Plants with more than just one trick

From the book jacket
From the book jacket
Posted: December 29, 2012

Seems there's no such thing as an "entitlement" anymore, even in the garden. It's no longer good enough for plants to be pretty just two or three weeks out of the year.

Graham Rice, a prolific plantsman and author, believes plants now must be multitasking office workers, earning their keep by having more than one notable talent or feature. Here's what he has come to: "When looking at a plant in flower at the nursery, you'll find yourself asking: 'What else does it do?' "

In his new book Powerhouse Plants: 510 Top Performers for Multi-Season Beauty (Timber Press, $24.95), Rice offers a mind-boggling number of suggestions, organized from A to Z, for plants that feature interesting, often seasonally changing bark, foliage, stems, flowers, and fruits, along with less tangible qualities, such as fragrance and "elegance of habit."

Here's a good example of what he likes: Epimedium or barrenwort, a shade-loving perennial ground cover that grows well in our mid-Atlantic region and offers dainty spring flowers and colorful foliage in all four seasons. Some varieties have purple leaves with green veins, or leaves the color of milk chocolate.

Eryngium or sea holly is another winner for gardeners here. This perennial sports thistlelike summer flowers that are fantastic cut or dried, followed by seed heads and winter rosettes.

Rice likes the crabapple tree, too. He calls it "tough, reliable . . . with an unbeatable array of attractive features," which is what you want.

But all multitasking isn't just about being smart about money spent on plants. It's about making the most of the space in your garden. And that's always a good idea.

- Virginia A. Smith

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