Take Five: Highlighting Five Great Plant Performers

Earlier this spring I tested out a new post topic called "Take Five" wherein I highlight five plants that perform well in my garden (or elsewhere). The purpose is to be able to look them up at a later date or to simply give some ideas for plants that pull their weight. Here is another installment in that series, mostly natives but not exclusively.

First up this time around is our little native annual flower Douglas' meadowfoam or Limnanthes douglasii. It's a sweet annual that usually occurs in wetlands but not always. Not picky about soil types, it can eventually form mats or meadows of cheerful flowers that last an awfully long time.

It makes a great border plant or simply a sweet addition to the sunny garden. This was my first year growing it, and I was delightfully surprised at how easy it was and how many blooms were produced from a simple 4" potted plant. I'm hoping for volunteers next year, and for it to happily re-seed around the garden. Bees and hoverflies (which love to eat aphids) love it as do other insects, which is okay by me, hence the bit of damage you see here. This was awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

  • type: annual, reseeds
  • height: 8 - 10 inches
  • spread: 10 - 30 inches
  • full sun, part sun, part shade
  • moderate moisture - edge of bed is a good location for it, as is a meadow environment
  • bloom time: mid spring and summer
  • flower color: white and yellow, variations occur
  • style: meadow, cottage garden, border plants
  • characteristics: native to Oregon and California, attracts pollinators, native, showy blooms, lightly scented, grows quickly from seed.
  • can also be used as a green manure

Next is twinberry or Lonicera involucrata. 

This sweet shrub is a relative of honeysuckle. Native to northern and western North America, it is a sturdy background shrub in my garden. It produces these funny yellow flowers in pairs in spring that the hummingbirds love followed by pairs of deep purple/black berries that in turn attract birds, especially thrushes.

The leaves grow in opposite pairs, egg or lance-shaped, they are hairy along the margins and are pointed. 

The handsome berries contain several seeds and come in pairs, hence "twinberry". It is said they were used as a dye by indigenous peoples. The plant itself is a host for butterflies, including the Gillett's checkermallow butterfly.

  • zone: 4 - 10
  • type: deciduous shrub
  • 6 - 10 feet 
  • full sun to part shade
  • moderate to low moisture once established
  • bloom time: spring through summer
  • flower color: yellow
  • style: woodland, mixed border, hedgerow plant, erosion control of wetland areas or streambanks
  • characteristics: Western native, attracts hummingbirds, bumble bees, fruit in summer and fall, attracts birds
  • propagation: seed or cuttings, this shrub is said to naturalize in great conditions
  • this shrub is a great plant for streambank erosion control and restoration of riparian areas, winter dormant branches are useful as steaks (I hack mine back to about 2 feet in late winter), it's also useful as a hedgerow or pollution-resistant wind break

Next up is our native columbine, Aquilegia formosa or Western columbine. Apologies for the less-than-great photograph. One website I looked up said "this is not for the pastel border, rather it's for the electric border" - indeed. Not a light rose or mauve, but a nodding flower with an electric red and yellow bloom.

Adored by hummingbirds, it is a great source of nectar. It is said to seed around, something I am quite comfortable with since they are said to be short-lived perennials. The leaves are semi-evergreen, divided and an attractive gray-green.

  • zone: 4 - 10
  • type: deciduous perennial
  • 1 - 3 feet 
  • sun to part shade
  • moderate moisture, tolerates a wide variety of soils from wet to dry
  • bloom time: spring through summer
  • flower color: yellow and red
  • style: woodland, mixed border, open woodland
  • characteristics: Western native, attracts hummingbirds, bees
  • propagation: seed 

Next is Hydrangea quercifolia or oakleaf hydrangea. Native to the Southeastern US, one of our only native hydrangeas. It is pictured here as it is just beginning to bloom with the false flowers. The greenish plumes underneath the white, single blossoms will soon burst open to thousands of tiny true flowers for which the bees go absolutely mad. It's a audible buzz when you walk by; they are so happy and in such numbers.

This photo is from late winter, you can see glimpses of exfoliating bark, a wonderful attribute of this four-season plant.

Emerging spring growth is white and bright.

This is one of my top 10 favorite plants that I would plant in any garden--it's that good. It has also won the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

  • zone: 5 - 9
  • type: deciduous shrub
  • 6 - 8 feet (although mine is a Peewee dwarf variety and is about 3 feet high x 4 feet wide)
  • full sun to part shade
  • moderate water, a much less thirsty hydrangea than other varieties
  • bloom time: May through July, blooms on old wood
  • flower color: white turning to pinkish blush
  • style: woodland, mixed border, hedgerow plant, naturalized borders
  • characteristics: native to the Southeastern US, attracts bees like CRAZY, great four-season plant with great fall color, exfoliating bark for winter interest, great spring and summer blooms that persist into winter
  • propagation: softwood cuttings (taken early),forms colonies with shallow root systems
  • this shrub is little troubled by pests or disease
  • there are several varieties of this such as 'Peegee', 'Snowflake' that has double blossoms, 'Harmony', 'Snow Queen' and 'Alice'

Last but not least is Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks', a plant that really is the best for late summer to fall interest. Goldenrod is its common name and this one really does resemble sparkling fireworks falling from the sky.

Thousands of tiny flowers are adored by bees. This is another one of those plants that if you walk by while it's in full bloom, the buzz from bees is audible from quite a few feet away.

Its branching, arching nature gives a feel of falling or cascading lights.

I do admit that by the end of summer, however, it tends to be so top heavy that it flops over. If it were in a drier, more open location, it would tend to stay more upright. They can be pinched back to keep them more compact. I have done that the last two years with good results.

 From Plant Delights: This 1993 introduction from Ken Moore of the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill was originally selected from a NC coastal plain population of S. rugosa. Despite its southern heritage, it was rated #1 in the goldenrod trials at the Chicago Botanic Garden. From a slowly spreading rhizome, the stalks emerge upward in late spring, topping out at 3' tall. In mid-August in NC the clumps are showered with 18" long arching spires of brilliant yellow flowers held well atop the foliage. The flowers resemble fireworks or literally bombs bursting in air...one of the finest additions to the fall garden! 

Here's a bonus plant, another Solidago 'Little Lemon' - a dwarf variety that barely gets over 15 inches high. Quite a difference from 'Fireworks' that reaches 3 - 5 feet high.

Solidagos are a genus of about 100 species, mostly native to North America. These cultivars are useful for the native garden, although purists would not consider them to be "native plants." I do, however (as I've said before) think they are as close to the native variety as you can get with often times better characteristics and still attract beneficial insects. Some may argue that finer point with me, which is perfectly acceptable, but I am still sold on this as a "nativar" plant for my region.

  • zone: 4 - 8
  • type: perennial
  • 3 - 5 feet (for 'Fireworks', others vary)
  • full sun 
  • moderate to low moisture 
  • bloom time: September - October
  • flower color: yellow
  • style: meadow, border, xeric, wild garden
  • characteristics: US native, low maintenance, attracts butterflies, bumble bees, honey bees - seeds for birds in winter, tolerates clay, deer, wet feet ('Fireworks' especially), great for late-season color and interest
  • propagation: division
  • goldenrods have been wrongly accused of causing hay fever which is actually an allergic reaction caused by wind-borne pollen from other plants such as ragweed. Attractive to bees and butterflies. Good cut flower (source: Missouri Botanic Garden). Their yellow flowers are used to make dye

There are five useful, beautiful plants to add to the catalogue of possibilities. I hope this has been helpful, and if you have any plants that are outstanding performers, let me know and perhaps I will highlight them the next Take Five post. 

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening!


  1. Wonderful choices! Thank you for the twinberry seeds. I'm also going to grow meadow foam next year.

    1. Thank you Amy! You are welcome for the seeds. I bet meadow foam will be very happy in your garden! Keep us posted how it does and what pollinators it attracts for you.

  2. Great write-up. I'm going to look for the twinberry and the western columbine.

    1. Ooooh, great Kris! Keep us posted if you find them and how they do. If I find more columbine seeds I would be happy to send you some!

  3. I have 3 of these growing in my garden, and used to have meadowfoam that I grew easily from seed. I just have never been able to get into goldenrod. I had so much of a wild unruly form in my former garden. It turned me off to it.

    1. Great, Alison! Which three? Yes, Goldenrod can be an acquired taste - and the species can get kind of out of control in a happy environment. I get ya. These for me don't reseed at all so happy for them, happy for me.

  4. This past spring, down here in Albany, there were whole fields--acres and acres of meadow foam (also called butter and eggs, I believe). In one field, there were stacks of beehives. It was an amazing sight.

    1. Oh, that's so cool Grace! I'd love to see a photo sometime. I didn't know it was used as a green manure until recently, I think that's a beautiful idea.

  5. thanks for this post, T! I didn't realize the oakleaf Hydrangea was native! Big bonus that the bees love it. Ok, I've added it to my list!

    1. You're welcome, Fifi! Yes, oakleaf hydrangea is native to the SE and a great, great plant. Definitely get one for your lovely garden, it would do really well there.

  6. I've been mulling over annuals for next year, so this post is a great help. Meadowfoam goes on the list.

    1. Great, Denise! Glad to hear it. Meadowfoam is just so sweet and easy, I hope you like it! Keep us posted!

  7. I love that Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks', it's a different beauty which I had not seen before. Love the Hydrangea quercifolia too.

    1. Isn't that a smashing plant? It's really stunning. I'm glad you like it and the Hydrangea, they are both such sturdy performers.

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