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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
    Genus

    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.

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