Garden Designers Round Table: Studio ‘g’s Top 5 Landscape Plants

April 26, 2011

Listing my top 5 landscape plants has this fun feeling of being in (one of my favorite movies) High Fidelity.   Can you give me your Top 5 list of musical crimes perpetrated by Stevie Wonder in the 80’s? No, but I can give you my top 5 landscape plants.

Who’s going to be the horticultural Jack Black to my John Cusack?  (yes, of course I get to be John Cusack, this is MY imaginary garden list post)….This is going to be fun, and just like the movie — if you denounce my choices you have to give very valid rational reasons…..;0)

So here’s my Top 5 list of Landscape Plants that should be considered for every (New England) garden……

Miscanthis sinensis (nearly every variety excluding ‘zebrinus’ — which I find plain tacky)

miscanthus sinensus strictus by cheryl pedemonti

As I thought through this list, I realized that I don’t think that there is a single garden that I have planned which does not have some variety of miscanthus (probably ‘Graziella’ or ‘Karl Forester’ as these are my favorite and are also easiest to source).  Grasses are great inexpensive fillers, they are easy to grow and maintain and the they readily provide splittable specimens to give away to friends and neighbors.  As landscape plants they flexible and can provide a modern edge or soften a country garden.

Ajuga reptans (again, nearly every variety except for ‘Burgundy Lace’ which is cheesy like an 80’s chinz).

ajuga reptans by cheryl pedemonti

Every garden needs ground cover somewhere and ajuga is the slightly surprising but easy to grow solution.  It generally tolerates sun and shade and spreads only in a slow and polite way.  I have patches of it growing in the aisles of my veg garden.  Its a volunteer there, but it is just so fresh and it has such a perfect puddle shape that I can’t bear to disturb it.

ajuga reptans

Both High and Lowbush Blueberry – Classics never go out of style.

autumn blueberry bush

I never tire of the amazed response that most people give me when I tell them that they can pick the berries and eat them. (you would be surprised how many people don’t know that) I really do think that people need to get slightly more in touch with where their food comes from and easy growing blueberries seems a perfect place to start.  Plus, around New England they are a great substitute for the desired fall reds of the invasive burning bushes that (finally), only recently, were outlawed.

Lucanthemum superbum (Shasta Daisies)

leucanthemum superba

They go with everything, and while they rarely take center stage, their presence makes everything around them shine brighter. Shasta’s are the chameleon of the garden. Put them with poppies and they are like a pretty summer dress, plant alongside clipped boxwood and they are more of a handsome brooch on a sexy business suit, pair with castor beans and scarlet penstemon and they become exotic and sophisticated.  The options are endless.

Boxwood – (Duh, aren’t these on everyone’s list?)

large boxwood

I don’t know that a garden (except in the middle of the desert) would be a garden without them.  They give the garden it’s distinctive earthy smell, they are handsome and strong, they have a strong jaw line and through summer and winter, they stand tall and proud.  It’s enough to make a girl swoon.

What is on your Top 5 list?

Check out the posts of my fellow rountablers, It will be fun to see what they think. I imagine today’s post to be the online version of all of us in a cluttered old plant shop insulting each other and arguing over the cultural merits of our choices…..

Nan Ondra : Hayefield : Bucks County, PA

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Laura Livengood Schaub : Interleafings : San Jose, CA

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA

Images: Miscanthus  and ajuga reptans by Cheryl Pedemonti, ajuga reptans from, blueberries from and leucanthemum from

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  1. jil casey says:

    Great post – very informative – like your sense of humor :>)

  2. Ivette Soler says:

    Rochelle! i am dying with laughter because every time you made an exception, it was one of my favorites! I LOVE M. ‘Zebrinus’ – I agree, loud and tacky, but something about it…
    You will keel over – when I was a baby gardener, I planted it next to an Elaeagnus ‘Gilt Edge’! Talk about TACKY – omg, I thought I was so clever. I can’t believe people walking by my home didn’t have seizures!


    • rochelle says:

      EEk!! Elaeagnus ‘Gilt Edge’ Ivette!! Yes, you predicted my chagrin! 😉

      I do love that you all love what I loathe. I knew that would happen and was excited to see who would own it.

      And Nan, I admit, ‘Distinctive Earthy Smell’ is code for ‘Cat Pee’ — but garden-y ‘Cat Pee’ which somehow makes it nice for me.

      Louise — I have never had a problem with seeding grasses – I do get babies but not out of control — hadn’t considered worrying about it. I am going to have to go check out Lindera benzoin.

  3. Nan Ondra says:

    I wouldn’t dare denounce any of your choices, Rochelle, though I must admit that when I swoon over (or rather, feel faint around) boxwood, it’s mostly because of the “distinctive earthy smell.” It was great fun to read your reasoning for each of your picks. I have to agree with Ivette: I also like some of your exceptions (tacky generally doesn’t bother me). And that blueberry photo…absolutely breathtaking. Thanks for sharing these today.

  4. Pam/Digging says:

    I’m a big fan of grasses too, both exotic and native, and luckily we have lots of good choices here in central Texas. And although boxwood is used poorly in so many neighborhoods here, I like it too when used properly. Just not as a boring green mustache in front of the foundation. It’s fun to juxtapose its evergreen, clipped form with wild, star-shaped agaves and other xeric plants. It’s tough enough for our heat and drought and deer dislike it. A classic choice.

  5. louise says:

    I agree with both you and Nan, Rochelle: boxwood- nice and tidy and kinda stinky..nice idea to contrast it with Yucca or Agave, Pam.I have had great luck replacing with faster growing, glossy green and native ilex- esp when underplanted with geranium macro.
    I am suspicious of miscanthus with its tendency to seed around- esp. in a lakeside shoreline context. but do love the Calamagrostis’ Karl Foerster’. One of my new faves this season is Lindera benzoin- so subtle and sweet..Im replacing some forsythia with it ….thanks for the post

  6. Must admit, the throw-down challenge in the second paragraph had me reading your list with an unusually critical eye, but it’s a lovely selection. And I agree with Nan about the blueberry photo – for a minute I thought blueberry was some regional common name for an ornamental, I’m so unused to thinking of it as a fall foliage plant. As to the Miscanthus zebrinus, I’ve never planted one, but was recently doing a follow-up with one of long time clients who wanted an an unusual grass for a large pot. Guess what made it’s way onto my list of suggestions she check out?

  7. Denise says:

    Listomania and High Fidelity are inseparable — fun post!

  8. What’s the matter with me? I can’t smell boxwood! Seriously – everyone says how stinky they are and I can’t smell a thing. Guess I’d better not complain, right? I agree with you about the blueberries – I have two sitting in my car right now waiting to be planted in a client’s garden later today! Such beautiful fall color with yummy fruit – can’t be beat!!

  9. Cathy says:

    I can’t smell boxwood (or grow it either, for that matter), but I found your choices intriguing and your notes about them so very entertaining.

    We got the boxwood look with compacta holly but you’ve made me far more appreciative of our wonderful blueberry grove. As for the grasses, I tend to appreciate them in others’ gardens, not my own. I think I’m too hung up on a more formal appearance, even in my cottage beds.

    But I must say, you nailed it with the ajuga (although I won’t admit publicly, at least not here, that I so love the Burgundy Lace – it’s my favorite!….maybe because it fits in perfectly with my oh-so-frumpish 80’s wardrobe LOL).

    I enjoyed your entertaining and informative post!

  10. All favs here too except blueberries which I’d love to use but Bambi gets them every time. And yes, boxwood is a favorite. Those who dismiss it don’t know how many varieties and uses there are for this hard working classic.

  11. Jayne says:

    SOme of the boxwood don’t have the pungent smell! But I love the true boxwood smell, it smells earthy! Love buxus but I am concerned with the diseases and insects cropping up in my 10 year old garden. I have that nasty larvae (saw fly?) that winters inside the leaves. Before they hatched out, my boxwood were jumping like a mexican jumping bean (really!) I could hear a soft rustle!

  12. commonweeder says:

    I have ajuga (of some sort), shasta daisies and high bush blueberries in my garden, but to round out my five I’d add hardy (I mean Hardy!) roses, and daylilies. And someday when they actually get going I’d like to add hydrangea. I confess to being afraid of grasses because I fear I would never be able to keep them under control.

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