Botanica Atlanta | Landscape Design, Construction & Maintenance


Atlanta Garden Design

Moss in the Landscape

Posted by Sam Valentine on September 3, 2016 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Image: Dave Ginsberg


By their very nature, landscapes abound with living things. Landscape designers and installers generally think of "life" in the garden in terms of "plant material" and fill their toolbox with lawn, herbaceous-perennial, shrub, vine, and tree species. We use this greenery to contrast and complement architecture, hardscape, and water features, and to compose a cogent environment.


With rare exception, "moss" is left out of our planting palette.


Horticultural disclaimer: In this post, the word "moss" is used loosely and completely unscientifically. "Moss" is often a catch-all word, used to describe not just bryophytes, but a wide range of lichens and vascular plants, such as Spanish moss.


Image: Helgi Skulason


Moss is generally thought of as green, but with variations in weather and species, it can range from lime-green to maroon-brown in color. Moss has a delicate but robust way of covering surfaces -- it could be thought of as a living spandex. It creeps slower and more tenderly than a vine. It covers tighter and more versatilely than turf grass.


Images: Cartsen Tolkmit, Ben Stanfield, Peter Mulligan, and Vanlal Tochhawng


It is not too far off to think of moss as more "material" than "plant." Finding moss scrawled across an old garden wall, covering stone, concrete, brick, and mortar, can call to mind wallpaper.


Images: Drew Brayshaw, Kelly Kendall, Toshi Kawabata, and UGA Gardener


Left alone in the right microclimatic conditions, the density with which moss conquers a forest or garden floor forms, quite literally, a carpet.


Image: Ethics Gradient


The internet offers an array of videos and articles encouraging greater use of moss in the garden, including seemingly hare-brained propagation schemes involving yogurt and buttermilk. Other sources show a more predictable approach, such as transplanting patches of moss directly to open soil. For the most part, the installation tips found online read as common sense; a gardener should think back to environments where he or she has seen moss thriving naturally and try to replicate those conditions.


Maintenance is, likewise, mostly common sense. Do not mow or fertilize a moss planting. Most (but not all) mosses perform better in shade and moisture. A moss carpet can handle some foot traffic and is better cleaned with a leaf-blower than a rake.


Mosses, especially bryophytes, are believed to be one of the earliest evolutionary descendants of sea algae, and one of the first plants to have thrived on land. To some, moss is associated with primordial landscapes and ancient ruins, but do not leave moss out of your planting palette. Rather than decay, moss brings character and an aura of sophistication to the landscape.



Image: Alex Brown




The Flowering Dogwood

Posted by Sam Valentine on June 28, 2014 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Image: Erin and Lance Willett


The point of this post will not be to promote an overlooked plant species or to introduce an exciting new cultivar. The tree we know as flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is so common that little is left to do but reflect on those qualities that make this plant such a steadfast component of the American landscape.


Image: Kate Eburg


The flowering dogwood never reaches the size of a large, stately shade tree, and -- though it is known for its blooms -- its spring show is not nearly as dramatic as the blooms of such similarly sized species as the cherry tree. Actually, when we look at its signature blossoms, the "petals" are actually just modified leaves. In the fall, the tree offers bright, red berry-like fruits, but they are poisonous to human beings. Described through words alone, the tree sounds like the very definition of mediocre, and yet, it is beloved across North America. From Missouri to New Jersey, this American native is held in such high regard that it is honored with official, legislated designations as "State Tree," "State Memorial Tree," and "State Flower."


Images: Ken Slade, Martin La Bar, and Chris Kreussling


The secret to the tree's prized status lies in its subtly beautiful composition, its relative reliability, and the valuable role it plays in natural ecosystems. The flowers, creams of white and pink, occur over a backdrop of robust green foliage and textural gray bark. Many years, flowering dogwoods offer dazzling red and orange fall foliage displays. In terms of architecture, the tree's branches arc gracefully from its trunk, often spreading out just above eye level. As a natural understory tree, the species performs quite well in mature, shaded settings, and can reliably grow beneath power lines without conflict.


To ecosystem health, the tree is also of immense value. While the vibrant fruits are toxic to humans, every creature from songbirds to foxes, beavers, and white-tailed deer find the tree's offerings both palatable and nutritious. Flowering dogwoods are also considered effective soil improvers by the United States Department of Agriculture. Its rapidly decomposing leaf litter helps restore soil function on former mining and industrial sites as well as in urban forests.


Image: Tom Potterfield


The Saucer Magnolia

Posted by Sam Valentine on April 30, 2014 at 6:45 PM Comments comments (0)


The Saucer Magnolia


Image: Ryan Hide


The first time I looked at the flower of a saucer magnolia, I found myself in a state of slight disbelief. I should note that this was not the first time I saw a saucer magnolia in bloom but just the first time that I actually looked at one. As I studied the flower, I found it, quite honestly, a bit too flawless. It was not easy to accept that such a perfect, perfected, flower was growing out there in nature.


In early spring, saucer magnolias are among the first flowering trees to display their blooms, and they do so quite emphatically. In most climates, before the tree's leaves have budded out, the saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) bursts forth with multi-toned, fist-sized flowers. The outsides of the robust, silky petals are defined by their crimson- and rose-tinged veins and often exhibit brilliant white interiors. These colorful blooms stand in dramatic contrast against the tree's stark gray trunk and branches.


Images: Jayme Frye & Rex Bennett


Saucer magnolias grow as multi-stemmed, spreading small trees. While younger trees stand relatively upright, as the plant matures, its profile fills out to an oval, eventually becoming rounded. The rate of growth is moderately fast, but it slows down around the tree's second decade. Trees generally reach a height of twenty-five feet with a spread between twenty and thirty feet. The bark of a saucer magnolia is the relatively smooth, gray bark that is characteristic of most magnolias.


Images: L. Sloan, Neil Hunt, & The Lovely Room


Earlier, when I mentioned that I found it hard to believe the saucer magnolia bloom was natural, it was because of its immaculate form. Even up close, the "cup-and-saucer" flower seems almost, in fact, like a work of painted porcelain. To be fair, "natural" is not the best descriptor for the plant -- it is a hybrid created in seventeenth-century France. It is unlikely that, in the Southern landscape, saucer magnolia will ever have the mainstay status of the evergreen, large-flowering, and native southern magnolia (" target="_blank">Magnolia grandiflora), but it should be considered an excellent complement to any garden.


Generally, I am not one to fall for "perfect" blooms like those you might find in the floral department, but there is something about saucer magnolia that is different. The flowers are not long-lived, and yet year after year, I look forward to seeing them as one of my favorite signs of spring.


Image: Ryan Hide


Franklinia: The Southern Orphan

Posted by Sam Valentine on March 9, 2014 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Image: Schuler Miller

It's a fair assumption that, as a gardener, you are familiar with the concept of "native" landscape plants. Selecting trees, shrubs, and perennials that are native to your locality (or at least your region) offers many advantages, including reduced maintenance. It is only logical that if a plant could thrive in a region for thousands of years -- long before humans invaded its ecosystem -- it can survive comfortably without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and watering.


Images: PlantMaps

It also would not be surprising if you have looked to a few plant distribution maps over the years to determine the extents, or "range," in which a plant has been observed in the wild. Depicted above in red, are the geographical zones in which southern live oak (Quercus virginiana), bottlebrush buckeye (" target="_blank">Aesculus parviflora), and Franklinia (" target="_blank">Franklinia alatamaha) have been found to grow naturally.


All plants, and all forms of wildlife for that matter, are limited in geography by such factors as precipitation, climate, and natural competition. In the above range map for bottlebrush buckeye, for example, the species can be seen to have staked out its habitat and adapted to the precise soil conditions, annual inches of rainfall, slopes, and mild temperatures found in central Alabama's foothills and coastal plains.

Images: PlantMaps

What is surprising, however, is to see how isolated and diminutive Franklinia's native range is. As far as American colonists were concerned, Franklinia was first documented in 1765 by John and William Bartram, growing in a small grove along the Altamaha River in what is now McIntosh County, Georgia. Over the next few years, as William returned to collect seeds and propagate them back home in their Philadelphia garden, the Bartrams and other horticulturists began to admire the plants' pleasant form, fall foliage, and flower, which William described as "of the first order for beauty and fragrance."



Images: American Philosophical Society Museum, Karl Gercens, Behnke Nurseries, and Carol Drew

Also noted by these botanists, was that the plant could not be found elsewhere in the region. Or elsewhere in the country. The two or three acre population in southeastern Georgia dwindled, and the last wild Franklinia was observed there in 1803. It is rare and peculiar to see a plant with such a small native range, and botanists have put forth various theories as to how this occurred. In Michael Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, he describes the plant as a beauty with "handsome foliage," but notes that Franklinia oddly seems to perform better in northern gardens than in the South.


Image: Christopher Hiester




Falling for Fothergillas

Posted by Sam Valentine on October 17, 2013 at 8:05 PM Comments comments (2)

Images: Nature Project and HorticulturalArt


This time of year, it always seems that the trees are vying for your attention.


In autumn, ginkgos, American beeches, and locusts repaint their green leaves into a spectrum of golds and yellows. Sugar maples burst into yellows and reddish oranges, and red maples show off their seasonal color, which is, well, red. Even deciduous conifers, like baldcypress, get in on the action, exhibiting fall foliage that can be reddish orange or even ruby red. Like a fireworks show in slow motion, all of these colors beautifully flare up and then fall, and this seasonal show takes place in front of a reliable, bronze-brown backdrop of oaks and other hardwoods.


With all of this action overhead, it is all too easy to forget about the shrubs below. Autumn has a wide palette of showy shrubs, including burning bush, barberry, and red- and yellow-twig dogwoods, but perhaps my favorites are the two fothergilla species. Just a quick look at the plants' seasonal transformations -- from white flowers to blue-green spring leaves and vibrant, variegating foliage -- evidences an valuable and noteworthy landscape plant.


Images: John Hagstrom and Clemson Extension Home & Garden Information Center


Fothergillas are remarkable, and remark about fothergillas is exactly what Michael Dirr, America's woody-plant guru, does. "Among native plants I have many favorites," Dirr writes, "but (Fothergilla gardenii and Fothergilla major) are near the top." In his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Dirr offers a litany of reasons why the fothergilla species and their many cultivars stand strong among native shrubs.


Though the two species differ in height, form and leaf size, they share most landscape characteristics. Offering year-round interest, fothergillas exhibit small fragrant, bottlebrush flowers in April to early May, sometimes before fully leafing out. The leaves, which resemble those of the witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) are a robust green in the spring, and then, as Dirr reports from his Athens garden, coloration develops in mid-November.

Images: John Hagstrom, Carex Grayii, K. Brown, and Maggie Hopper


When the leaves begin turning color, fothergillas are at their most striking. Though Fothergilla major is more reliable in vibrancy, both species produce "excellent fall color ranging from yellow, orange, to red," and Dirr notes that this color variety can appear not only on the same plant or same branch but often within the same single leaf.


The height difference between the species is important to understand. Fothergilla gardenii, native to pine savannas and wetland edges of the Coastal Plain, generally stands two to three feet tall in southeastern gardens. Fothergilla major, native to an region of the Appalachians stretching from North Carolina to northern Alabama, grows taller, reaching six to ten feet on average. "No two are exactly alike," Dirr writes, "which adds to their interest."

Michael Dirr heaps a surprising, but deserved, amount of praise on these "great American native shrubs for fall color." Virtually free of diseases and insect problems, fothergillas are a strong candidate to consider adding to your own garden. "Fothergillas," Dirr writes, "ask so little from gardeners, yet give so much; all friends should exhibit this kind of relationship." 

Image: Distant Hill Gardens


You Can't Go Wrong with Georgia Gold Medal Plant Winners!

Posted by Bonnie Helander on September 24, 2013 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)

It’s always a challenge to know what plant to put in my garden. I find something that looks just awesome in the nursery but seems to fade with time once planted in my yard or simply takes too much work to maintain. Even though I’ve learned all those gardening “rules” about selecting plants that work for our environment and putting them in the right place, I am still often disappointed by how some of my plants perform.

If you want to stop wasting time and money on plants that don’t work in your garden, take a look at the Georgia Gold Medal Winners.  The Gold Medal plant program takes all the guess-work out of finding superior plants that perform in Georgia. Horticulture staff from the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and University of Georgia, along with local growers, have done all the research, testing plants for how they will thrive here and then selecting those that are the best of the best. Winners are chosen in five categories, Annuals, Natives, Perennials, Trees and Shrubs and Vines and Groundcovers.

If you select a plant chosen as a Georgia Gold Medal Winner, you will not be disappointed!  It’s about the best guarantee you are going to get that your plant will thrive in your garden with less fuss and pest issues. 

The Georgia Gold Medal Winners have been selected for 2013 and you might as well shop for them now and plant them (except annuals) this fall.

Left: Wishbone Flower; Top right:: Sweetflag; Bottom right: Gardenia (Images by Missouri Botanical Garden)

Annual Winner: Wishbone Flower (Torenia fournieri) – You don’t often find such vivid flowers blooming in shadier spots but the cheerful, bi-color torenia thrives in shade and adds whimsical interest. This annual is sometimes called “clown flower” because of its multi-colored face.  The bushy torenia only gets about 6-12” tall and does not have to be deadheaded – another plus for busy gardeners.

Groundcover/Vine Winner:  Golden Sweetflag Grass (Acorus gramineus 'Ogon' and 'Minimus Aureus') – This miniature yellow grassy plant spreads by creeping roots, making it an excellent choice for a groundcover. As an added bonus, the foliage is fragrant and deters deer!  This groundcover does best in light shade in our climate. Sweetflag is also a nice addition to a container, paired with blooming plants for each season.

Trees/Shrub Winner: Compact Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) – Every Southern garden needs this lovely evergreen shrub or two or three or more! It only gets about 3 feet tall and wide and can be planted in full sun to part shade and tolerates a variety of growing conditions.  The luscious white blooms provide a subtle fragrance, so plant near where you enjoy sitting outside. I will admit, however, that I have “issues” with gardenias. They often have a yellow leaf drop. (I am going to try Epsom salts and Ironite for this issue) and I often deadhead the spent blooms because the brown and dried blooms stay on the shrub a while and don’t look so great. But the fragrance seals the deal for me!

Left: Muhly Grass (Image by Bonnie Helander) Right: Variegated Solomon's Seal (Image by Perennial Plant Asso.)

Natives Winner: Muhly Grass (Muhlenbegia capillaries) – A few years ago when visiting Athens for a UGA football game, I noticed a garden bed that contained a swath of shimmering pink grasses swaying in the breeze. I was so “wowed” by the sight that I pulled over to see what it was.  And, yes, it was pink Muhly grass – a show stopper in autumn!  During fall, the pink inflorescence (flowers) on the green foliage catch the sun and just sparkle. Plant it in the sun where it can take center stage for fall interest.

Perennial Winner:  Variegated Japanese Solomon’s Seal (Polyganatum odoratum variegata)  I love variegated plants that provide color and interest in foliage and also have blooms and variegated Solomon’s seal does not disappoint with its cream stripes on green leaves and its aromatic bell-shaped flowers that pop up in the spring. Plant in your woodland garden in shade and divide it when you want more plants to spread around. This plant was also named the 2013 “Perennial Plant of the Year” by the Perennial Plant Association, so it is a double trophy winner.

I continue to add Georgia Gold Medal Winners to my garden. Some of my favorites include the Oakleaf hydrangea, Chinese snowball viburnum, tea olive and American beautyberry. If you are planning a new garden bed or working with a landscape designer to come up with a design, consider adding some Georgia Gold Medal Winners. You won’t be disappointed.

Left: Oakleaf Hydrangea; Right: Tea Olive (Images by Bonnie Helander)

Left: Chinese Snowball Viburnum; Right: American Beautyberry (Images by Bonnie Helander)

Face Containers: Adding Pots with Personality

Posted by Bonnie Helander on September 10, 2013 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)

It’s always fun to visit a garden and see something unexpected and fun that adds a little “tongue-in-cheek” personality. When I first visited a friend’s garden years ago and saw a face container, filled with ornamental grass as the “hair,” I was enchanted and hooked on finding some for my own garden. I love containers of all shapes, sizes, colors and textures. Face Pots add that little extra focal point appeal.

You can find interesting face/head containers at many local nurseries or gift shops that specialize in garden accessories. There are some wonderful online shops that feature a plethora of pots with personality that include classical faces, funny faces and even animal faces. Kids are especially charmed by animal pots and it is a way to get them interested in gardening.

Kids love pots with animal faces and bodies like this fish I have near my pond.

The appeal of the face pot is creating the hairstyle with plants. Ornamental grasses are a great place to start. Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') adds movement and a bright burgundy color. Japanese Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus 'Ogon') is the perfect selection for a small face pot because it stays short while adding a nice color and scent. Fiber optic grass (Isolepsis (Scirpus) cernus) shimmers as the sunlight catches the blades for additional interest.

Spiky plants like cordyline (Cordyline australis ‘Red Sensation’ ) add a young, hip look to your face pot. Ferns add a more bouffant, classic look. Ground covers can give you long hair.  Add creeping jenny, thyme or variegated ivy for a flowing look. You can even add bulbs this fall for a surprise burst of colorful hair this coming spring.

Two of my classic face pots -one with a spiky sedum and one with ferns. The "lady" was given to me by a friend, Judi Kubitz.  I love the patina of moss/algae on the pots after all this rain we have had over the summer!

My favorite plants to use in face pots are succulents.They just have that special sense of whimsy that adds extra personality to your pots.  Sedum, string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus), hens and chicks (Sempervivum) haworthia and echeveria are perfect for face pots. These act as hair, hats or hair accessories in your container.

But who wants just a face?  If you want to get really crazy, use terracotta pots to make a whole pot man or pot woman  to take up residence in your garden.

Pot Man created by my friends, Chuck and Janet Behnke, of Peachtree City

Plant Lust at the UGA Trial Gardens!

Posted by Bonnie Helander on August 19, 2013 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)

In my last blog of August 6, I wrote about the charming old-fashioned tradition of sharing pass-along plants – plants that are tough, easy to propagate and have been passed along and shared for generations by gardeners everywhere. It wasn’t that many years ago when new plant varieties were unavailable or hard to find. Pass-along plants were the staple in a garden. We are so fortunate that times have changed and new plants are popping up all the time. Today your garden can be filled with hundreds of newly-introduced plants that sizzle with color, delight with interesting foliage and amaze with gorgeous blooms.

Favorite pass-along plants include antique roses and geraniums.  Fortunately we can enjoy these old-fashioned favorites as well as all the stunning new plants that come on the market each year.

As a proud graduate of the University of Georgia, I am always looking for any excuse to go over to Athens for a day trip. One of my favorite destinations while in town is the UGA Trial Gardens tucked away near Stegeman Coliseum. The Trial Gardens are the fruition of work started by two retired UGA “rock star” horticulture professors – Dr. Allan Armitage and Dr. Michael Dirr. Here you will find a stunning array of new plants being “tested” before being released on the market.

While visiting the Trial Gardens this past year, I got to say "good-bye" to the amazing "Dr. A" - Allan Armitage - who has made the Trial Gardens so sucessful.

At the Trial Gardens new annuals, vines, tropicals and perennials are tested, reviewed and graded on how they hold up in our challenging Southern climate. Testing criteria includes overall appearance, tolerance to heat and humidity, resistance to disease and insects, ease of propagation, production time and cutting efficiency. Those that score the highest are then sent to growers to be cultivated for the general public. The best-of-the-best are honored with the annual “Classic City Award” – the top honor for any plant in the garden. If you purchase a plant that has survived “boot camp” at the UGA Trial Gardens, you know you are getting a superior plant that will thrive in your garden. The Trial Gardens also serve as a major research and teaching facility for those lucky horticulture students who call UGA their home.

Since August is such a challenging time in the Southern garden, I thought it would be fun to see what is thriving at the Trial Gardens this month.  If you need to add some pizzazz to your outside space during the “dog days of summer,” then you will enjoy seeing some of the best performers at the Trial Gardens right now.  The only problem is - you will want them all!

Who needs blooms when you can enjoy vibrant variegated foliage! On the left is Calladium 'Starburst' from Classic Calladiums and on the right is Coleus 'Kong Jr. Lime Vein' by Ball Ingenuity. Both are growing merrily along in August heat at the Trial Gardens in Athens.

Calibrachoa 'Aloha Kona Mango' (left) in bright mango orange is great for containers and Zinnia 'Zinnita Yellow' by Benary will make a cheerful addition to the late summer garden.

Nothing is more luscious and regal than purple!  On the left is Petunia 'Flash Mob Bluerific' by Burpee HG and on the right is Phlox paniculata 'Shock Wave' by Proven Winners. Note the variegated leaves.

Ask about these amazing new plants at your local nursery and make sure they order them. If you are going to "lust" after these plants, you might as well own them as soon as you can!

Attracting Birds to Your Garden

Posted by Bonnie Helander on July 24, 2013 at 6:20 PM Comments comments (1)

Is a garden really a garden without birds? I have always been captivated by the sounds, movement, color and fun that birds bring to our landscapes. Most gardeners love wildlife (except maybe deer, mosquitoes and ticks) and want to attract a variety of birds to their backyards.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a stunning visitor to the birdfeeder!

Adding plants to your garden with fruit, nuts and berries will ensure you’ll enjoy many varieties of birds. I’ve added Leatherleaf mahonia, several different hollies and viburnum. I understand that birds also like the berries of poison ivy. Yikes! I draw the line at leaving poison ivy for the birds since I only have to look at it to break out in a rash!

Some bird-attracting perennials include red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), New England American aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

Purple coneflowers attract birds and looks lovely in the garden.

Shrubs that birds will love include leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei), American beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana), viburnum (Viburnum species), and wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera).

Our native American beautyberry has vivid purple berries in the fall that are bird magnets!

And don’t forget trees for birds to eat the berries, hide in the foliage and build their nests.  Add a flowering dogwood (Cornus florida or Cornus kousa), dwarf Southern magnolia (Magnolia ‘Little Gem’ ), Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), or Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana).

Every garden needs a flowering dogwood, or two or three or more! And birds love them.

In addition to planting bird-friendly plants, add a bird feeder or two and you will have the pleasure of watching a variety of birds flock to your feeders. To maximize my viewing enjoyment, I placed a bird feeder where I can see it easily from the house. I also purchased a decent pair of binoculars and a good bird book that shows photos and gives descriptions of birds in my area. Slowly but surely I am learning to identify many of the birds that like to call my garden home.

Birdhouses and bird baths placed throughout your garden not only provide a functional service for birds but are great focal points. I have one large wooden birdhouse on a post that many birds have nested in and I have enjoyed viewing for almost 20 years. I can see this birdhouse from three different windows in my home and it provides great winter interest. It has almost fallen apart several times and my husband has often rebuilt and repainted it. Now it sports a cheerful color combination of salmon, yellow and purple! My ornamental pond attracts lots of birds. I like to see them washing and fluffing their feathers in shallow spots. 

My birdhouse is a colorful focal point in my garden and many birds have set up house in it.

I am also cutting down on the use of pesticides to keep my feathered friends happy.  What’s a little black spot on leaves in exchange for healthy birds in the garden!

If you love birds, why not get certified as a Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation? If you can provide food, shelter, water and a place for birds to raise their young, you qualify and are making a difference in keeping birds safe and healthy.

Favorite Plants that Perform

Posted by Bonnie Helander on May 20, 2013 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (1)

Whenever gardeners get together, they often share opinions on what are their favorite plants. For some plant lovers it is difficult to choose a favorite. They will simply say, “I love whatever is in bloom at the time.”  For me, “favorite” implies a plant that performs well without a lot of hassle!

I love plants that are not fussy and don’t involve too much care. Don’t we all! That is why I don’t grow many roses – except Knock Out® roses which take little effort at all to maintain. I love plants that have few issues with insects or disease and that don’t need prodigious watering in the summer. I fell out of love with hydrangeas because mine always seemed to wilt in the heat and look pitiful all summer. But I fell back in love with them when I moved them to a happier place - a raised bed with amended soil that has more tree cover. They look fabulous because I finally gave them the right conditions.

Pink Knock Out® Roses bloom all summer long! 

Walking around my garden recently this spring, I noticed several plants that give me much satisfaction and joy. If you are looking for some low-maintenance but beautiful plants to add to your southern garden, please take a look at some of my favorites.

Japanese Aralia (Fatsia japonica) – This lovely tropical evergreen shrub has impressive large palmate lobed leaves and a pretty white flower in early winter. It thrives in partial sun to shade and looks great behind lower-growing ferns and hellebores.  The shape and exotic look is a nice addition to the shade garden.

Japanese Aralia - lovely tropical flair

Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) – This is an attractive evergreen fern that stands up straight during winter cold. In the spring the new foliage is a lovely copper color and then turns a deep green. It can spread in the shade to a 3 or 4 foot clump, adding impact. Autumn ferns prefer shade but are tough and can take a little sun and some drought conditions.

Autumn Fern - evergreen with coppery fronds in the spring

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’ ) – This is a “must-have” native shrub for part sun/shade. It offers not only beautiful, long-lasting white blooms in the late spring but red/burgundy foliage in the fall and peeling bark for winter interest. This may be my most favorite plant because it has so much seasonal interest and requires little care.

Oakleaf hydrangea - three-season interest and worry-free shrub

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) – Another of our native plants, this fast-growing semi-evergreen vine is not finicky and flourishes in full sun or part shade and in dry or moist soil. In the late spring it produces small trumpet-shaped flowers in orange-yellow that are a favorite of hummingbirds. I call it semi-evergreen because it can lose many of its leaves in a cold spell but you will be amazed at the fast and luscious growth in the spring. It’s a great vine for a fence or wall.

Crossvine - vibrant yellow and orange tubular flowers attract hummingbirds

Spiraea – Even though spiraea looks like dead sticks in the winter, it provides so much delicate spring and summer interest that I just love it! I have several varieties but particularly like ‘Magic Carpet’ (Spiraea japonica ‘Magic Carpet’ ) which is a dwarf plant that takes full sun. The foliage is two-toned with gold leaves accented by red tips. The flower is a vibrant pink. ‘Ogon (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’) takes full sun and is larger than ‘Magic Carpet,’ growing to about 4’ tall.  In early spring you will see abundant tiny white flowers amid narrow yellow foliage that turns bronze in the fall.

'Magic Carpet' spiraea - dwarf shrub with gold leaves and red tips

Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) – I have three Japanese maples that were planted before I bought my home and they are focal points in my garden. I don’t know the varieties but all begin the spring with vivid burgundy foliage that fades to green in the hot summer before bursting again into a deep red in the fall.  The shape of the trunks provides winter interest.  I recently planted a ‘Coral Bark’ that as the name suggests has a bright coral bark trunk for more interest all year.  If you don’t have a Japanese maple in your garden, you must snatch one up at the next plant center sale! 

Japanese Maple - vibrant burgundy foliage welcomes spring 

Feel free to comment and share your own plant favorites!