When I sit down with residential clients and begin to make wish lists I find that the old fashioned favorites still top the list, despite my lectures on the benefits of densely layered native plants. Hydrangea, roses, daylilies, peonies, iris, and lavender will never die in the eye of the garden romantic. I believe that our collective design aesthetic is gradually changing thanks to our modern naturalistic landscape heroes (Oudolf, OvS, Dan Pearson, Ken Druse, Sarah Price, Adam Woodruff, Nigel Dunnett, Ken Druse and Reed Hilderbrand), but until that paradigm shift happens I continue to share my list of the best classic performers. Here they are:
1) Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ – while there is a hydrangea for every day of the week, this one is tough to beat if you have the space for it. Limelight is a vigorous variety that fills in a hedge, doesn’t flop over and once dried the flower heads have that lovely dusty pink and green color – your arrangements will make Martha proud.
2) Lavender ‘Hidcote’ – In Vermont we have had good luck with growing both ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’ but the color on ‘Hidcote’ is the most vibrant and lasts better when dried. I used to be industrious and make things with it, but now I just enjoy it while it lasts, which is only a week or two around the 4th of July. Care must be taken to ensure good drainage and use either no mulch or a pebble mulch.
Roses – oh man, I have an instant headache. No really, I love roses, and when we bought the farm I had oodles of hardy shrub roses from the Rosarie at Bayfields in Maine. Of those oodles only a few remain 15 years later. The ones that can handle our tough winters, wet clay soils that dry to brick, and survive pure neglect are the pink Rugosa hybrids – “Jens Munk’, ‘Therese Bugnet’, and ‘Hansa’, as well as a few Bourbon roses protected on the south side of the studio.
Dayliles – Hemerocalis, or as the locals call it “Ditch Lily”. Way too many rugged colorful varieties to list but if I could only pick five: ‘Baja’ (red), ‘Big Time Happy’ (yellow), ‘Ice Carnival’ (white), and ‘Pretty in Pink’ and ‘Strawberry Candy’ (pink).
Iris – generally we plant three types – Iris cristata (Crested Iris, a miniature woodland groundcover); Iris ensata (Japanese Iris, very dramatic around water features and in big swaths), and Iris siberica (Siberian Iris) tough as nails, graceful upright form).
Peonies – There are also a million of these to choose from and can understand the overwhelmed glaze I see in the eyes of garden center shoppers. Luckily, it’s hard to go wrong – they are tough plants, often outliving their gardeners and found around old cellar holes here in New England. The traditional double flowering peonies (‘Sarah Bernhardt’, ‘Felix Crousse’) are inexpensive and reliable. The Japanese and single flowered peonies are lighter and more graceful. The new ITOH or intersectional crosses of Tree and Herbaceous peonies are fragrant, sturdy and exotic, but very expensive (about $60 ea). Someday I would like to add ‘Border Charm’ to my garden in Shelburne.