Pacific Northwest Regional Reports

Plants for the Northwest to Add to Your Shopping List

Fine Gardening – Issue 205

Whether you’re walking through your local garden center, flipping through the pages of your favorite catalog, or scrolling the website of an online retailer, the sheer number of plant choices can be overwhelming. With timeless, classic varieties as well as plenty of new releases every year, it can seem impossible to decide which plants should make it to your shopping cart. Thankfully, regional experts are here to help. We asked these experts to pick four plants that anyone in their region would do well by buying this year. If they don’t make the cut this year, they are at least worth adding to your wish list. Below, find four fabulous plants for the Northwest that you should add to your shopping list.

Glow Girl® birchleaf spirea

1. Glow Girl® birchleaf spirea

Name: Spiraea betulifolia ‘Tor Gold’

Zones: 3–9

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moderately moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Japan, Eastern Asia

Glow Girl® is a beautiful selection of a tough, widespread species. In spring, the wiry stems burst open with rounded, golden leaves that will eventually turn a fresh chartreuse through summer. By midsummer, flat clusters of white flowers dot the small shrub like powdered sugar on a lemon bar. As autumn approaches, soft foliage colors of pale apricot, orange, and yellow take over. This shrub is excellent for small gardens and combines beautifully with perennials for a long seasonal show. Tolerant of a wide range of soil types, it appreciates occasional watering during prolonged dry weather. 

Velveteeny™ dwarf smokebush

2. Velveteeny dwarf smokebush

Name: Cotinus coggygria ‘Cotsidh5’

Zones: 4–9

Size: 4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil; tolerates clay and sandy soil

Native range: Southern Europe, Central Asia, northern China

Velveteeny is a compact form of purple smokebush that is full of potential for small gardens and urban ­spaces. Tough and tolerant of difficult growing conditions, this newer cultivar is an interesting addition to the gardener’s palette. It is even adaptable to ­container growing. Once established, it only requires occasional watering during prolonged dry periods. The deeply saturated burgundy-purple foliage erupts into flam­ing deep red in fall. I can hardly wait to try this one in my garden!

Princess Diana bigleaf hydrangea

3. Princess Diana bigleaf hydrangea

Name: Hydrangea macrophylla ‘H21-3’

Zones: 6–9

Size: 4 to 5 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; consistently moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Japan

The intricate beauty of this double-floret mophead hydrangea makes it worthwhile to decipher the confusing marketing names associated with it. (Sometimes it’s sold under the trade name WOW Time®). Its large, deep pink to blue flower heads arrive in early summer, packed with multitudes of gracefully layered, petal-like sepals arranged in star-shaped florets. The mounded blooms are just as enjoyable up close as they are from a distance. Let us hope this plant gets the recognition it deserves, despite the confusing marketing campaigns. 

‘Japanese Princess’ Japanese maple 
Photo: Adam R. Wheeler/Broken Arrow Nursery

4. ‘Japanese Princess’ Japanese maple 

Name: Acer palmatum ‘Japanese Princess’

Zones: 6–9

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide in 10 years

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; consistently moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Japan, China, Korea, eastern Mongolia, southeastern Russia

This dwarf Japanese maple cultivar is perfect for containers or as a focal-point gem in the garden. The new spring growth emerges salmon pink, fades to a pale chartreuse, then settles to a light, bright green for the summer. The foliage grows in tight bunches on upright stems, giving a sculptural look that only improves with age. In autumn, bright red fall color develops, making a brilliant show as the season ends. This recent selection is still rare in nurseries but is well worth seeking out. 

Contributing editor Richie Steffen is executive director of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle.

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