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Podcast: Let's Argue About Plants

Episode 23: Little Gems

These front-of-the-border perennials may not shine too brightly but they play an important role

When we say “little gems” we’re basically talking about perennials that stay under two feet tall. These can be ground covers or, mounded plants that hide the bare legs of their taller companions or soften the edges of the border. Generally these supporting actors don’t draw much attention, but their role is vital to a well-rounded design. And don’t worry if you’re looking for sun or shade options because we suggest a variety of little gems for both conditions.


Expert: Kirsten Smith, a manager at Smith’s Acres garden center and nursery in Niantic, Connecticut. 




Although he doesn’t live in a shale barren (whatever that is), Steve is currently loving ‘Little Rascal’ buckwheat (Eriogonum allenii ‘Little Rascal’, Zones 5-10) for its drought tolerance and evergreen presence.

Powdery mildew is a frequent issue with many, many garden phlox varieties (including cultivars that are supposed to be resistant) but Danielle has found that Coral Creme Drop™ (Phlox paniculata ‘Ditomdre’, Zones 3-8) stay mildew-free—at the front of the border–all summer.

Geraniums are an excellent choice for covering up the bare legs of taller perennials. There are all different shapes and sizes, but one with particularly eye-catching foliage is ‘Dark Reiter’ (Geranium pratense ‘Dark Reiter’, Zones 4-8) sporting burgundy leaves with green undertones.

Not all ornamental grasses are hulking beasts. In fact, many are well-behaved textural poofs that are perfect for planting up front. Expert Kirsten Smith is especially fond of ‘Elijah Blue’ fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’, Zones 4-8) for its unique steel blue blades.



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