1. ‘Royal Standard’ Hosta
Name: Hosta ‘Royal Standard’
USDA hardiness zones: 3 to 9
Size: Up to 2 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide
Conditions: Partial shade; moist, well-drained soil
Hostas form the backbone of shady areas, and ‘Royal Standard’ hosta is no exception. In spring, bountiful heart-shaped, bright green leaves emerge to form a loose green canopy hovering above the ground. As the season progresses, the layered stacking of the leaves creates depth and interest, especially when the leaves wave gently in the breeze. In late summer, pristine white blooms erupt with a fragrance reminiscent of lilac. The combination of leaf structure and evening fragrance makes this hosta a prime candidate for placement adjacent to outdoor seating areas. You’ll want to plant ‘Royal Standard’ where it gets some shelter from the wind.
2. ‘Countess Helen von Stein’ Lambs’ Ears
Name: Stachys byzantina ‘Countess Helen von Stein’ (syn. ‘Big Ears’)
Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 1 to 2 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun; fertile, well-drained soil
Larger than the straight species, ‘Countess Helen von Stein’ lambs’ ears is bold, with its striking silver-green color and a leaf texture that resembles soft wool. There will be no stopping children (or adults) from wanting to touch the enticing leaves, especially after it rains or in early morning when the dew settles because the leaf surface will shimmer. Tolerant of heat and drought once established, ‘Countess Helen von Stein’ is best planted in areas that receive full sun as it can be rather exuberant when grown in shade.
3. ‘Thriller’ Lady’s Mantle
Name: Alchemilla mollis ‘Thriller’
Zones: 4 to 7
Size: 1 to 2 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist soil
The perfectly scalloped, larger-than-the-species leaves of ‘Thriller’ lady’s mantle form a neat, rounded mound in early spring. The initial spring flush of growth is followed by a profusion of yellow-green flowers that hang above the leaves in late summer. Because of its flower texture and color, it always gives me a tingle of delight when I see it paired with traditional garden staples, like dianthus (Dianthus spp. and cvs., Zones 3–10), hardy geraniums (Geranium spp. and cvs., Zones 4–8), and speedwell (Veronica spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8). Smaller in stature when planted in hot zones, ‘Thriller’ lady’s mantle prefers cool areas of the garden to encourage its best performance.
4. ‘Snow Angel’ Heuchera
Name: Heuchera ‘Snow Angel’
Zones: 3 to 8
Size: 12 to 18 inches tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; fertile, moist, well-drained soil
When a plant can perform multiple aesthetic functions during the season and come back reliably year after year with little or no maintenance, it goes onto my “A” list. With somewhat large variegated leaves and bell-like coral-colored flowers in early spring, this perennial is tough, beautiful, and long lasting. ‘Snow Angel’ heuchera is great in mass plantings, where a touch of shade during the day truly makes the flower color pop.
Cheri Stringer is a landscape designer and the owner of TLC Gardens in Longmont, Colorado.
Photos: #1 and #3, Doreen Wynja; #2, Michelle Gervais; #4, millettephotomedia.com