This is the Ajuga to buy for the blooms. ‘Blueberry Muffin’ achieves this remarkable effect by focusing on two key traits. First, showy blue flowers rise up from the base in a compact column. Second, the plant doesn’t spread out much beyond the blooming base. This Ajuga will eventually cover more ground but it focuses on the up rather than on the out.
Echinaceas have two kinds of doubles in their toolkit. The first is the familiar pom-pom style with the puffy centers. The second style keeps the standard button in the middle but doubles up on the number of ring petals surrounding it. Perhaps the best examples of this second style of double are ‘Sunseekers Rainbow’ and ‘Sunseekers White Perfection’. Each one grows a different shape of ring petal, so the lion’s mane effect is different on each variety.
Another hard-to-find set of doubles are the Hellebores. The ones in Pine Knot’s Southern Belle Doubles are reliably double or semi-double with a wide mixture of clear color, tinted edges, and dark freckles. This is a good mix that showcases what double Hellebores can do.
We can’t walk past the Echinaceas without commenting on two cultivars we really like. The first one is ‘Moab Sunset’, part of the Echinacea Renaissance that Terra Nova pioneered. This coneflower has an incredibly bright orange—something the camera struggles to capture. Our picture is just not vibrant, not orange enough, when compared to the bloom in real life.
The second Echinacea we would like to call out is ‘Pretty Parasol’, a pallida-type with the draping ring petals. It’s a good choice for naturalizing into clumps and stands. The blooms appear at different heights throughout the season, so it’s suitable for casual or prairie-style gardens. This variety is especially nice, with a pink center blushing to soft white at the tips. It’s the only one we know with that color transition.
The polarizing feature of ‘Frilly’ has its roots in how the leaves flow from the stems. The two fuse where you expect to see a joint in a faceted style. Pluck a leaf at the base of the stem and take a look. The unusual genetics makes the plant small and compact as Heucheras go, and the color comes out of the ‘Caramel’ playbook.
‘Dazzle Rocks’ is a very hardy version of Siberian Statis, down to zone 4. The plant is compact, growing a little over a foot in height, but it loads the top with heavy sprays of color during the summer and fall. As it wants full sun, sandy and well-drained soil, this Limonium is a good addition to xeriscape programs.
We like ‘Oakleaf Yellow Picotee’ for both the leaf and the red picotee tips on the yellow flowers. However, its true superpower is the extraordinarily long blooming season, from February through June in our Pennsylvania gardens. Its early arrival provides beneficials with the nectar they need when they emerge from winter.
The combination of color pattern and habit makes this Sempervium special. ‘Mona Lisa’ has a tight green center webbed in white, surrounded by a ring of thick pink petals, unwebbed. However, something special happens when the chubby pups appear to add their own green and red rosettes to the planting. The red is brightest in the winter.
We recommend ‘Blue By You’ because it delivers the ‘May Night’ experience better than ‘May Night’ itself. ‘Blue By You’ has more flower spikes and is taller and bushier. The plant also shows better winter hardiness and summer heat tolerance, and has more success reblooming than the industry standard. Everything a landscaper wants in a Salvia is here, and more of it.
‘Angel Wings’ is a Tiarella with the core essentials done well: dark markings, deeply cut leaves, and very foamy flowers in heavy stands. The Royal Horticultural Society gave it their Award of Garden Merit for good reason.