Regional Picks: Focal-Point Plants – Northeast

Fine Gardening - Issue 134

1. Purpleleaf Sand Cherry

Name: Prunus × cistena

USDA hardiness zones: 3 to 8

Size: Up to 5 feet tall and wide

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

In spring, all eyes are on this hardy little shrub. It pops with a charming display of fragrant pink blooms, which are still present as the leaves fill in. The delicate pink on dark purple is a stunning show. Even when the petals are gone, this shrub looks attractive for the rest of the season and offers a standout contrast to surrounding green foliage. Keep this focal point primped by pruning and shaping it lightly throughout the growing season.


2. Porcupine Grass

Name: Miscanthus sinensis* ‘Strictus’

Zones: 4 to 9

Size: 4 to 8 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide

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

Graceful yet robust, this grass makes a striking focal point. Its form resem­bles an elegant fountain, with its stiff, upright, bright green foliage. The blades have bold blond stripes in an irregular horizontal pattern, which makes it look like dappled sunlight is dancing across the plant. Silken coppery panicles develop in late summer to early fall, trumping the already mesmerizing display. Fall colors range from reddish purple to scarlet, before turning a tawny brown for the plant’s winter rest. Trim to 1 foot above the ground in early spring to ensure another dazzling show.


3. ‘Annabelle’ Smooth Hydrangea

Name: Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’

Zones: 4 to 9

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial shade; average, well-drained soil

The dramatic display of a smooth hydrangea is sure to turn heads. The 1-foot-diameter flowers demand attention when they pop in summer. The blooms transition between a creamy white and a gorgeous pale green. Large downy leaves and a dense growth habit accentuate the billowy flower heads. Spent blooms turn pale beige and remain on the plant throughout winter. Hydrangea prefers shade from midday sun and blooms on current season’s wood. Prune it to 6 inches above the ground in early spring for the best show.


4. Redleaf Rose

Name: Rosa glauca

Zones: 2 to 8

Size: Up to 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; average to rich, moist soil

People naturally gravitate to roses. They are recognizable, tradi­tional, and dependable. The graceful redleaf rose is my favorite year-round focal point. The arching 6-foot-tall stems are adorned with unique pewter blue foliage and fragrant single pink flowers in early summer. Fall through winter, the handsome mauve canes display copious eye-catching red-orange hips. In addition to its obvious splendor, this garden rose is disease tolerant and winter hardy.


Stephen M. Baldonado spent five years tending and showing off focal points at Central Park’s Conservatory Garden in New York City.

Photos: #2 and #4, Saxon Holt; #1, Jennifer Benner; #3, Michelle Gervais

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