Garden Photo of the Day

Ten Plants for Adventurous Gardeners

By: Kim Charles

Acanthus mollis-Bears britches: I planted acanthus several times before this one took.  The original plant put out some runners which I have relocated to other locations.  This is a rugged plant with bright, dark green foliage that works in full sun to at least half shade.  The flowers are not spectacular, but are an added attraction.   

Central Michigan gardener, Dale Dailey, shares his insights with us on ten plants that stand out in his garden.

"Gardening in central Michigan is a bit of a challenge, but there are several great plants that I have discovered that adventurous gardeners might enjoy. They are not necessarily my favorites, but each plant has an unusual quality worth considering. I hope you find the suggestions useful. It was difficult selecting only ten plants. I’ll possibly do another posting in the future."

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Acer griseum-Paperbark mapIe: I bought my tree 20+ years ago from Mellingers, a mail order firm that is no longer in business.  The cost was $7.50—what a bargain.  The tree has matured and is now an absolute beauty, producing seeds that I have collected and started several siblings. 

Calendula-Mom's Norway flowers: This annual deserves consideration in gardens where a patch of bright yellow or orange color is needed.  I received my seeds from my mother twenty-five years ago.  She scarfed a few seed pods while visiting a garden in Norway.  We still call them Mom’s Norway flowers.  The plant self-seeds, but is easily controllable and produces abundant flowers by July 4th, that continue throughout the rest of the summer.  It does well with full to half day of sun.

Coryalis lutea: This is a friendly plant.  It likes shade, but will tolerate at least half sun.  It forms a neat clump with bright yellow flowers that last most of the summer, providing a bright touch in shade settings.  It does pop out seeds and start new plants, but it is not aggressive and is easily controllable.  It has a knack for finding the right spot to fill in. 

Filipendula ulmaria 'Variegate': I bought this plant from the original Heronswood Nursery 24 years ago.  The variegated foliage is spectacular and the white flowers are a bonus.  It does very well in full sun. 

Fagus sylvatica 'Tortuosa': Fortunately, I have space on my property for many amazing trees, including seven very different varieties of European Beech (Fagus sylvatica) –they are among my favorites.  The 'tortuosa' is recommended because of its limited size.  Another alternative would be the Fagus sylvatica 'Tricolor' which is stunning and a relatively slow grower.

Inula magnifica: The yellow flowered plant in front is the inula. I obtained the seed for this plant from a garden in Germany many years ago.  It is a tall, rugged plant and does very well in half shade.  I also have a shorter version of the plant that does well in full sun.  I’m not sure what the white flowered plant in the back is.

Opuntia polyacantha 'Nebraska Orange'-Prickly pear: I have eight different hardy cacti and five of them have bloomed this year.  I live in a zone 5 environment, but the cacti have survived and multiplied in my gravel/rock garden.  It's always a treat to see them bloom.

Picea glauca 'Jean Dilly'-Dwarf Alberta spruce: The dwarf Alberta spruce in the middle, provides an interesting texture and color accent in an area that is semi-shade.  I have several other dwarf conifers in the garden that provide a similar focus.

Spigelia marilandica: This native plant is not showy, but in a shade garden with some supporting pink astilbe, the bright red flowers pop.

View Comments


  1. user-7008787 08/03/2017

    I love the leaves of Acanthus mollis-Bears britches, what a wonderful idea for a shade garden

  2. sallysavoia 08/03/2017

    I think the white plant in background in one of your pictures is this. I put in some years ago and love it for the rear of a shady bed.

    1. User avater
      user-7007816 08/04/2017

      Yes, I think you're right on the white plant, it probably is Persicaria polymorpha. As you say, it does very well in a shady area and holds it flowers for an especially long time.

  3. user-4691082 08/03/2017

    Thanks Sally, for the plant ID. Dale, you provided a very good post for today! I weeded all day yesterday and I am beat! The acanthus always reminds me of "prickers" as we used to refer to anything even slightly thorny as children. Are they prickly? I think we should all showcase our favorites. Mine is cimicifuga or actea as it's now called. With purple/black foliage and white candles in late summer, it is fantastic with its lacy foliage and heavenly scent. Great post today! Ps- can I buy one of those paperbark seedlings from you?

  4. user-7007498 08/03/2017

    Good morning, Dale. Thanks for sharing photos of some of your favorite plants. I would also have a hard time narrowing the list to 10 (or 20, or even 30)?.

    Acer griseum is a fabulous tree indeed, and can fit in most gardens. The bark is spectacular. Acanthus is such a great textural plant, and spigelia is a native that is so underused.

    The Fagus is gorgeous. What a great statement it must make in the winter, as well. I enjoyed looking up a few plants you posted, like Filipendula. I love the variegation.

    Great start to the morning.

  5. User avater
    treasuresmom 08/03/2017

    Love Calendula but it doesn't seem to love me back. I guess maybe it gets a little too hot here in zone 8b.

  6. Sunshine111 08/03/2017

    Loved it all! Thank you for the new ideas

  7. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 08/03/2017

    Thanks for sharing some of your 'plant picks', Dale. It's a nice list. I'd have to disagree about the Spigelia not being showy...ok, it might not be a show stopper, but great, clean foliage and upward facing flowers that are bright red on the outside and yellow on the inside sure make it a winner! Your paperbark maple is a great specimen and I love your Opuntia.

    1. Chris_N 08/03/2017

      I have to try Spigelia. We have a wonderful local nursery called the Flower Factory that has an amazing selection. They carry only perennials; over 2500 varieties (they have scaled back; it used to be over 3000.) I just checked their catalog and they carry Spigelia. It's now on the list for my next visit.

  8. hontell 08/03/2017

    beautiful plant choices, thank you for sharing and inspiring us.

  9. VikkiVA 08/03/2017

    Thanks so much for sharing all your beautiful plants. I love how you told us a bit about each picture you posted. Those of us who are not as well schooled in plant names certainly appreciate that. Vikki in VA

  10. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 08/03/2017

    Good morning, Dale. It's a good post day if I'm googling while reading and you had me at Google several times:) You have two of my favorite trees with the Paperbark and fagus and love the filipendula. Calendula reseeds heavily in our gardens and you're right that it's easily weeded out so rather than a nuisance, I find it provides some good color where nothing else wants to grow. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Chris_N 08/03/2017

    That was a fun post. Thanks, Dale, for sharing. I've grown some of these and had my eye on some of the others. The Fagus variety and the variegated Filipendula are new ones to me. My experience with Corydalis lutea is that, at home, it's never been happy. Survives for a while, seed around a little bit and then disappearing. In one of our shade gardens at work, we must have perfect conditions as it spreads like a rampant weed. I have had it smother small hostas and Brunnera. Luckily, it pulls easily but we have to keep after it.

  12. User avater
    meander_michaele 08/03/2017

    What a wonderfully informative post, Dale. I loved your commentary about each of your favorites and the special tips on what growing conditions might make them especially happy. I certainly agree that the paperbark maple is a blessing in the garden and yours is particularly alluring because of your beautiful pruning/grooming of it. Frankly, I can't even begin to imagine taking such a "baby" (at $7.50, it had to be nothing but a stick) and nurturing to such stunning maturity. Please do another round of pictures and enlightening copy when you get a chance.

  13. greengenes 08/03/2017

    Hi Dale. Great posting today. Thanks for sharing these. I sure would love to find some of the filipendula ulmaria! I havent seen it at herronswood but that was quite a long time ago. In the Inula photo the white flowering plant in background is a persicaria polymorpha. I have one and i love it! It gets huge! The grisum is so beautiful. And the recomendation for the tri colored beech is spot on! I have one and so enjoy it! Thank you for putting this all together for us hungry plant lovers!

  14. user-6536305 08/03/2017

    I totally agree with you that you have space on your property for many amazing trees, Acer griseum-Paperbark mapIe and Fagus sylvatica tortuosa are especially handsome. Filipendula ulmaria variegate is beautiful. Specular garden and plant choices and combination. Thanks for the botanical names and thanks for sharing Dale. Please do more postings.

  15. Cenepk10 08/03/2017

    Wow. Never heard of any of them. Thanks for the lesson! Beautiful garden. Love ❤️ the trees !!!

  16. JoannaAtGinghamGardens 08/03/2017

    Very informative - I do believe I've found the answer to my mystery tree and I think it's a paperbark maple. I thoroughly enjoyed your garden tour and your ten plants for adventurous gardeners. Thanks for sharing!

  17. user-7008735 08/03/2017

    So many lovelies, Dale! Thanks for sharing. Every time I see an Acer griseum, I start thinking about where I could squeeze one in. Your Calendula made me smile for two reasons: I love that you always associate them with your mom, and they were the first seeds I planted when I had a tiny garden outside my very first apartment so many years ago. It had the worst powdery soil, but I was loving my independence and the joy of growing flowers!

    1. bimalathapalima 08/16/2017

      Thank you so much! I am glad you have been to Nepal.

  18. bsavage 08/04/2017

    Such great info! It is all very beautiful, and I appreciate you sharing what is working!

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