Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Five Experts Share Their Must-Have Plants

It's early May, and no doubt many gardeners are asking themselves what to grow this year. So, I turned to five experts for advice on some of their favorite plants.

These folks are landscape designers, garden bloggers, journalists and ordinary citizens from around the nation. But the one thing they have in common is their love of gardening. Here are some of their "must-have" plants for 2010.

In North Carolina (Zone 7a), Anna Looper is known as "Flowergardengirl" for her highly popular gardening blog, which was named Best North Carolina blog and Best Design in 2009 by She also details her gardening adventures in Decorate a Garden.

In her cottage craftsman-style gardens, Anna likes to grow the pale yellow lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus) mixed with colorful annuals.

"Lavender cotton is my favorite perennial for its soft yellow flowers and grey green foliage that remain evergreen in my garden," says Anna. "I especially like this plant's ability to repel moths, when dried. I often pair lavender cotton with 'Raspberry Blast' Supertunia by Proven Winners. Supertunias are a favorite, because they bloom from early spring to after the first frost."

Further north in Massachusetts (Zone 6), Andrew Keys is a professional landscape designer. He owns and operates Oakleaf Green Landscape Design, and his plant suggestions have been featured in Fine Gardening Magazine. Andrew can be found at @oakleafgreen on Twitter; or at his popular Garden Smackdown blog.

Despite Andrew's long love affair with plants, however, this is his first year to grow annuals. So, what annual won him over finally? A new variety from Australia called Ptilotus 'Joey.'

"It took a really interesting annual to get my attention," admits Andrew. "Ptilotus 'Joey' is known as pink mulla mulla in its native Australia. The drought tolerant plant has fuzzy, silvery pink spikes of flowers. If it reminds you of Amaranthus, you're not far off. It's in the same family."

"The other plant I can't live without this year is the perennial Baptisia Twilite Prairieblues (TM)," he adds. "I can't say enough about this cultivar of false indigo. It's vigorous, with fascinating flowers of the deepest purple, and glaucous leaves that mature to an eye-catching steely blue. I've added more of this plant to my garden this year, and I imagine I'll be planting it in my clients' gardens for a long time to come."

Over in Texas (Zone 8a/b), Pamela Price has her mind on edibles this year. A well-known advocate for victory and kitchen gardens nationwide, the journalist writes the popular redwhiteandgrew blog. On Twitter, you can find her tweeting with thousands of gardeners, foodies and others as @redwhiteandgrew.

Pamela mixes edibles with ornamentals in her front yard for what she calls "a Texas Hill Country cottage garden look." Succulents, semi-succulents, roses and larkspurs share space happily with tomato plants and herbs.

"My hands-down favorite herb is good ol' upright rosemary," says Pamela. "We planted the rosemary the first spring in our home, and it has grown up alongside our son. In fact, when he was a toddler, he used to pick off pieces and give it to visitors to take with them. The ancient idea of 'rosemary for remembrance' resonates, even with kids."

Incidentally, one of her son's favorite recipes is adapted from The Joy of Cooking. "We stuff our roast chicken with onions, garlic, lemon and three fat sprigs of fresh-picked rosemary," says Pamela. "It's delicious!"

"My newer favorite tomato is 'Juliet,'" says Pamela. "When ripe, the fruit has an orange-red color and is oblong in shape. Last year's plant yielded so many tomatoes in the fall that, come Thanksgiving, we were ready for it to stop production. In a place where many tomato varieties can struggle (especially heirlooms), I think there's much to be said for the prolific, hearty Juliet hybrid."

In Virginia (Zone 7b), Tee Riddle knows plenty about vegetables. In fact, he writes all about growing vegetables at his blog Veggie Gardener. On Twitter, you can find him sharing his gardening knowledge as @TeeRiddle.

Being raised in the South, Tee has always considered a few vegetables to be important staples in his gardens. One is okra. Yes, okra. And the way Tee describes this vegetable makes me wonder why everyone isn't growing it too.

"Okra has been a family favorite for as long as I can remember," says Tee. "It is the perfect vegetable during those dry, blistering summer days, as it seems to thrive the hotter it gets. The morning blossoms of the okra plant are as beautiful as many ornamentals. In fact, they resemble the hibiscus bloom, which is a cousin to okra. My favorite okra varieties are 'Clemson Spineless' and 'Red Velvet'."

"Zucchini is my second must-have vegetable for 2010," explains Tee. "It is fairly easy to grow and very versatile in the kitchen. Zucchini can be used to make delicious bread, added to stews, grilled, sauteed and the southern classic - battered and fried. For our region, 'Black Beauty' and 'Aristocrat' are popular varieties."

In Oklahoma (Zone 7a), Dee Nash has gardened for more than 27 years in a state known for its red clay and sandy soil. She records these adventures in her reddirtramblings blog, which was named one of Horticulture Magazine's Top 20 Favorite Gardening Blogs. On Twitter, she's known as @reddirtramblin.

Dee grows more than 90 roses on her 7.5 acre property, but she named other flowers as her favorites this year, such as this lovely red Gladiolus 'Atomic.'

"Last summer was the first time I grew this bulb at the back of my log cabin," recalls Dee. "This gladiolus is fire engine red with petals so soft you want to touch them. This is definitely one of my favorite show-stopping plants. A true beauty in every sense of the word. And just like it's name, this flower is flaming hot."

"Another favorite is Papaver 'Lauren's Grape,'" says Dee. "This purple poppy was selected by Lauren Springer Ogden, gardener and author in Austin, Texas. The flower has papery petals of lavender with a drop of dark purple at the bottom. It also sports blue gray foliage, a beautiful poppy trait. Papaver will reseed in the garden, and poppies are a late spring delight."

From poppies and petunias to tomatoes and okra, these are a few plants to consider for your garden. For other ideas, ask neighbors and local nurseries for varieties that grow well in your region.

Don't forget your local master gardening organization is a terrific free gardening resource too. 

Meanwhile, it's not too early to consider how that lush, green garden will look in the dead of winter, and start planning now. For more advice:


  1. Great post, Teresa (and Anna, Andrew, Pamela, Tee and Dee) -- some favourites as well as some new guys to try. Thanks.

  2. Anna, I love the pale yellow of the lavender cotton as well, although I find that it is not a very long lived perennial here in California.

    Andrew, if you come out to CA for a visit, I'll have to hook you up with my Australian mate Troy - he runs a mobile nursery of all California and Australian natives and will wow you with some of his unusual cultivars.

    Dee, Love the red glad, but they're such divas, admit I'm not always sure what to combine them with. Dark purple?

  3. This is lovely, Teresa. Thanks for the invitation to share our faves with your readers.

  4. Helen and Susan:

    Thanks for stopping by... This topic is probably a revolving list, I imagine. But it's interesting to see what fascinates people right now. They had some interesting ideas, don't you think? All best, Teresa

  5. Pamela: Your contribution was delightful, especially as I love rosemary. In fact, it's my middle name (Rosemarie). Thanks for sharing your story and the easy roasted chicken recipe idea. All best, Teresa

  6. Thank you for featuring me on your website. That Lavender Cotton has lived in one container for at least 3 years and remained evergreen. I change the annuals out each season. This season I decided to put bacopa and Mexican petuna with it.

  7. Oh I love okra, zucchini, and rosemary! Great choices. Carla

  8. Enjoyed reading your post. I planted the pink mulla mulla last year. I just loved it. It's so different looking. Interesting to see what others fave for this year. thanks!

  9. Thanks again for the invitation to participate, Ms. O'Connor!

    @Susan M.: You're on! I find I love Australian plants, though few grow well here. AND California natives? Gosh, this mobile nursery sounds like a tease to me. ;-) I'd still love to see it.

  10. Hi everyone: Nice to see you here.

    Anna (flowergardengirl) and Mr. Keys (otherwise known as Andrew), it was pleasure to have you both participate in this post. Your contributions were very interesting, and I do find myself dreaming of pink mulla mullas and pale yellow lavender cotton. Lovely!

    Carla (southernlady), I've never tried okra. But Tee's comments intrigued me, and I may have to find a spot for it. We do have very hot summers in Idaho. Thanks for stopping by...

    Teresa, you must have been one of the lucky ones who were able to try the mulla mullas earlier than other markets. Andrew mentioned it wasn't easy to find in New England last year. I've decided to go look for it here in our local nurseries. What a stunner! Appreciated your comments.

    Thanks, everyone. Hope you'll drop by again. Teresa

  11. Hi Susan, yes, I agree, the Atomic glads are divas to the max. Yes, dark purple would be great. Mine are planted in front of a white rose which brings out their white edging. I did sprinkle them as accent points throughout one of the beds this year, and I'll be interested to see if they play nicely with others. :) ~~Dee

  12. Dee: That's how I visualize those red-hot glads, right next to something white to make 'em pop out. Thanks so much for sharing your favorites this year with Seasonal Wisdom readers. All the best, Teresa

  13. Fun to see this, and thanks for introducing me to some new bloggers (the guys). It's going to take a bit longer for me to introduce okra into my garden though....

  14. Hi Charlotte: It's funny how certain vegetables get overlooked, even with all their benefits. But I am much more intrigued by okra after Tee's interview. Thanks for stopping by. Teresa