Name: Astilboides tabularis
USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 7
Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide
Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, average to rich organic soil
This is a midwesterner’s dream for beautiful, bold foliage. Frothy flower plumes in early summer reveal its close kinship with rodgersia (Rodgersia spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8). But astilboides is most loved for its leaves: perfect circles with delicate lobes held upright as the most exquisite umbrellas. It’s spectacular in moist low spots or when massed along streams or next to ponds.
2. ‘Hot Lips’ Turtlehead
Name: Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’
Zones: 4 to 7
Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and 18 to 30 inches wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; medium to wet humus-enriched soil
‘Hot Lips’ is a bright-colored cultivar of a perennial that is native to the Appalachians, and it will enliven almost any garden. Bronze tinged in spring, its later lustrous, deep green foliage remains attractive all season. Blooms resembling the heads of turtles appear late in summer and last for up to two months, providing spiky contrast to the rounded daisies of asters and other late-season plants. It’s showy enough to be used in large drifts in a perennial border, and it is also appropriate in rain gardens, bioswales, or naturalized areas.
3. Giant Japanese Butterbur
Name: Petasites japonicus ssp. giganteus
Zones: 5 to 9
Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist to wet soil
This perennial makes an impressive statement. The huge, rounded leaves can be up to 3 feet across, and are possibly more tropical looking than most plants in a tropical jungle. Its eye-catching yet peculiar blooms are in the form of dense sprays of creamy white, which emerge in spring before the leaves. Japanese butterbur is a thug and will spread aggressively by rhizomes. Use it in large planter boxes, in isolated boggy areas, or at the edge of liner ponds, where surrounding dry soil can keep it in check.
Name: Cephalanthus occidentalis
Zones: 5 to 10
Size: 3 to 8 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist to wet soil
The bizarre summer blooms of buttonbush make me think of outer space, not of our native wetlands, where this shrub provides food and habitat for wildlife. After the fragrant blooms fade, the spheres remain attractive late into the year. This shrub’s casual style works best in the back of a shrub border, in a naturalized wet woodland, or near a pond.
Sabrena Schweyer is a landscape designer in Akron, Ohio.
Photos: (1 and 3), Michelle Gervais; (2), courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.; (4), Alan Branhagen