocephala ‘Sparkler’)
Zones: 7 to 10
Size: 2 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Partial to full shade; prefers moist soil

 
Eye-catching, low-maintenance plants are rare enough, but the choices for shaded locations are even slimmer. The aptly named ‘Sparkler’ sedge enlivens shade plantings with green-and-white-streaked blades that explode just
like fireworks from the end of its upright stalks. With its unusual form and crisp leaf markings, ‘Sparkler’ is lively company for other shade-loving foliage plants.

Foliage that won’t be ignored

No-fuss qualities: Disease-free; adapts to a wide range of soil, moisture, and lighting conditions; grows quickly but is noninvasive Click to enlarge image No-fuss qualities: Disease-free; adapts to a wide range of soil, moisture, and lighting conditions; grows quickly but is noninvasive Photo/Illustration: Jerry Pavia

Name: ‘Red Dragon’ persicaria (Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’)
Zones: 4 to 8
Size: Up to 3 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; prefers moist, well-drained soil

 
Deep maroon foliage with silver-and-black chevron markings and bright red stems make this big clumping perennial a standout along borders. Although the minuscule white flowers of ‘Red Dragon’ persicaria don’t add much to the picture, blazing orange, gold, and scarlet fall colors are a welcome bonus. Some members of the genus are maintenance headaches, with invasive stolons that spread around the garden; ‘Red Dragon’ has better manners and stays put.

Help them look their best

Heed these design tips to get the most out of your garden exhibitionists:

  • Don’t overdo it A garden with too many flamboyant plants is a lot like a dinner party where every guest is a dazzling extrovert: The sensory overload can detract from the merits of each individual. Dole out your most extravagant plants care­fully and with purpose.
  •  Mind your punctuation I use attention-grabbing plants as punctuation in the garden. Situate them at anchor points, such as at the ends of beds and borders or at the point where two pathways intersect. I also use them to mark transitions between spaces. Large showy plants can play the same role as a statue or water feature because their flashy looks make them natural focal points.
  • Choose complementary companions The right company can bolster the impact of even the most sensational plant. Look for contrasting combinations. The explosive form and bright stripes of ‘Sparkler’ sedge, for instance, are twice as bold when rising out of a dark, fine-textured carpet of ‘Platt’s Black’ brass buttons (Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’, Zones 4–7). Or pair the dark burgundy of ‘Red Dragon’ persicaria with gold or silver foliage.

This lily grows 6 feet tall

No-fuss qualities: Long-lived; disease-free; tolerates extreme heat and cold, varied lighting conditions, and summer drought; doesn’t require staking Click to enlarge image No-fuss qualities: Long-lived; disease-free; tolerates extreme heat and cold, varied lighting conditions, and summer drought; doesn’t require staking Photo/Illustration: Jerry Pavia

Name: ‘Silk Road’ Orienpet lily (Lilium ‘Silk Road’)
Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 6 to 7 feet tall and 1 foot wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; light, loamy, well-drained soil

 
Tall, fragrant, and colorful, with remarkable health and vigor, ‘Silk Road’ is a standout among the new breeds of Orienpet lilies. Dozens of flamboyant, 6-inch-wide, red-and-white blooms top its sturdy 6- to 7-foot-tall stalks in July and August. Tall lilies, such as ‘Silk Road’, offer loads of color and fragrance without taking up much space. Give the big bulbs fertile soil and good drainage, then stand back and watch them increase in size and number from season to season.

A hugely improved tropical

No-fuss qualities:Tolerates pollution and other urban stresses; adapts to a wide variety of soil and moisture conditions Click to enlarge image No-fuss qualities:Tolerates pollution and other urban stresses; adapts to a wide variety of soil and moisture conditions Photo/Illustration: Jerry Pavia

Name: ‘Spider’s Web’ paper plant (Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’)
Zones: 7 to 10
Size: Up to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide
Conditions: Partial shade; any well-drained soil

 
I can’t remember the last time a single cultivar gave a plant the kind of new lease on life that ‘Spider’s Web’ has for paper plant. Big, bold, and tropical, paper plant is one of the toughest and most impressive of the large shade plants, but I’ve always disliked how its dark leaves and coarse texture make shady settings feel even gloomier. Enter ‘Spider’s Web’, whose palmate leaves bear delicate cream-colored tracery that magically transforms the plant from ponderous to weightless. The bombproof constitution remains intact, and though ‘Spider’s Web’ grows slower than others of the species, that’s a plus in small gardens.

An old favorite in a new color

Click to enlarge image Photo/Illustration: Jerry Pavia

Name: ‘Primrose Heron’ lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina ‘Primrose Heron’)
Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 1 foot tall and 18 inches wide
Conditions: Full sun; any well-drained soil

 
Lambs’ ears is beloved for its fuzzy silver foliage, but ‘Primrose Heron’ adds a vibrant twist with its gold-to-chartreuse leaves that shimmer brightly beneath a layer of white down. ‘Primrose Heron’ is a snap to grow, and a few of these moderate spreaders will quickly form a dense, weedproof ground cover or edge planting. It’s especially attractive combined with blue or violet Siberian iris (Irissibirica, Zones 3–8), campanula (Campanulaspp. and cvs., Zones 3–9), or flowering sage (Salviaspp. and cvs., Zones 5–11).

From Fine Gardening 139 , pp. 45

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