Thursday, March 30, 2017

Take Five: Five Plants that Perform

Working around plants all day, let us hope that I can make recommendations for the hardiest of the hardy plants. Plus, having been through the most punishing winter I can recall, I can tell you what I see first-hand as the clear stand-out winners. I'd like to highlight five plants that perform incredibly well (in my humble opinion). Three of the plants are native to my neck of the woods, two are not but all are tough as nails, easy to care for and still look healthy after the test that was winter 2016/17.


 First up is a new-to-me native, Thermopsis montana. Commonly known as mountain goldenbanner or false lupin, this plant occurs in much of the west in meadows and along stream banks. It reaches about 3' in height and the bees love it. Here, a bumble bee comes in for a landing on a plant I photographed last summer at Joy Creek Nursery. I have since added it to my own garden.


It prefers sun and is great for a wildflower look. It likes wet sites that can dry out in the summer. Perfect for the Pacific Northwest. We had a flat of these out in four-inch pots at the nursery all winter long and they came back strong with new growth this past week. If these survived our winter in four-inch pots outside, they must be indestructible. They did go a little dormant at the nursery last summer when it was extremely hot so I will be interested to see what they do in my garden this year.


  • Late spring to early summer bloom time
  • 3 ft. x 2 ft.
  • Soft Yellow flowers
  • Sun 
  • Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9


 The next great plant performer is Erodium chrysanthum. Greg, co-owner of Xera Plants, recommended it to me when I was asking about a plant that can handle a particular pot and situation in my old garden. I have moved three of them from the old garden to this one. I also purchased a few others since then because I am so impressed. They form a mound of soft glaucus foliage reminiscent of ferns early in the season (meaning late winter). They were one of the first signs of life I saw in my garden this past month. Given a mild winter they are evergreen.


 They eventually start their nearly nine-month bloom cycle in spring with pale yellow flowers. This color combination in shimmering tones works for me. Most silver foliage plants tend to have bright yellow flowers, but this is a butter soft, nearly white one. Just lovely. It blends well with so many other plants.



Low growing to only eight or so inches high and a foot or so wide, they are wonderful edging plants for the front of the border. They are also drought-tolerant. I give them full sun and great drainage and they thank me with constant flowering and easy care. This is native to southern Europe. 
  • Summer to mid-autumn bloom time
  • 6 in. x 16 in.
  • Pale Yellow flowers
  • Sun 
  • Zones 7, 8
  • Great Plant Pick 


 Sedum oreganum is my go-to native groundcover and edger for sun to light shade. It looks exactly the same year round, save for a little reddish hints if it's extremely stressed. I can't believe how good this looks after our winter. I knew it was good in my Portland garden, but out here, even with chicken abuse and poor weather, it performs like a champ.




 Here it is pictured in the old garden. It spreads at just the right speed. Not too quickly but it's no slug, either. It crawls along and is so easy to dig a bit up and start another clump elsewhere. Just stick any part of the stem or leaves into soil and it will eventually take root.


 In this photo of the old garden it is at the base of the Hakonechloa macra as a filler. It does just the perfect job of filling in the blanks. It can handle irrigation fine which is another reason I like it - it plays well with others. It also does fine with some drought. 



I used it as an edging all over the old garden. Here it is pictured with Heuchera 'Marmalade' and Uncinia rubra.


Pictured with another Pacific Northwest native Sedum spathulifolium 'Cape Blanco' showing they handle similar situations.

  • Midsummer bloom time.
  • 3 inches high x spreading
  • yellow flowers
  • Sun, Part Shade 
  • Zone 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
  • Great Plant Pick 

This is Calluna vulgaris 'Firefly', also known as Heather. It's an evergreen sub-shrub with changing foliage colors. This one is pictured at work, Joy Creek Nursery. Let's look at it through the seasons:


High summer with perovskia or Russian sage. This is one plant, a good 3' across and about 15" high.


This was our first hard frost in December. Still, one of the only things around with winter interest. The long-gone perovskia is in the background.


This was taken mid-winter.


As was this.


This was taken a little later.


Here is a tiny one in a four-inch pot in February. Its strawberry red foliage just shines when little else does. An evergreen plant truly with four seasons of interest, it's one of those great acid-loving plants for the front of the border (with sun) that will not disappoint. It was awarded Britain's AGM Award  - Award for Garden Merit.

  • Autumn bloom time.
  • 18 inches high x 3'
  • Cream to pinkish flowers
  • Sun, Part Shade 
  • Zone 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
  • Great Plant Pick

Oregon sunshine or Eriophyllum lanatum with Hobbes the 20-lb wonder cat for scale. This plant is in my new garden, this is just a month or two after I planted it from a four-inch pot from last summer. It is very happy here in a hot, dry location with excellent drainage. I killed one at my old garden from too much care and water. I thought this one was done for after being buried in snow for so long but it actually looks amazing and is putting on a lot of new growth. Today it's about 2-1/2 feet across and will continue to slowly spread.

For the record, Hobbes is about 2 feet across and continually spreading his jaws to say: "Yeowl!"


This is pictured in my friend Sheila's garden in Hood River, Oregon. We visited her garden a couple of years ago, and you can see other photos from that visit here. This plant definitely draws the butterflies and bees and is a host plant for the painted lady butterfly. Fender's blue butterfly, an endangered species, relies on Oregon sunshine for nectar. You can shear off the spent flowers for a tidier look, but really it is attractive left to its own. It's pretty disease-resistant, too.



Here it is at work, Joy Creek Nursery, where this large patch cheerfully greets customers at the edge of the parking lot. This is from last summer.


Oh-so-tough and still looking good, I don't think you could kill this plant unless you did so as I did, with kindness and too much summer water. Don't fertilize, either. Just good drainage, full sun and watch it grow. It is apparently variable in its height and spread, but all grow in open mounds. Native to the West Coast of the U.S. and farther east to Montana and Utah.

  • May to June bloom time. 
  • 12 inches high x 24 inches wide (or more)
  • Yellow flowers
  • Sun
  • Zones 6, 7, 8, 9



There you have it, five incredible perennials (and a shrub in the case of the heather) that withstood a water-soaked, frozen winter and each plant came back strong. What's looking good in your garden this spring? Feel free to share, we'd love to know! Let's all share our experiences with great plants, that's half the fun of gardening, after all: Sharing with friends.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and happy gardening!


18 comments :

  1. Great tips - especially interested in the Erodium chrysanthum. : )

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    1. Yes, the Erodium is great. Xera Plants on 11th and Clay has it, sometimes Portland Nursery does too. How's your garden coming along? :)

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  2. You've recommended some interesting plants here, thanks! I'm trying to remember if I've ever planted Sedum oregonum in my garden. I don't think I have. I've got lots of that Sedum spathulifolium 'Cape Blanco', it's great!

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    1. You are welcome Alison! Hmm...if you ever get down here or vice-versa, I'll give you a start. It's wonderful and has no problem with our wet winters as it's native. I love Cape Blanco too! That's another fav.

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  3. I love that Erodium, which Sunset says will grow here, not that I've ever seen it offered...

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    1. Hmm...have you tried mail order? We have it at Joy Creek Nursery. It's such a great plant, if you do find it, it's easy to tuck into nooks and crannies.

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  4. I love them all, except the Eriophyllum lanatum. Ugh. Sean gave me a plant which struggled along here (probably because it knew it's flowers annoyed me) until I finally pulled it out. I guess that makes me your "bah humbug" commenter. Oh well.,

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    1. Ha ha...Loree, that's funny because when I was writing the comment about the yellow flowers of the Erodium about how silver foliage plants usually have bright yellow flowers, I thought of you (and you cutting off said bright yellow blooms). I'm not surprised, nor insulted my friend! You are too funny. I am surprised that you even tried it - it doesn't scream "Danger Garden" to me.... :)

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  5. Oh - that little Erodium chrysanthum is lovely. Do you know if we have it at JC too? It would do great in one of my planters... Thermopsis is lovely too, and I always enjoy our native sedum. (Especially the fact that it does well in partial shade!) :)

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    1. Yes we do, Anna Bean! It's great for containers! Go for it - dry border section.

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  6. You've got me wanting to try that Erodium again. I love it and tried it once, but it's definitely one of those plants that can't adapt to clay. Sometimes I find plants that need "good drainage" (which usually means sandy or gravelly soil) will adapt to clay as long as it doesn't become a pond in winter, but not Erodium. I've got a couple beds where it should succeed, though. I love our native sedums. I actually wish they did spread a little faster, since I have so much to cover. You know I love Calluna vulgaris. One little ground cover that I really love is Hutchinsia alpina. It does need a bit of summer water and doesn't like really hot afternoon sun, but it's such a wonderful small ground cover, covered in white flowers in spring and dotted with blooms through much of the year. The foliage is a gorgeous saturated green and it's usually evergreen. I've had it damaged by those odd events when we get a sudden extreme freeze after very mild weather, but it always comes back. I've become very fond of Juncus effusus and patens, both tolerant of clay that becomes saturated in winter yet dries out in summer. Baccharis magellanica came through winter completely unscathed. I'm looking around trying to decide where else I can plant it. Parahebe perfoliata was minimally damaged and barely stopped growing all winter. It's impressed me with it's toughness and tolerance of even hot sun in clay soil.

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    1. Hmmm...interesting experience with Erodium - mine are in amended clay (gravel) and are thriving. They are also on a slight slope. Could that make a difference? I wish it would work for you,it's so charming and easy (well, for me). I love your suggestions, I too love Juncus - it's a great one for our climate and soil. My Parahebe was also unscathed by the weather and is coming back strong, a good contender for a future Take Five post.

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  7. It is fun to see plants that do well for the PNW and don't do well here in SC. I tried Calluna vulgaris but didn't come back in my garden.

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    1. Oh, that's too bad. They do like acid soil, perhaps yours is sweet? You have so many other lovely plants that do well there that I"m sure we can't grow. It's all about right plant, right place. So what does really well for you?

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  8. Great post! Eriophyllum lanatum is a plant I am considering for the next phase of my gardens!

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    1. Thank you Jen! Oh, that Eriophyllum is great. You'll love it! Don't you have a newly created sunny area in your garden?

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  9. Very useful information! I am making notes. Does the Russian Sage get that big in one season?

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  10. I think JC is about to get a whole bunch of requests for Erodium chrysanthum. Beautiful plant!

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