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Landscape Designer Promotes Resilient Plants

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Jennifer Carlson offers her top-10 list of indsipensable plants.

The Seattle Times | October 3, 2008

"I like resilient plants — there's nothing fragile or brittle on this list," says Jennifer Carlson. Carlson runs her own design/build landscape firm, consults and teaches sustainable gardening classes for Seattle Public Utilities, so she has neither time nor patience for underperformers.

Below is her Top-10 list of resilient plants:

Vine maple (Acer circinatum). "You see vine maple all the time, but it has fresh appeal in an urban setting," says Carlson, whose parking strip sports multitrunked specimens of this small native tree. She likes to plant vine maples in groves, and points out that they grow shorter and broader in sunny locations.

Golden boxleaf honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida 'Baggesen's Gold'). This bright little shrub keeps most of its leaves in winter, and is adaptable enough to grow in full sun or part shade. Carlson loves its year-round bushy texture, which she encourages by cutting into it subtly to encourage dense growth. Its tiny golden leaves light up the garden, and fill out flower arrangements year 'round.

Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa). "People are fascinated with its dangly burgundy flowers that look like little Japanese lanterns," says Carlson of this hummingbird-attracting deciduous shrub. She recommends planting it out of the wind, and supporting its gangliness with a bamboo stake or two. (Warning: Some gardeners have found Himalayan honeysuckle to spread too vigorously, though Carlson hasn't had any problem with it.)

Pacific waxleaf myrtle (Myrica californica). Carlson calls this native evergreen "the shrub to plant between houses." It's her absolute favorite tall hedging shrub because it takes well to pruning and has a relaxed, not-too-heavy-and-dark look.

Italian purple artichoke (Artichoke 'Violetto'). Right at home in urban gardens because it's so compact, upright and showy, this architectural vegetable has gray-green foliage that persists through the seasons. Carlson calls them the "jewels in my garden" for their spiny foliage topped with maroon artichokes. "If there are tree covenants in your neighborhood, plant artichokes for height in the garden," suggests Carlson.

Torch lily (Knifophia uvularia). A two-toned, old-fashioned perennial, it has evergreen strappy leaves and creates a rainbow effect in the border. Carlson grows it behind shorter perennials and admires it for its toughness through the worst summer droughts. Hummingbirds love the flowers, and later in the season finches snack on the seedpods.

Variegated Japanese sedge (Carex oshimensis 'Evergold'). The only ornamental grass on the list, this sedge is a workhorse that grows luxuriantly in dry shade under mugo pines in Carlson's garden. "Don't touch it," she says. "This is a maintenance-free plant." Its simple, elegant pouf shape and sunny coloration look great planted near or beneath pines and other conifers.

Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora). An evergreen, this fern is effective planted in large swathes running through the garden or as single specimens in pots. It's tidy and textural and its new growth comes on in lovely shades of peach and terra-cotta.

Sedums. The only pick she struggled with, Carlson loves them all for their wide variety of brilliant colors and textures. She plants sedums for erosion control in rockeries and for drought on green roofs and patio pots. When pushed, Carlson selected the tight little gray-green Sedum dasyphyllum 'Major' as a favorite because it looks like miniature broccoli, as well as gold moss sedum (S.acre 'Areum') and chartreuse Sedum 'Ogon' because it thrives in the shade.

Geranium 'Rozanne.' Here's another plant that hummingbirds adore as much as we humans. It blooms all summer long, with bright purple flowers that weave through beds and rockeries. 'Rozanne' isn't a prima donna, putting up with most any soil conditions and minimal water once established. "I've even planted this near a gas station, where it was brutal," says Carlson. " 'Rozanne' is my hero!"

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