Try plants that work hard for the money

May 7, 2010

By Heather Bradley

We work hard for our money, so why shouldn’t the plants we buy? Some plants are annuals that bloom nonstop all summer but must be replanted each year. Others are perennials that may be long lived, but only bloom for a few weeks or sometimes only a few days.

Smaller yards and tighter budgets have created a need for plants that have a longer season of interest. Evergreen foliage, colorful bark in winter, and perennials and shrubs that have long blooming seasons can help stretch our gardening dollars. Some plants may be gorgeous in photos, but turn out to be a big disappointment once planted in a homeowner’s yard.

In short, we want Donna Summers, not prima donnas. Some plants are difficult unless you give them exactly what they want. Good perennials and shrubs prosper without much help from the gardener, thriving without crowding out their neighbors.


Evergreen and drought-tolerant beauties for sun. Glacier blue has variegated, silvery leaves. E. myrsinites is a trailing variety that will up the “cool” factor of your patio pots. E. wulfenii may reseed prolifically, but seedlings are easy to pull, and nothing compares to its large chartreuse flowers from January until summer.


Nepeta “Walkers Low”

“Walkers low” is a lovely catmint that is not just for kitties. Soft mounds of semi-evergreen, blue-green foliage are topped with lavender-blue blooms all summer. It’s beautiful mixed with practically any other plant.

Dicentra eximia

Although this shade-lover is not evergreen, it does emerge very early in spring with ferny foliage and dainty, heart-shaped flowers. It blooms tirelessly until fall.

Oreganum “Kent Beauty”

This semi-evergreen, ornamental oregano best shows off its lime-and-rose hop-like blooms when planted in a pot. This is one tough plant that can take a lot of abuse and still look fresh and lovely.

Sedum “Angelina”

An outstanding groundcover for sunny areas with dry soil. Lime-green succulent leaves, often turning golden in winter, will cascade beautifully over a wall or side of a pot. It is especially useful for those who do not water their plants very often. Ahem.


“Caramel,” “peach flambe” and “crimson curls” seem to be the toughest of the lot, and they have sailed through the worst of winters in the Northwest with nary a sneeze. Colorful, evergreen leaves add interest to foundation plantings, garden beds and pots.

Cornus “Elegantissima”

This shrubby dogwood that may not have the showy blossoms of its cousins, but elegant, white-margined leaves in summer and blood-red stems that glow in winter more than make up for it.

Blueberry “Sunshine Blue”

A dwarf evergreen blueberry can bear up to 10 pounds of large, juicy berries. New leaves are stunning steel blue and change to eye-catching shades of red and purple in fall. It is a great alternative to nandina as a foundation plant or in pots.

Rosa “Knockout” and “Flower Carpet”

Not your granny’s roses. Both trouble-free varieties come in a multitude of colors that bloom nonstop all summer and sometimes until December. Evergreen leaves are resistant to black spot.

Coreopsis “Zagreb”

Although the hardy perennial coreopsis “zagreb” dies each winter, it returns early every spring with tidy, green, ferny foliage followed by a profusion of sunny-yellow daisies that continue all season long. Plant early flowering bulbs underneath it, and emerging foliage will hide fading leaves of crocus or narcissus.

Heather Bradley is a certified horticultural plantswoman for Newcastle Fruit & Produce.

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