Regional Picks: Garden Staples – Midwest

Fine Gardening - Issue 142

1. Miniature Goat’s Beard

Name: Aruncus aethusifolius

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9

Size: 10 to 16 inches tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, highly organic soil

You’ll want to give this ground cover a prominent spot so that you can easily admire its mounds of fine foliage and 1-foot-tall plumes. A dwarf cousin of the more common goat’s beard (A. dioicus, Zones 3–7), miniature goat’s beard blooms for at least three weeks in early summer. When the flowers fade, don’t bother deadheading. They’re pretty enough to keep around until fall. Although this low grower favors consistently moist soil, it can tolerate periods of drought and heat.


2. ‘The Rocket’ Ligularia

Name: Ligularia stenocephala ‘The Rocket’

Zones: 4 to 8

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall (when in flower) and 2 to 3 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, highly organic soil

Few perennials rival the stately appearance of ‘The Rocket’ ligularia, especially when it’s planted in large stands or several groups of three to five plants. The lofty flower spikes emerge in mid­summer, towering well above the foliage, and the unique, heavily toothed leaves of this cultivar only add to the show. As if that weren’t enough, humming­birds flock to this moisture lover and the deer leave it alone.


3. Candytuft

Name: Iberis sempervirens

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: 6 to 12 inches tall and 2 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

Although it’s easy to forget why I love this plant when it first wakes up from winter, its sun-scorched, evergreen leaves quickly come alive as soon as spring temperatures rise. By late April, small white flowers smother the foliage and brighten my entire garden. Perfect for borders or rock gardens, candytuft is one accent plant worth repeating.


4. Bush Sweet Pea

Name: Lathyrus vernus

Zones: 5 to 7

Size: Up to 18 inches tall and wide

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

Most gardeners think of sweet peas as delicate climbing vines, but bush sweet pea is anything but delicate. This cold-hardy plant is one of the first perennials to bloom in spring. Its flowers come in shades of white, pink, lilac, and purple. My favorite varieties, however, are those that sport vibrant hues of reddish violet, which pop in the garden.


Kathie Hayden is a horticulture specialist and manager of the plant information service at the Chicago Botanic Garden. 

Photos, except where noted: Bill Johnson; courtesy of Bill Bishop/Chicago Botanic Garden; Susan A. Roth; Jerry Pavia

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