The Experts’ Top Ten Slide Show

Find out which plants they think a garden shouldn’t be without
by Steve Aitken, Fine Gardening issue 143

The legendary Johnny Cash once gave his daughter, Rosanne, a list of what he thought were the 100 essential country-music songs. This got us thinking: What are the essential plants that we would pass along to a loved one? To see what we could put together as a list, we surveyed leading plantspeople, designers, and gardeners for their top 10 essential plants. Here are the genera that rose to the top.

  • Genus

    1. Hydrangea

    USDA Hardiness Zones 4–9 A garden classic with beautiful blooms and a variety for almost any situation—is there any question why this one came in first?
  • Salvia

    2. Salvia

    Zones 5–11 Everyone can find something to love in this genus of long bloomers. Even where the variety isn’t hardy, it is worth growing as an annual.
  • Genus

    3. Rose

    Zones 3–9 Is any garden complete without a rose? While some deserve their fussy reputation, countless cultivars require no special attention to reward you with their unmatchable blooms.
  • Genus

    4. Viburnum

    Zones 3–9 For sheer presence in the garden, few shrubs can match a viburnum. Fragrant blooms, colorful berries, and fall color are just some of the attributes you will find in this genus.
  • Genus

    5. Hellebore

    Zones 4–9 You want what? A plant that is not only deerproof, shade loving, and low maintenance but also starts blooming in winter? No plant does...oh, wait—hellebores are all that.
  • Genus

    6. Iris

    Zones 3–9 Although irises come in almost every color and height, they are always elegant—and supremely easy to pass along.
  • How-To

    7. Oak

    Zones 4–9 The three words used most often to describe an oak are “mighty,” “majestic,” and “strong.” What more could you want from a tree?
  • Genus

    8. Hosta

    Zones 3-9 Had the North American deer population been allowed to vote, this genus surely would have come in at number one.
  • Genus

    9. Sedum

    Zones 3–11 Be they upright or ground hugging, these succulents never look bad and rarely need help from you.
  • Genus

    10. Japanese Forest Grass

    Zones 5–9 Here is a design tip: If you want to immediately improve the look of any shady spot, plant something from this genus.