‘Smoke Signal’ is a selection of a native grass known as little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). This variety offers strong, upright stems that maintain their erect posture through fall. Leaves also stage a good fall color show, shifting from red (late summer) to reddish-purple (fall). Tan seedheads appear above leaves in autumn. This sturdy grass grows 3 to 4 feet tall and forms a clump up to 2 feet wide. It’s a great choice for a hot, dry spot where other plants won’t grow. ‘Smoke Signal’ is drought- and salt-tolerant, and deer leave it alone. Hardy in Zones 3-9.
This glass container is filled with “unearthed” ivy, which means the dirt has been removed with the roots exposed, says Joyce Mason-Monheim, floral director for Accent Decor. "Ivy and many other plants will last for a lengthy time without soil and survive with just a water source," says Mason-Monheim, a member of the American Institute of Floral Designers. The ivy is shown with a purple Phalaenopsis orchid bloom for color and detail.
Consider native red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) for a small tree that looks good through many seasons. It unfurls red flower spikes that are a hummingbird magnet. Typical chestnut-type fruits form in fall with three nuts per hull. Give red buckeye full sun in all zones, with afternoon shade in the South. It will also grow and flower in part shade. Plants need consistent moisture for healthiest leaves. Red buckeye often forms multiple trunks. Prune it to one for a more tree-like appearance. Size: 12 to 15 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-8.
Most bulbs can’t take moist soil, but camass lily (Camassia leichtlinii 'Caerulea') is an exception. This heirloom beauty dates to 1853 and goes by a host of names, including wild hyacinth, quamash and Leichtlin’s camass. It’s a must-have bulb for spring color because it brings strong blue tones to the garden during the time between spring daffodils and tulips. Flowers open in spikes surrounded by deer- and rabbit-resistant leaves. Plants naturalize readily to form drifts of color when conditions are right. This beauty grows 24 to 30 inches tall. Hardy in Zones 4-8.
For late season color, it’s tough to be New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis). This native plant hails from the Eastern part of the country; choose Western ironweed for gardens in the Great Plains and West. Purple flowers start opening in late summer and linger into fall, providing a late season nectar source for butterflies and other pollinating insects. Watch for migrating hummingbirds to visit this bloomer. Goldfinches and sparrows feast on the seed. Use ironweed in the back of the border or wildlife garden. Grows 4 to 7 feet tall by 2 to 4 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 5-8.
Hand-picked Japanese Denuchi Koi may be seen frolicking in three bays as they swim among mostly tropical water plants. The 30,000-gallon water garden incorporates 205 tons of Erie-Banded Taconite, along with 50 tons of grey trap. A series of four waterfalls tops out over 6 feet tall and circulates approximately 25,000 gallons of water per hour. The waterfalls deliver an enveloping melody that completely masks all traffic sound. The design juxtaposes strict formal lines and shapes with free-form movement and informality. This contrast is unusually refreshing and accentuates the motif. Traditional Balinese Gardens utilize water and represent life and pleasure to the Indonesian people.
Morning glory is the flower of early risers, who get to enjoy these gorgeous blooms at their freshest. ‘Celestial Mix’ features vines that unfurl a trio of stunning flower colors: midnight blue, snow white, and lavender-blue. Each flower features a contrasting star in the center of the bloom. Morning glory climbs by twining. Simply plant it beside a trellis or support, and the vine will do the rest. Nick or soak seeds overnight to aid germination. This annual vine grows 6 to 7 feet tall. Cut down vines after frost and compost or destroy. Doing this helps to minimize potential disease issues. Why we love it: Flowers unfurl like magic each morning, and if you’re patient, you can witness the event.
Clematis flowers come in many shapes and sizes. Clematis texensis is known as a small-flowered clematis because it opens little blooms. ‘Duchess of Albany’ features bell-shaped pink flowers with deeper pink stripes down the center of petals. This kind of clematis is also referred to as a late-flowering type, because its first flowers start appearing in midsummer and keep opening through September in most regions. Once vines are established, they’re drought tolerant. Small-flowered clematis work well as a vine that weaves through other plantings, such as shrub roses, perennials or other shrubs. For best flowering, cut back in early spring to 6 inches tall. Vines grow 8 to 20 feet tall by 2 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 5 to 9.
Talented Atlanta designer Mallory Mathison created this themed Little Boy Blue bedroom decked out beautifully in child-friendly holiday style in Francophile shades of blue and red. Each twin bed comes with a charming lit Christmas tree with fire-safe LED lights. Parents can treat these trees as advent calendars and nestle a different gift for each day leading up to Christmas or Hanukkah in the boughs or at the foot of the tree. Children will love the cozy glow of the tree lights as they drift off to sleep and these trees also make the perfect holiday night light says Mathison. Rather than cut trees, Mathison used potted evergreens that can be planted in the garden when the holidays are over.
For cool-region gardens, it’s tough to beat the stunning spring beauty of lupine. This native sends up flower spikes in a host of hues, including purple, white and pink. Lupines unfurl strongly textural leaves with finger-like edges. Dew and raindrops pool in leaf centers, adding sparkle to plants. This native readily self-sows, delivering different colors in future generations. Sow this beauty in drifts so you can cut flower spikes for the vase, where they linger up to two weeks. Look for varieties that grow to different sizes. This pretty pink bloomer is Lupinus polyphyllus ‘Minarette’. It grows 18 inches tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 3-7.
Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) are native trees, making up much of the U.S. hardwood forest along the East Coast. As the name suggests, this is the maple that is tapped to release sap, which can be boiled down to make maple syrup. In addition to their sweet sap, sugar maples are famous for their stunning fall color. This maple makes a good shade tree. If planted in a row, it can form an elegant allee and effective windbreak. This grouping shows Fall Fiesta sugar maple (Acer saccharum ‘Bailsta’), which boasts strong, rapid growth and a rounded form. Leaves resist summer heat, wind and drought. Sugar maple trees grow 60 to 75 feet tall and up to 30 to 40 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 3-8.
The classic corsage flower, gardenia delivers fragrance—and ‘Sweet Tea’ is no exception. Pure white, tennis ball-size blooms contrast beautifully with waxy, deep green leaves. Plants grow 3 to 5 feet tall and wide, with a strong upright shape. The secret to a happy gardenia in the landscape is thick mulch, no soil disturbance (roots like to be left alone) and monthly feeding with an acid fertilizer, blood meal or fish emulsion. Grow ‘Sweet Tea’ as a hedge, or tuck it in a pot you can place beside your favorite outdoor seat to keep the perfume close at hand. Hardy in Zones 7 to 10.
If there’s one secret to having a beautiful, healthy garden, it’s healthy soil. Devote time and energy to improving your soil on a regular basis. Add organic matter, such as compost, bark fines or composted manure. Organic matter improves soil fertility, drainage and water retention and also helps fight pests and diseases that live in soil. How often should you improve soil? Some gardeners do it every time they tuck a plant into soil or after each crop finishes in a vegetable garden. Improving soil once a year is a good way to build quality soil slowly.
Discover the shrubby side of clematis with this upright version of the classic vine. ‘Stand By Me’ grows to a shrub-like form that doesn’t need a trellis like a traditional vining clematis, although it does benefit from a little support. This clematis features beautiful blue blooms that dangle like bells and open from late spring through midsummer. After flowers fade, they form fuzzy seedheads that are eye-catching and fun. Plants grow 34 to 38 inches tall by 24 to 28 inches wide. Hardy in Zones 3-7. ‘Stand By Me’ clematis belongs to Pruning Group 3.
Take time to select tomatoes that suit your growing conditions. Typically if a tomato is for sale in your area, you’ll get good results. If local garden clubs, master gardeners or public gardens have plant sales, that’s a terrific spot to find tomatoes adapted to your region. Also select tomatoes that work for how you intend to use them. You can find ‘maters for slicing, sauce making or salads. This orange roma tomato (above) is ‘Sunrise Sauce.’ It’s the only non-heirloom orange paste tomato on the market and whips up a bright sauce that’s as delicious as it is colorful. Lastly, choose varieties that deliver the flavor you crave. For instance, tomatoes exist that offer low acid, higher lycopene content, smoky overtones or intense sweetness.
Large flowers open 7 to 8 inches across on Summerific ‘Perfect Storm’ hibiscus. This dwarf perennial hibiscus brings down the height of this perennial beauty to a tidy 3 feet, making it a perfect addition to a perennial or shrub border. Dark burgundy leaves complement the white flowers with red eye, which appear from midsummer through early fall. Perennial hibiscus appreciates moist soil and is one of the last perennials to pop through soil in spring. Plants grow 30 to 36 inches tall and 54 to 60 inches wide. Hardy in Zones 4-9. You can also find taller perennial hibiscus that grow 5 feet or more.
Greenhouse-grown hydrangeas often hold their blooms for weeks indoors. Don't let your potted hydrangea completely dry out, and keep it in a cool, bright room, out of direct sun. After the last frost in spring, move your hydrangea outdoors to a shady spot for a week or two. Then gradually give it some morning sun, to help ease its transition. Finally, plant it in a location that gets morning sun (unless you have a variety that's labeled with different sun or shade requirements). Hydrangeas should be kept watered and mulched as the weather warms up. it may take them a year or two to start blooming again at the normal time of year. Gardeners in cold winter regions sometimes lose their flower buds to late cold snaps.
Consider your own comfort as you garden, and invest a good pair of gloves. Nitrile coated gloves wash and wear well (toss in washer, air dry in a few hours) and come closest to bare-hand gardening. Top-quality nitrile gloves allow you to feel stems in your fingertips. Search to find a brand you love, then buy a few in multiple colors. Leather gloves are a must for cold- or wet-weather gardening, as well as dealing with roses or other thorny plants. Other comfort tools you’ll grab again and again include a broad-brimmed hat to keep you cool, waterproof boots and shoes, and knee or kneeling pads.