Great Garden Standbys

Geranium 'Brookside'

Orignally published in the Spring 2008 OHS Horticulture Horizons newsletter.

As avid gardeners, we search out the newest and best each spring, and we are tantalized by those plants with large advertising budgets: the “new and improved” hybrids, some of which do great here; others, quickly die. For example: does anyone remember Coreopsis ‘Limerock Ruby?’  In my garden, it was beautiful throughout spring, but when summer’s heat hit, like a tumbleweed, ‘Limerock Ruby’ shriveled up and blew away.

This spring I converted four, large beds from mostly vegetables over to perennials and shrubs. Because of this, I became more aware of those plants I rely upon as backbones of my garden. These are the plants I reach for and divide every time I need something for a new space. Assured that they will perform, I place them first and then surround them with their highly touted, but possibly less hardy companions. Most are perennials, but I’ve also thrown in a few shrubs.

Rosa 'The Fairy'

An entire article could be written on roses, but I’ll only touch on a few. Not the Hybrid Teas which almost require rarified air to breathe, but instead the landscape shrubs, the antiques your grandmother grew, and the new disease resistant varieties. The Knockout® brand of roses has become an industry within itself and is available in the original red, Double Red, Pink, Double Pink, Rainbow, and Blushing. My current favorites are Double Knockout® (red,) Rainbow Knockout® and Carefree Sunshine®; a lovely yellow. All have virtually no blackspot. ‘The Fairy’, an older beauty, is a delicate pink rose covered in blooms from April to September. ‘Carefree Beauty,’ a/k/a Katy Road Pink is another easy growing rose hybridized by Dr. Griffith Buck, from Iowa State University, who knew a thing or two about disease resistance and heat and cold tolerance.

I use certain shrubs again and again including Spiraea japonica ‘Magic Carpet’ with its multi-colored foliage and Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, which blooms white in spring. The leaves of ‘Ogon’ remain a lovely yellow, with new growth tinged in gold all summer.

Rhapsody in Pink crapemyrtle w/Large Coneflower
Rhapsody in Pink crapemyrtle

In Oklahoma, you can’t forget crapemyrtles. I planted two Rhapsody in Pink® crapemyrtles in the new beds because of their dark purple foliage and sterile growth habit which should create more pink blooms than ever. I also like some of Dr. Carl Whitcomb’s other varieties like Pink Velour®, Dynamite® and Tightwad Red®, a small red shrub.

Phlox paniculata, a passalong heirloom

Tall garden phlox, Phlox paniculata, is another plant which holds its own in the border. You can obtain a small specimen of any of the basic colors like purple, bright pink or white, and by summer, you will have a blooming plant. By the next year, you should be able to divide it. Garden phlox require little care other than good air circulation to prevent mildew and blood meal or another nitrogen source in early spring. Goldenrod, Solidago sp., takes the garden into fall with brilliant color, and it’s an important nectar source for multitudes of insects. I like its bright yellow plumes, but I also enjoy the wildlife show. Because it blooms the same time as ragweed, goldenrod often is incorrectly blamed for sinusitis problems at that time of the year. I especially like the variety known as showy goldenrod. True perennial geraniums, commonly known as cranesbills, like ‘Biokovo’, ‘Johnson’s Blue’ and ‘Brookside’ soften my garden with their foliage and sprawling growth habit. Bloody cranesbill also sports bright, purple blooms on gray green foliage. Daisies are wonderful in a mixed border. The cultivar ‘Becky’ grows on strong, sturdy stems. It is easily divided and used throughout the garden as a mid-sized plant.

'Alaska' Shasta daisies

Although this list contains some newer varieties, many of these plants are considered passalongs, and they’re another great reason to join a garden club like the Oklahoma Horticulture Society. Not only do you meet wonderful people who are as passionate about gardening as you are, but they are generous with their plant overflow and their knowledge.