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.


  1. Erin says:

    I loved your Phlox Paniculata and want to order some. What is the exact color name and where do you order them from.

    Thanks and they are gorgeous.

    Hi Erin, thanks for stopping by. My Phlox paniculata is an heirloom variety and nameless as far as I know. A friend passed it along to me years ago, and I’ve, in my turn, given it to many people. It originally came from a women named Linda in Louisiana so I always think of it at Linda’s phlox. I wish I could help you more. There are two common heirlooms. One is pink like mine and the other is purple. I hope this helps.~~Dee

  2. (Hi Dee – last time I hit ‘submit’ it didn’t work. Let’s try again…)

    You’re making Oklahoma sound like garden paradise, Dee – a place where the zones overlap enough for roses, perennial geraniums, garden
    phlox, lilacs, and crepe myrtles to mingle happily. Some of us are a little jealous of Pam/Digging because she got to see your paradise in person.

    My list of standbys ranks crepe myrtles at the top but my passalong fragrant Phlox just barely makes it here. It’s not like Austin doesn’t have tons of zone 8 & 9 flower choices on our standby list – but the trade-off always seems to be in fragrance…too many of our toughest plants don’t have a scent…they stink!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Annie in Austins last blog post..Photos After the Rain

    Hi Annie, it just seems that way because Austin has seen a summer from hell. Your springs and falls are very beautiful. You’re right about those drought resistant beauties. They often don’t smell good. BTW, all of my Austin friends are welcome to come visit anytime. Love to you all.~~Dee

  3. CurtissAnn says:

    I know you often speak of the Knockout roses. Do they have much of a scent. I really like to have roses with scent, unfortunately, it has seemed that the more scent, the more they get disease. I envy your daisies, wish I had planted some.


    CurtissAnns last blog post..Where I Create

    No, the Knockouts have very little scent if any at all. I think the the gene relating to scent may be connected to one controlling blackspot. It does seem like the more resistant a rose is, the less it smells. However, some of the old ones still get blackspot, but are so vigorous they shrug it off. I’ve only sprayed my roses twice this season.~~Dee

  4. linda says:

    Lots of great standbys Dee, many of which are favorites and standbys of mine too, and others that I’d like to try. Quickly becoming standbys here are heucheras, Joe Pye weed, and Herbstsonne Rudbeckias, among others. Very nice article, and wonderful photos!

    lindas last blog post..Sunday’s Child

    Hi Linda, I agree with the Heucheras. I don’t own any Herbstonne Rudbeckias. I better go check them out.~~Dee

  5. Cynthia says:

    I once grew a fairy rose as a standard and it was so beautiful. I just loved the little pink flower clusters it was covered in. Sadly I had to leave it behind when I moved out of state. One day I will have it again though! I enjoyed this post although it does not help my list of plants to grow next year stay small!

    Cynthia’s last blog post..Wasps Are Our Friends

    Cynthia, I bet it was beautiful. I love the blooms. So small and such impact. Sorry about increasing your list.~~Dee

  6. tina says:

    You mentioned some great plants (that Limerock didn’t work out in my garden either) and your garden is quite beautiful with all those standbys.

    tinas last blog post..Tennessee Bloggers on My Mind

    Thanks, Tina. Tennessee and Oklahoma have similar weather. We just get it first and send it on. Not surprised you all grow some similar things. Love you TN gardeners, I do.~~Dee

  7. Anna says:

    I will print this out and use it often. I already have some of the Crepe Myrtles and Knockouts!! Your list includes a Knockout I haven’t tried and that’s the yellow one. I want it!

    One of the top plants on my list is perennial geranium. I’m going to try Jolly Bee. I’ll take as much blue as I can get. And I miss my Phlox so badly–don’t you just love it!!

    Thanks for the list and you are so right on—I am thinking to next year already. I’m working on a list of those die hard favorites that are tried and true. I’m tired of wasting money in this drought.

    Annas last blog post..Garlic Chives Allium schoenoprasum

    Anna, I’m honored. You know more than I do about plants, girl. I love ‘Johnson’s Blue’ too. I’ve never grown ‘Jolly Bee.’ May have to try it too. They help soften the garden. Get more phlox. You’ll love it.~~Dee

  8. Benjamin says:

    Oh, I love my little ‘Ogon’ Spiraea! I drove 45 minutes to get it last fall, since no one in town had it, and when I arrived at this tiny country nursery they had a sale. Wouldn’t I like more than one, they asked? No, they get to be 5×5′. But WHEN?! I want it to be big now. It’s a modest grower it seems, but what’s your experience?

    And red dirt, should’ve picked up on that. I lived the first 9 years of my life in Weatherford, OK.

    Benjamins last blog post..Monarchs Aplenty–19 and Counting

    Hi Bejamin, Mine is three seasons old, and it is four feet wide by three feet tall. It takes awhile. They are very hard to find here too. So, you’re a former Okie. Welcome.~~Dee

  9. The Diva says:

    Hmm…. more flowers. I think I’m starting to notice a pattern here.
    Love ya!
    ~The Diva

    The Divas last blog post..Diva Lesson #1

    As can only be spoken by the daughter. Poor thing. She is surrounded by gardening.~~Dee

  10. Every hardiness zone seems to have its fair share of the good ol’ standby plants that can carry a garden when the “new, improved, gotta-have-them” plants fail. We have many similar standby plants in my zone 5 garden, except we can’t grow crapemyrtles.

    Great post!

    Carol, May Dreams Gardenss last blog post..You Might Be A Gardening Geek: Olympic Edition

    I’m sorry you can’t grow crapemyrtles, Indy. Those long harsh winters do them in don’t they?~~Dee

  11. Lucy Bloom says:

    Hi Dee, I love phlox, it’s one of my favourite garden flowers, I just planted a lilac coloured one this year too, a bit late though I shall have to wait till next year to see it in all it’s glory!
    Lucy x

    Lucy Blooms last blog post..Hello, I must be going!

    Hello, Lucy dear, you all can grow phlox like nobody’s business in the U.K. You’re the ones who taught us how.~~Dee

  12. Gail says:

    When I moved to tennessee I was a new gardener and just having read Elizabeth Lawrence, I wanted to be zone 7. Then I could grow more of what she grew! But I sure do miss winter and a bit of snow cover to give the garden winter interest! But having said that, we do get to grow Crape Myrtles and we can occasionally push the envelope and try other plants! But Coneflowers, phlox, rudbeckias and other standbys make my garden! I did just find Baby Gold, Solidago on sale at Lowes…it may be similar to the one MMD mentioned! It is already blooming nicely. Our Perennial Plant club has a plant exchange before each monthly meeting. A nice way to get and give plants. Very enjoyable post Dee.

    Gail, we truly live in a great zone, but like all the others it is a challenge sometimes isn’t it? Especially with summers like yours where there is no rain for a very long time. I noticed on the U.S. map that it should be raining in Tennessee soon. I truly hope so. Enjoy your new Goldenrod. I love those plant exchanges.~~Dee

  13. perennialgardenlover says:

    These are all great standbys in my garden too Dee. I never thought about it before, but I do have a tendency to divide these reliable bloomers time & time again to disperse elsewhere or to give to neighbors. I couldn’t imagine gardening without my “Robert Poore” garden Phlox (which doesn’t have any problems with mildew), Shasta Daisies, Blackeyed Susans, Purple Coneflowers, Hydrangeas and other various bulbs & shrubs. They create a permanent part of my garden from year to year. Great post Dee!

    perennialgardenlovers last blog post..Decorating on a budget

    I don’t have Robert Poore, PG. It looks like a good one. Mine doesn’t get mildew either. Well, ‘Mt. Fuji’ does, but I just spray it with a little copper. Don’t know what I would do with Rudbeckias and coneflowers either.~~Dee

  14. I can’t grow Crepe Myrtles, but if I could, I’d have to have ‘Tightwad Red’ just for the name! My garden would be a lot more boring without the Geraniums & the Phlox paniculata. I added a 2nd cultivar of Goldenrod this year, a new short one. They are the most reliable, easiest care plants.

    Mr. McGregor’s Daughters last blog post..The Best Virtually Unknown Native Shade Garden Plant*

    Since I wrote that article in the spring, I’ve grown Tightwad Red for two seasons. It is okay, but not my favorite red. Dynamite is my favorite. I do like its dark blue green and red leaves very much. I’ll be interested in seeing how your short Goldenrod does next year.~~Dee

  15. Brenda Kula says:

    I haven’t had a whit of luck with phlox or roses this year. The daisies haven’t bloomed in several months. The garden is kind of starkly empty of pretty blooms. So I’m amusing myself with the leaves right now…

    Brenda Kulas last blog post..Friday Morning Musings

    Hi Brenda, you’ve had a rough gardening year with a difficult drought. During those years, the roses and the phlox don’t do well. Probably only tropicals and salvias are happy. Glad to see you got some rain.~~Dee

  16. TC says:

    I’m envious of warmer zone gardens. Crape myrtles are little more than small shrubs here, and although I have nothing against Zone 5 gardeners growing them as such, to me, they’re meant to be trees.

    Knockouts, to me, are too fake, and they have no aroma. We have hybrid teas that require no “rarified air to breathe” and smell what roses are supposed to smell like.

    Goldenrod, the wild variety, is as pretty as the cultivated varieties, it gets out of hand here along the edges of my big yard, and in roadside ditches and fields. I don’t mind though, it’s Kentucky’s state flower.

    Too bad about your tickseed, I wonder if it needed more shade? But like you said, I don’t reckon “new and improved” is always new and improved.

    TCs last blog post..Changes

    TC, the thin leaved tickseeds don’t seem as hardy or robust here. Remember that our climate is very hot in the summer (like Texas.) I have nothing against Hybrid Teas either and grow quite a few, but I don’t consider them to be garden standbys. They are more like high profile ballerinas in our climate. I have several roses I grow simply for scent to make up for the lack of it in the Knockouts. I just like that the Knockouts bloom here all summer.~~Dee

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