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Gardening in the Rainy Zone.
Top Ten Plants
Pacific Northwest garden writers pick their favorite plants.
Garden writers from around the Pacific Northwest compile their top ten plants with a brief explanation why it made the list.
1. Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise'
My favorite witch hazel, Hamamelis ‘Arnold Promise', shines like a beacon from mid-January through February. Clumps of spidery yellow petals exuding a spicy citrus fragrance clothe the twiggy branches. Topping out at around 18 feet with an elegant upright shape, this is a perfect small tree for urban and suburban gardens. Vivid gold and orange fall color adds another season of interest . Extend the "bloom" season by planting and training an early spring flowering clematis up into the canopy.
2. Lagerstroemia indica x fauriei ‘Zuni'
Lots of research led me to this crape myrtle that is the size of a large shrub. I was looking for a disease resistant and drought tolerant structural shrub for my gravel garden. Lagerstroemia ‘Zuni' has exceeded all my expectations. Dark lavender flower trusses hold up to our summer heat, fiery orange-red foliage announces autumn, while cinnamon exfoliating bark lends color to the winter landscape.
3. Parahebe perfoliata
Visitors always want to know the name of this garden workhorse whose bluish-silver leaves resemble those of a eucalyptus. Mine grows on the edge of a stone wall where its violet-blue racemes cascade to the sidewalk. A good haircut after the initial bloom period results in mid-summer re-bloom and renewed foliage.
4. Molina caerula ‘Variegata'
With a height and width between 2 to 2½ feet, Molina caerula ‘Variegata' is a perfect plant for beds and borders where space is at a premium. Arching blades are striped green and yellow, contrasting with the purplish flower plumes. It is easily grown, disease and pest resistant, adaptable, and non-invasive. It was rewarded for its virtues when selected by the Great Plant Picks program as an outstanding plant for the Pacific Northwest.
5. Scilla peruviana
Spring in my gravel beds is a celebration of blue, as the green conical buds of Scilla peruviana unfurl, revealing rounded racemes of up to a hundred star shaped flowers. Makes me swoon! Although listed as zones 8-9, this bulb is reliably hardy for me and has bulked up over time, with some clumps now bearing as many as 15 flower heads each spring. The foliage is summer dormant, reappearing in the autumn.
6. Agastache rupestris
Licorice mint, Agastache rupestris, attracts throngs of hummingbirds with its rich nectar. Spikes of rose-pink and orange blossoms rise above the finely textured, aromatic silver foliage. Our wet winters cause crown rot, so plant in a hot, sunny location in fast draining soil and surround with a mulch of quarter-10 gravel. This long flowering lovely is worth the trouble. Partner with salvias, Russian sage, and lavender for stunning combinations.
7. Corylopsis pauciflora
I first saw Corylopsis pauciflora in the garden at the Bishop's Close. Underneath a canopy of venerable trees, a large group of winter hazels, dripping with fragrant lemon- yellow inflorescences, rose out of a sea of brilliant blue flowers. One of the most enduring vignettes in my garden is Corylopsis pauciflora under planted with Pulmonaria angustifolia. Everything is derivative—right? We see plant combinations and borrow them, adding our own interpretations.
8. Iris unguicularis
I moved this iris that hails from the Mediterranean three times before it settled into the garden. Tough grassy leaves shelter the lavender blooms, marked with yellow veins and falls. This year the clump tendered a few flowers in November and December. Now, in the midst of a week of 25 degree temperatures, it is unbowed and in full bloom. Iris unguicularis exudes a delicious sweet perfume.
9. Lilium ‘Black Beauty'
Lilium ‘Black Beauty' is the most robust lily I have ever grown. Established plants are floriferous, producing 20-50 recurved, deep raspberry blooms with green centers and white edges. After several years the thick, sturdy stems can reach 5-6 feet tall; staking is a must as the weight of the flowers pulls them over. Long lasting as a cut flower with incredible fragrance.
10. Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata'
The variegated Japanese aralia illuminates the darkest corner of the garden. Large, shiny green, palmate leaves dipped in creamy yellow-white add a tropical presence to the garden year round. Umbels of white flowers are followed by black fruit. It has been in the garden for 5 years and has proved to be durable and hardy.
Living in Portland, Lucy contributes to national and regional gardening magazines. She is a garden designer and also lectures about garden design nationwide.
Top three photographs by Debbie Teashon. Bottom photograph courtesy of Great Plant Picks.