Plants In My Back Yard

Here is a short list of plants that do well in my own back yard
By Nancy Szerlag / Special to The Detroit News

When making up the list of plants that thrive in Michigan I start with those that star in my garden. To make the cut, for me plants need to be easy care and disease and pest-resistant, as well as look good.

Here’s a list of several more of my favorites that have made the A list the past few seasons.

Phlox “Shortwood,” a Blooms of Bressingham introduction, puts on a wonderful late summer to early fall show in my front yard, that gets 16 hours of direct sun. The large clusters of pink-purple flowers with darker eyes dance atop 4-foot stems, in a raised bed filled with fast draining, organic-rich soil that is kept well-watered. I am pleased to report that mildew, the dreaded scourge of the phlox family, has never been a problem on this hardy pretty, even though I don’t thin out the stand as is often recommended. I like a full look. I use a watering wand to water this bed rather than an overhead sprinkler in order to keep the foliage dry when the weather is hot and humid.

The 3-foot agastache “Blue Fountain,” with spikes of violet-blue flowers blooms at the same time and makes a perfect companion for the phlox. Also called Mexican Hyssop, A. “Blue Fountain” made a rather late showing this spring and nearly met its demise when this gardener, struck with an attack of impatience, branded it as a no show and almost dug it out. Fortunately, I came to my senses, gave it a reprieve, and in the past week a bit of green emerged from the base of the plants. My mother always told me patience is a virtue, and nowhere is it more true than in the garden.
Dead heading spent blooms extends the flowering of phlox and agastache and prevents them from reseeding. Both are great for cutting.

Centranthus ruber, also known as Jupiter’s Beard or Keys of Heaven, is one of the longest-blooming flowers in my full-sun garden and one I wouldn’t be without. When dead headed, it continues to bloom off and on through frost and because it’s also great for cutting, keeping up with the spent blooms is no problem.

The clusters of rosy-red flowers, blooming on 24- to 36-inch plants, go well with the silver leaves of artemisia, blue salvias and nepeta. Centranthus, like other long-blooming plants, has the reputation of being short-lived, but I have found that pairing it with xeric plants that thrive in lean, fast draining soils helps to extend its life. This year I will be adding Centranthus alba, the white-flowering variety, to the mix.

Another tough-as-nails plant that glows in my late-season garden is Solidago rugosa “Fireworks.” Elongated clusters of tiny golden-colored flowers gracefully spilling over the ends of 36-inch stems, resemble a shower of skyrockets exploding in the garden. In full- to part-sun gardens, this plant is a lusty grower that needs dividing every three years. It’s worth the effort. It makes a great cut flower.

Dark purple has become a staple in my color palette the past couple of years. I use deep-purple tulips to knit a variety of brightly colored bulbs and spring flowers into a unified arrangement in my spring garden.

The addition of purple-leafed shrubs, such as Sambucus “Black Beauty,” Weigela “Wine and Roses” and Barberry “Rose Glow” to the rear of my mixed perennial boarder work the same way. I treat the Sambucus as a perennial and cut it back hard in early spring when I see the buds begin to swell. Mother Nature has done the pruning for me on the Weigela, so all it needed this spring is a bit of shaping. Weigela “Midnight Wine” and the dwarf “Crimson Pigmy” Barberry, both of which max out at about 2 feet might be better choices for those with smaller gardens.

The purple leaves of the perennials Lysimachia ciliata “Purpurea,” and Heuchera “Purple Petticoats,” combined with the bright lime of Tradescantia “Green and Gold” and a variety of hosta make a stunning combination of color and texture that has no need of flowers to make it sing in the spring garden. Like others in the Lysimachia family, the purple-leafed “Purpurea” is a real mover, so be diligent about keeping it in bounds or you will be renaming it the ‘purple plant eater.’ Fortunately, it’s leaves are showy so keeping track of it is an easy task.

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