In surveys, blue is the world’s most popular color. And for many gardeners, blue is also their favorite flower color. This past spring, our perennial expert, Bonnie Hickey, gave a talk on blue flowers. These are a few things she mentioned:

Blue flowers blend nicely with many other colors and can create a calming effect or an exciting effect depending on the companion colors you choose. The softer shades of blue combine well with soft yellow, pink, white and apricot and also with plants with silver foliage. Deeper blues provide high impact combined with golden yellow, orange, or red flowers or chartreuse foliage. To keep an all-blue border from getting monotonous, add a pop of white or another color here and there.

Using plants with blue foliage is another way to add blue to your garden. Some hostas, dianthus, and some of the ornamental grasses have almost true-blue foliage.

Here is a chart of the characteristics of my favorite blue flowers. Choose the ones that will work for you. You can’t go wrong with flower combinations using blue.


Name Type Height Bloom Time Sun or Shade? Other
Sky Blue Lobelia Annual 8″ All summer Partial to full shade Pure sky blue color
Bachelor Buttons Annual 30″ June Sun Reseeds
Rosanne Hardy Geranium Perennial 20″, 3′ spread June-Aug Partial to full shade Deer Res
May Night Salvia Perennial 18″ June-July Sun Deer Res
Russian Sage Perennial 4 ft Late summer Sun Deer Res
Brunnera Perennial 12-15″ Spring Shade Variegated foliage
Pulmonaria Perennial ground cover 12″ Spring Shade Spotted leaves
Vinca Minor Perennial ground cover 10″ Spring Shade  
Iris Perennial corm 2-3′ June Sun Plant in late summer
Giant Allium Perennial bulb 3 ft June Sun Deer res. Plant in fall
Siberian Squill Perennial bulb 5″ Spring sun Spreads. Plant in fall
Hosta Perennial Varies Summer Shade Blue foliage
Blue Oat Grass Ornamental Grass   Summer Sun Deer res
Elijah Blue Fescue Ornamental Grass 8-12″ Late summer Sun


Fragrant sweet pea flowers are native to Sicily and Southern Italy. A Sicilian monk name Cupani sent seed to Dr. Uvedale in Enfield, England, in the 17th Century. (The sweet pea flower named ‘Cupani’ is thought to be the most like the native.) In 1730, a sweet pea flower named ‘Painted Lady’ was developed. Eckford, from Scotland, worked on sweet pea breeding and developed the grandiflora types which have larger flowers and more color selection. Then, in Althorp, England, at the country seat of the Earl of Spencer (related to Lady Diana), crosses produced ‘Prima Donna’ and other outstanding sweet peas called ‘Spencers’.

The Royal series was developed by the Ferry-Morse Company in the U.S. Frank Cuthbertson, from the Ferry-Morse Co., crossed Spencer and an early flowering sweet pea to produce the ‘Cuthbertson’ type, which is supposed to tolerate hot weather better. Hammett, from New Zealand, developed the striped ‘Streamers’.

TYPES OF SWEET PEAS (Lathyrus odoratus) Sweet peas have a number of classifications. Here are a few of the more common. Others, not mentioned here, include ‘Early’ and ‘Cuthbertson’.

Antique (Grandiflora): Developed by Henry Eckford in Scotland in the late 19th Century. Flowers often appear hooded and are smaller with shorter stems. Very fragrant. Vines grow 5 to 7 feet.

Spencer: Large range of colors with long stems, and varying degrees of fragrance. Usually four blooms per stem and petals are often ruffled. Most highly prized by exhibitors. Vines grow 6 to 8 feet.

Royal: This series was developed by the Ferry-Morse Company. They come in about a dozen distinct colors. Vines grow 6 to 8 feet.

Streamer: Developed by a sweet pea breeder named Hammett in New Zealand, these large flowers have petals striped with white and another color which could be purple, orange, pink, red, or chocolate. 5-6 foot vines.

Dwarf and Semi-Dwarf: Can be grown without support. Some are suitable for pots and hanging baskets. One common variety is the Knee-Hi mix. Individual colors also available.

Perennial (Lathyrus latifolius): These have no fragrance and are found only in pinks and whites. They will naturalize and work well on a trellis or fence where you can just let them go.

A perennial flower garden is rewarding, less expensive and less work than having to replant annual flowers every year. With proper planning, you can have flowers blooming in your perennial garden all summer long. But what are the best perennials for our area that can anchor your perennial garden? I asked seven of our employees, experienced gardeners: “What is your favorite perennial flower?” Here are their choices:

Bonnie Hickey, our bedding plant buyer, named bergenia, common name “Pigsqueak”, as her favorite perennial. It got the name Pigsqueak from the sound the leaf makes when rubbed between 2 fingers.  Foot tall bergenia grows easily in shade or partial shade and is evergreen through the winter so is interesting in all four seasons. In May bergenia has perky pink blossoms, in summer leathery, slug-resistant leaves.   Some varieties, like Bressingham Ruby, have bronzy-colored leaves all spring and summer. But in the fall, the leaves of all bergenia turn a beautiful burgundy color and stay that way throughout the winter.

Annie Woodward, who lives north of Main Street in the old part of town where temperatures are a little milder and the soil is rich, has chosen echinacea or purple coneflower as her favorite. She likes its tall stems (up to 3’) with showy purplish-pink-ray petals. This long-blooming, native perennial is easy to grow in any sunny garden as long as it doesn’t get too much water. Purple coneflower attracts butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects. In the winter finches feed on its seed. Many stunning new coneflower flower shapes, colors and heights have been bred in the last few years.

Iris is an old fashioned favorite of many of us, including our Lisa MacFarlane. Reliably hardy and long-lived, fragrant, with few pests, you can’t beat iris. After they bloom their tall, thick, grass-like leaves form a nice backdrop for shorter flowers.

Denise Montgomery, Cashman Nursery’s expert on native plants, likes native penstemon. Her favorite penstemons are the brilliant blues of ‘Alberta’, ‘Shining’, and ‘Little-Flower’. Penstemon needs well-drained soil and will do well on dry, rocky sites. It is long-blooming, from late spring to mid-summer here in the valley, but will bloom later in higher elevations.

Of course, someone on our staff had to name the classic peony as their favorite and Rebecca did. Many of us remember peonies blooming in June in our grandmother’s or mother’s garden, whether we grew up in Montana or in the Mid-West. Peonies can’t be beat for their long life and huge, wonderfully fragrant blooms in pinks, reds, or shades of white.

Michelle Ratliff likes black eyed susan (Rudbeckia) because they are drought tolerant, reliable and in mid- summer, produce daisy-like flowers the color of sunshine. Goldsturm rudbeckia (30” tall) is one of the best selections for us. There is a new dwarf version called Little Goldstar that is only 16” tall. Black eyed susan makes a great cutting flower!

Sun-loving Autumn Joy Sedum and the newer improved Autumn Fire, are Ann Wilbert’s favorite perennials. Hardy and healthy, this 18-24” sedum has few pests; it is a plant with four seasons of interest. In the spring, the young sedum plants look like little cabbages as they emerge with light-green leaves; then in summer and fall the tops slowly turn rosy-pink. Leave sedum standing in the garden all winter for its interesting shape or cut and dry it.

Our staff chose these plants not only for their beauty, but for winter-hardiness, pest and deer resistance, length of bloom time, and drought resistance. Also, they considered the flowers’ usefulness as pollinators and if the plant attracts butterflies and birds. There are others that could have made the list: Jerry’s favorite is bleeding heart, mine is hardy geranium. But, you can’t go wrong by adding one or more of these garden staples to your perennial garden!

This is the time of the year when gardeners are pouring over seed catalogs dreaming of what seeds to plant when spring finally arrives. Those little seeds are truly God’s wonders. They contain all that is necessary to produce a new plant. Did you know that orchid seeds are so tiny it takes 800,000 of them to make an ounce? But coconut seeds can weigh as much as 50 pounds! And, amazingly, the size of the seed has nothing to do with the size of the plant it produces, as the acorn growing into the oak shows us.

You don’t have to wait until May to get your hands in the dirt and start planting your seeds. You can have fun this winter starting your own vegetables and flowers from seed and watching them grow. Of course, you could buy your bedding plants from a nursery in the spring. But it’s more fun and cheaper to grow your own.

Many vegetables, flowers, and herbs need to be started from seed early in order to mature. And remember, even though you are starting peppers and tomatoes inside, you still need to pick early-ripening varieties for our short growing season. Broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, pumpkins, and winter squash are other vegetables started early inside. Herbs, such as basil, oregano, catnip, thyme, and rosemary, are easy to grow from seed. When you want masses of a perennial flower, it can be a money saver to start your own seedlings. Columbine, lupine, hollyhocks, gaillardia, shasta daisy, and purple coneflower are a few popular perennials that grow easily from seed.

Plant your seeds in plastic flats or pots made for that purpose or you can cut down paper or plastic milk cartons, aluminum cans, or other containers you have at home. At the nursery we seed into flats and then transplant into plastic or peat pots. Convenient peat pots can be planted, pot and all, directly into the ground when it’s time. Whatever you use should have drainage and be clean. Used pots with traces of soil in them can harbor diseases. So wash out whatever containers you use with a weak solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.

Of course, you will need soil in which to plant your seeds. Real topsoil is not recommended unless it is sterilized, because it can cause seedlings to ‘dampen off’. Damping off is a soil-borne fungus disease in which the seedlings wither and die at ground level. A fine seed-starting mix with a blend of sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite, and other sterilized components works best.

The date you start your seeds depends on germination time, growth rate of the plant, and when you dare to plant outside. Depending on the variety, it could take anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months to start perennial seeds inside. April 15 is a good starting date for frost tender basil, pumpkins, winter squash and cucumbers. Seed broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts 6 to 8 weeks before you want to plant them outside.

Large seeds, such as pumpkins and cucumbers, can be planted directly into peat pots or other containers you are using. We plant small seeds like tomatoes densely in rows in seeding flats and transplant them when they are about 2 inches tall. But if you are doing this on a small scale, planting one or two tomato seeds directly into your peat pots will work. The depth most seeds are planted should equal the length of the seed. Do not plant them too deep. Seeds need the proper moisture and temperature to germinate. Moisten the soil medium before you plant; and then keep it evenly moist but not soaking. If possible, use a clear dome or some other device to keep the humidity up. Although some seeds need higher or lower temperatures, 70 degrees soil temperature is best for germination.

Nancy Berg, our bedding plant grower, worries that a common mistake people make is keeping their flats of seeds on a windowsill. The flat gets warm in the daytime, but at night, especially near a cool window, will be too cold for germination to occur. We use germination mats which heat the bottom of the flats to an even temperature.
Some seeds need stratification and scarifying in order to germinate. Stratification means to supply a period of moist cold to trick the seeds into thinking they’re experiencing winter. Columbine and purple coneflower are two popular perennials seeds that you will need to stratify for at least 3 weeks. Scarifying means to nick the hard outer seed coat with a knife or sandpaper so moisture can reach the inside of the seed for germination. Lupine seeds need to be scarified. Soaking the seed before planting also helps to loosen the hard seed coats.

Most seeds germinate in 5 to 14 days. Once your seedlings are up, remove them from the heat mat and remove the grow domes. Most seedlings grow best at around 70 degrees. They may get too hot in direct sun and stretch toward the light. Grow lights work well, but a bright room out of direct sunlight will work fine, too. It is important to keep the soil evenly moist but not too wet. A good misting in the morning is probably enough.

When your seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves, they are ready for transplanting into individual pots. Plant a clump of herb seedlings in each pot for best results. For tomatoes and peppers, plant just one per pot. Fertilize your seedlings about once a week with a water soluble fertilizer. Miracle Gro (15-30-15) fertilizer used at the houseplant rate works well.

Grow your own bedding plants so you and your family can marvel at the wonder of seeds. Then, in May, you will be ready to plant your seedlings outside. And enjoy your garden!

 by Jan Cashman 4/29/12

You can’t go wrong with pansies.  We all love their smiling faces in the spring.  And now, pansies are also available without faces, in intense solid colors like white, yellow, orange, blue, even black.  Many are sweetly fragrant. 

Pansies, considered an “annual” flower, are sometimes perennial here—in a winter with good snow cover and not-so-cold temperatures, pansies’ leaves survive under the snow.  I have found that the smaller the flower on a pansy, the more likely it is to survive the winter.  Tiny pansy flowers, called Johnny-Jump-Ups, survive easily for me, becoming a bit invasive in my flower beds. I am always weeding them out but I leave a few to fill in empty spaces. 

There are basically 3 sizes of pansies—large-flowered with flowers 3” across or more, violas, with 1 1/4” flowers often found in solid colors, and Johnny Jump Ups with flowers 1” across or less.  Johnny Jump Ups’ flowers are only combinations of purple, white, and yellow, not other colors.

Recently, spreading pansies, including a series called “Rain”, have been developed to trail in hanging baskets and containers.   New, beautiful ‘Columbine’ and ‘Etain’ violas, listed as perennial, not annual, flowers are hardy to Zone 4.


Pansies (genus Viola) were found native in Europe as a small wildflower they called ‘Heartsease’ which looked like our Johnny Jump Ups.   In the early 19th century, Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennett brought the pansy to the attention of gardeners after cultivating Heartsease in her father’s garden in England and developing many new varieties.  Other breeders followed her lead in breeding, until the improved pansy became a favorite of gardeners.  The name pansy is derived from the French word “pensee” (which means ‘thought’) because the flower looks like a pensive human face.


Plant pansies in early spring–they prefer cool weather and will provide your gardens with an early show of color.  Once hardened off, they can take frost.  During a hot spell in the summer, pansies will bloom less.  One exciting series called “Ultima Radiance”, developed to be hardy and heat tolerant, has unique flowers splashed with radiant colors of violet or pink.

In a flower bed, plant pansies in groups of three or more for a mass effect.  Pansies companion well under dwarf shrubs and with perennial flowers.  They work well planted around bulbs in the spring or with dusty miller and ornamental kale for a fall display.   I plant pansies in my herb garden next to annual and perennial herbs.  (Pansies are an edible flower, often used as a colorful salad garnish for special occasions.)  A popular gardening trend today is using edible plants as ornamentals, so try planting pansies with greens like lettuce and parsely in your flower garden.   Pansies will also look great in a container mixed with other shade-loving plants.

Plant pansies today and enjoy their beautiful blooms in an array of colors.   You’ll love their sweet fragrance—and they’ll thrive in our cool climate.

Growing Hints for Pansies:

• Plant in an area with less than 6 hours of sun per day

• Pinch back if they become leggy

• When hot summer weather starts, cut them back to 2”

• Do not overfertilize

• Deadhead spent flowers for continuous bloom

By Jan Cashman 11/20/11 

Even though winter has set in and your gardens are under snow, you don’t have to be without fresh herbs.  You can plant an herb garden on your kitchen windowsill.   Here are some hints on how best to grow herbs indoors:

Most herbs are not hard to grow indoors, but they do need plenty of light.  Many of the herbs we use are plants native to the Mediterranean area where the climate is sunny and dry.  An east window is ideal for growing herbs, but a south or west window will also work.  A north exposure may not give the plants enough light, especially for sun lovers like basil, sage, and thyme.   6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day is recommended for most herbs.  (If you don’t have a bright window in which to grow your herbs, you can use grow lights.)  Ideal temperatures during the day for most herbs range from 65 to 70 degrees.  At night the room should be cooler by 10 or more degrees, to mimic outdoor temperatures.  Basil prefers warmer temperatures.

Before winter sets in, you can pot up your herbs that are growing outdoors.  Take as little garden dirt as possible when transplanting, to keep away insects and diseases living in the soil.  Rather than digging up the whole plant, you can take cuttings from your outdoor herbs and root them inside in sand or a rooting mix.  When rooted, plant them in a light potting mix containing vermiculite or perlite.  Herbs need good drainage, so place gravel in the bottom of your pots and choose pots with drainage holes.  Terra cotta clay pots planted with herbs give you a natural, Mediterranean look, but tend to dry out quicker than glazed pottery or plastics.  You can plant each of your herbs in a separate pot, or group various herbs together in a larger pot as long as they all have similar water and light requirements.  If you have an Earth Box sitting idle from last summer, plant it with herbs for the winter and put it in front of a sunny window.

Water herbs as you would any houseplant.  Some, like rosemary and sage, do not like to be too wet.  Let the soil dry out between waterings—stick your finger an inch into the soil and if dry, it is time to water.  Place your herb pot in a saucer filled with small pebbles and ½ inch of water to keep humidity up.  Fertilize indoor herbs sparingly with a water soluble fertilizer suitable for houseplants.

Pests such as fungus gnats, whiteflies, or aphids may show up on your herb plants—For a safe remedy, use insecticidal soap.  It does not have a strong odor.  If your herbs have mealybugs or scale, the easiest thing to do might be to discard the whole plant.

Of course, you will want to choose the herbs that you cook with most often to grow indoors.    With fresh herbs so close at hand, it might be fun to experiment with new uses for them in your cooking.  Here are some of the more popular herbs to grow indoors:

Because of its many culinary uses in pesto and Italian dishes, basil is a favorite.   Basil is best eaten fresh–dried, it loses some of its flavor.  Compact globe-type basils are a good choice to grow in a small pot.  Rosemary can be hard to grow inside if you transplant it from your garden; it seems to have trouble adjusting to the light difference.  Buy a new rosemary plant and you won’t have that problem; then plant it outside next spring.   Rosemary grows best in dry, cool conditions.  Try it with roasted pork, lamb or game.

Although a slow grower, vitamin-rich parsely is a great herb to grow indoors.   Plenty of sun will help parsely grow faster.  Use it in salads, salad dressings, omelettes, casseroles, even spaghetti sauce. The compact thyme plant is another herb to grow inside.  Try flavorful lemon thyme if you can find it.  Sage grows well inside, too.  Chives, which has a mild onion flavor for salads and salad dressings, is one of the easiest herbs to grow inside, but is also easy to grow outside, so I dig under the snow for chives when I need some in the winter.

Pot up herbs in pretty containers for the gourmet cook on your Christmas list.   Or plant a windowsill garden with useful and beautiful herb plants and use them all winter to make your meals more flavorful.  Enjoy your kitchen filled with the fragrance of herbs!


by Jan Cashman

Perennial flowers are great because they don’t have to be replanted each year.  Sure, a plant might have to be replaced here and there, but generally a perennial flower bed costs less and is easier to maintain than one planted with annual flowers.   Some perennial flowers, such as iris and lilies, have a relatively short bloom time.  Planting perennials that have a longer bloom time will help to you accomplish continuous blooming and color in your perennial garden.  With careful planning, and some deadheading, your perennial flower garden can have colorful flowers in it all summer.

Spring Blooms:

Aubrieta is a small, mounding rock garden plant with magenta or blue flowers that bloom for a long time in the spring.   Its foliage is evergreen; new varieties of aubrieta are available with variegated leaves.   Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is another low ground cover that does better in shady areas.  It has pure white star-shaped flowers that continue blooming for weeks in the spring and into summer.

Catmint (Nepeta) is a spreading ground cover with blue flowers that I have had planted for years under a tree in my perennial garden.   Its leaves and flowers have an appealing, minty fragrance.  ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint is a hybrid variety that was voted 2007 perennial of the year.  Catmint can reseed and become invasive but ‘Walkers Low’ has sterile seeds, so it won’t spread.   Deer don’t like it and it thrives in dry, harsh conditions.  If you cut it down to half its height in July, after the first bloom is done, you’ll get a second bloom.

Summer Blooms:

A selection of scabiosa, or pincushion flower, called ‘Butterfly Blue’ blooms all summer if deadheaded.  It is only 12 to 16” high with dainty, two inch, light blue flowers.  This plant also received the perennial of the year award in 2001.  It grows in full sun and tolerates dry conditions.  Great in a cut flower arrangement!

Although yarrow (Achillea) is a tough, drought tolerant plant, some varieties can be extremely invasive, even choking out grass, but the hybrid ‘Moonshine’ does not spread.  Moonshine’s  bright, true-yellow flowers last for weeks.  When picked in full bloom, they dry easily and retain their bright color for months in a dried flower arrangement or wreath.

Yet another perennial plant of the year from 1992 is ‘Moonbeam’ coreopsis.  A selection of threadleaf coreopsis, ‘Moonbeam’ will bloom with yellow flowers all summer, especially if spent flowers are trimmed off.  It likes full sun and is drought tolerant.

Hardy geraniums top my list of favorite perennial flowers for many reasons—their long blooming time being just one of them.  ‘Rozanne’ hardy geranium, 2008 perennial of the year, is a particularly nice hardy geranium hybrid with large, blue flowers recurring throughout the summer.  Its mounding  foliage turns reddish in the fall.  Hardy geraniums grow in full sun to partial shade.

‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia, a type of brown-eyed susan, was named perennial plant of the year in 1999.  It has masses of yellow, daisy-like flowers that bloom from July until a hard frost, often lasting into October.  Great for late blooms in the garden when tender annuals have frozen–the flowers last a long time when cut for a bouquet.

There are other perennials with a long bloom time, such as campanulas, gaillardia, Stella d’ Oro daylily, lavender, coneflowers, and salvias.  Another way to get even more color in your perennial garden is to mix in plants with colorful leaves or add annual flowers.   Plants like Autumn Joy sedum and ornamental grasses will give you interesting textures in every season, even when they are not in bloom.

Most of these long blooming perennials are drought tolerant and deer resistant.  Five of the plants mentioned above received the perennial plant of the year, awarded by the Perennial Plant Association, so they are truly long-blooming winners!  Plant them and enjoy their flowers!

What is a native or indigenous plant?

One definition is “a plant that occurs naturally in a particular area of the U.S., that was here before the Europeans came.”  The word endemic means a plant that grows in one place and nowhere else.   Endemic plants and animals are most often found on isolated islands like Madagascar, New Zealand, or Hawaii, such as certain species of orchids.  There are some plants endemic to only one area of the United States.

In addition to true native plants, many of the perennial flowers we sell are selections (cultivars) or hybrids of native plants.  Most of the time, these selections and hybrids are hardy and drought resistant, just like the native plant from which they were bred, but have larger, more colorful, longer lasting flowers, more compact shape, or other improvements.   Sometimes, it happens that some hardiness is lost in breeding, so check the recommended hardiness zone when purchasing a new selection.

Why plant natives?

They are adapted to our climate.  And, many require less water than plants introduced from other parts of the U.S. or the world.  Natives are less invasive.  (An extreme example of invasiveness of a non-native plant is the very invasive spotted napweed, which was introduced by accident years ago in contaminated seed from Eastern Europe.)   Native plants make good habitat for birds and wild animals because these are the plants these creatures are used to.  Another reason to plant rare natives is help keep the species from dying out.


Native perennial flowers can be started from seed or potted plants.  Some, such as blue flax, yarrow, and blanket flower, are easy to start from seed.  Other native perennials take longer to get established, and are easier started from small potted plants.   Sometimes, it can take 2 or 3 years for natives to be established in your garden.

What are some native species that I could grow in my garden?

Some perennials indigenous to Southwestern Montana have familiar names like Aster, Monarda, Liatris, Geranium, Jacob’s ladder, Larkspur, Monkshood, Pasqueflower, Primrose, and Sunflower.   I have referenced the Valley of the Flowers chapter of the Montana Native Plant Society’s web site for this article.  It is easy-to-read, with lots of information, and lists 100 native wildflowers, mostly perennial, plus a long list of native grasses, trees, shrubs, and wetland plants.  This can be found at and click on “Native Plant Landscaping in our area”.


Bitterroot is the state flower of Montana.  This small (3”) plant is found on dry sites in rocky, poor soil.  The Shoshone and Flathead Indians thought the root had medicinal purposes.   It has delicate, pink, spring flowers.  The small scale of this plant makes it good for rock gardens, as long as they have well-drained soil.  Bitterroot goes dormant after flowering, so mark its spot.

Pincushion Cactus

Another native plant which was eaten by the Blackfoot Indians as a treat is Pincushion cactus, found in the dry areas of the state.  This tiny cactus would work well in a small rock garden you don’t plan to water much.


Two native columbines are Yellow (Aquilegia flavescens) and Colorado (A. caerulea), which has blue and white flowers.  They reseed readily, and thrive in partially shady areas.  Columbines flower for an extended period in late spring/early summer and make an interesting, long-lasting cut flower.


The native yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has white flowers and aggressively reseeds itself.  It can easily become invasive, so plant it in an area where it can be allowed to spread.  Some of the newer, more colorful yarrow hybrids, like yellow Moonshine, are not as invasive as the native.  Yarrow flowers are excellent for drying, when picked in full bloom, and last a long time in a cut flower arrangement.


Penstemons are a popular perennial, but penstemon species found in garden centers tend to be nonnatives.   Native penstemons, such as P. procerus, bloom in the summer in shades of blue.  Penstemons attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Blue Flax

The delicate flowers of blue flax will fill a meadow with wedgewood-blue color in June.   Easy to grow from seed or potted plants, blue flax will reseed itself.

Sage Brushes

The big sagebrush we see growing in sunny, drier areas can be woody and irregular, but a couple of other native plants in the same genus, Artemisia, have silvery, aromatic foliage and are more evenly shaped.  Fringed sage, also called wormwood (Artemisia frigida), is a small mounding plant with a fuzzy texture.  Silver sage (Artemisia cana) gets to 3 to 4 feet in height and width.  Neither needs much, if any, additional water besides what nature gives.  The silver-green foliage blends well with other, more colorful but drought-tolerant perennials.

Ground Covers

Kinnickinick, pussy toes, alpine strawberries are all natives that make great, drought tolerant ground covers.

Planting natives can naturally blend your home with the native landscape around it. Adults — and children — will bend down to observe the delicate subtlety of the indigenous plants’ flowers and leaves.  So make these interesting, low-care, low-water plants part of your landscape!

Everyone is gardening in containers these days. Small lots and condo living contribute to this trend. People want the ease of planting and caring for a small, ‘contained’ garden. Homeowners are interested in decorating not just the inside of their homes, but also their outdoor living space. Enticing to us gardeners are the beautiful, colorful clay containers being imported from all over the world.

Container gardening has come a long way from a whiskey barrel filled with red geraniums. Beautiful clay pottery is available in all colors, sizes and price ranges from Italy, Vietnam, and Mexico. This year, with the popularity of warm, bright-colored flowers, bright-colored pots are also in vogue. I love the new citrus-colored pots, but I am still partial to simple terra cotta pots with their classic lines. Any plant, any color, will look at home planted in a terra cotta pot.

If it will hold dirt, it will probably hold flowers. I created a funky grouping of plants on my front steps planted in antique tin-ware using an old chair long stripped of its paint to hold one of the tins. Plant in a western hat or boot, hollowed out tree trunk, old worn pail, basket, or old suitcase lined with plastic—all you need are soil and drainage holes. When choosing a container remember, larger pots allow more room for root growth and are easier to keep watered.

Use a commercial potting mix, not soil from the garden, in your containers. Garden soil is too heavy, plus it might contain fungi or insect larvae. A potting mix that is lightened with perlite or vermiculite is good. If the mix contains coconut fiber, even better. Coconut fiber has great water holding capacity. Your container should have holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain. Use pebbles, or better yet, light styrafoam peanuts, in the bottom of any deep or large container for better drainage.

Due to our low humidity here in the summer, containers need to be watered daily, especially if they are in full sun. We like to mix Soil Moist granules into our potting soil to reduce waterings. Soil Moist is a polymer that absorbs water like a sponge. As the soil dries out, the stored water is released.

Mix slow release Osmocote fertilize into the soil of your containers and you won’t have to fertilize again. Or fertilize with water-soluble Miracle-Gro every ten days.

Choosing plants for your container garden is the fun part, but first you need to know whether your container will be in full sun or partial or full shade. There is a huge selection of plants for any location. Containers can look stunning planted with just one variety of plant but the trend is to use a mixture of plants that compliment each other. Commonly we plant a tall plant in the middle of the pot, with gradually shorter plants toward the edge that will trail over the side of the pot. New and exciting annual grasses such as ornamental corn or millet can be used to give your container-garden height, instead of the over-used spike (dracaena). Two fun and unusual annual grasses that work well in containers are Mexican feather grass which looks and feels like soft green hair and fiber optic grass that looks like fiber optics!

I asked our greenhouse staff what their favorite annual flowers were for planting in containers. They liked million bells petunia, a tiny floriferous, cascading petunia, osteospermum, a daisy-like flower that comes in many colors, and fancy-leafed geranium, a geranium grown primarily for its multi-colored leaves. I like the compact lemon gem marigold; its bright yellow flowers give a splash of color to any sunny container and they will trail over the side as they grow. We all like to mix various leaf-textures in container plantings using interesting herbs such as purple or golden sage or lavender and ornamental grasses.

This year you’ll see containers with lots of colorful and variegated foliage sometimes mixed with complimentary flowers. The new and colorful varieties of coleus combine to make a stunning container garden for shade.

Perennial flowers can be used in containers. Most perennials bloom for a short time and then are done blooming for the season, so tuck in a few longer-blooming annuals and chose perennials with interesting foliage like hostas, lamium, sedum, and pulmonarias. The new shade-loving heucheras and heucherellas are everyone’s favorite and look great in containers. ‘Amber Waves’ heuchera has ruffled golden leaves with pink undersides and contrasts well when planted with ‘Crimson Curls’ heuchera, which has rich burgundy, ruffled-leaves. In the fall you can move the perennials that were in your containers into your perennial garden.

Roses, herbs, vegetables, even trees or evergreens can be planted into containers although the shrubs and trees might not make it through the winter with their roots above ground. Herbs work well in a strawberry pot. In the fall, bring the herbs in the house near a sunny window so you can harvest fresh herbs all winter. My Japanese maple has been growing outside in a pot for four years, but in the winter, we store it in our 35 degree root cellar. Japanese maples cannot survive our winters. Upright junipers, pruned in a topiary shape and planted in an Italian terra cotta container will add a European look to your front entryway.

Funky or formal, colorful or subtle, annuals, perennials, herbs, or evergreens, whichever you choose, plant up a pretty pot or an old trough and add charm to your “outdoor living room”.

By Jan Cashman

Want a hardy, drought tolerant perennial that survives with little water or care and adds interesting textures and colors to your garden all seasons of the year?  Plant sedum, common name ‘stonecrop’.    There are 400+ species of sedum; some are evergreen, some have interesting leaf colors.   Sedum is a succulent, which means its thick leaves store water.  The leaves are edible.

Sedum make excellent rock garden plants, even growing well when tucked into dry stone walls.  Or plant them in a container of mixed flowers.    A creative use of sedum is in a patchwork planting of low-growing varieties with different leaf colors and textures, either in a container or small garden.  Because of their drought tolerance and ease of growth, sedum is one of the few plants that work well for green roofs.


Sedum grows best in full sun and well-drained soil.  It tolerates drought and seems especially adapted to our hot, dry summers.  But, it also grows in partial shade and wetter areas.  It is a commonly planted perennial in the more humid climates of the Midwest, and does well there, too.

Sedum needs little fertilizer and has few pests and diseases which affect it, however, slugs have been known be a problem.  Deer are one of its biggest pests.


Sedums are either creeping, low-growing  ground covers, or upright plants, that grow to 18 to 24”.  Creeping sedums come in a wide range of foliage colors and textures:

Angelina is low-growing sedum whose bright, needle-like golden foliage stays evergreen under the snow in the winter.  Its yellow flowers stand up above the plant.   In the fall, the leaves turn orange.  Angelina is easy to grow and spreads.  I have this ground cover sedum planted in a perennial bed mixed with other yellow-leafed perennials.

Dragon’s Blood sedum is an old stand-by ground cover with dark maroon foliage and deep burgundy blooms.

Tricolor is just as the name says, its leaves have three colors–green with a red and cream-colored border.  It has pink flowers.  The plant is evergreen where it has snow cover or protection.

Pachyclados is another evergreen which looks like tiny hens and chicks plants.  It has mounds of blue-green, toothed leaves and pale yellow flowers.

There are many wonderful, easy to grow, upright sedums:

Autumn Joy is one of the most popular upright sedums because it provides interest in the perennial garden during every season—its light green leaves come up like little cabbage plants in the spring, then grow to look like a big broccoli head in the summer.  The blooms turn from pale rose to brick red in the fall.  Leave them standing in the winter and enjoy their interesting texture.

Postman’s Pride is taller and quite upright, growing to at least 24” with small, glossy burgundy leaves and pink flower heads.

Elsie’s Gold is a new upright variety with variegated leaves and large clusters of deep pink blossoms on tall stems.

There are other noteworthy fall-blooming perennials.  Asters, rudbeckia (brown-eyed Susans), and Russian sage, to name a few.  And, of course, mums are still a popular fall flower.  But, sedums can’t be beat for their adaptability, texture, and four season interest.