Over the past few years, more than a dozen remarkable gardeners have obligingly sweated through the task of selecting a mere 10 favorite plants.

Share story















Over the past few years, more than a dozen remarkable gardeners have obligingly sweated through the task of selecting a mere 10 favorite plants. So it seemed only fair I put myself through the exercise, too.

To my surprise, I found it relatively painless to whittle down my choices to a short list, probably because I’ve so recently downsized my garden. What shocks me is how my taste in plants has devolved. Nothing exotic, rare or even unusual on this list, I’m embarrassed to admit. Over the years my garden has become less about plants and more about being a sanctuary to share with friends and family. In such a small space, plants need to be useful for cutting or eating, and sturdy enough to hold up to neglect, kids, guests and, at the moment, a whirlwind of a puppy.

No worry tracking down these plants. Most are familiar, some are just plain common. All are scented, textural, colorful, taste good or all of the above. I rely on these selections to carry my garden spring through autumn with very little fuss or care. They very nearly tend themselves. Happy Mother’s Day!

Erysimum ‘Apricot Twist.’ A sweet-smelling wallflower, it flowers from April through frost, in sun or shade. I run ‘Apricot Twist’ in ribbons of orange through the beds to set the garden’s color scheme, taking a cue from the great colorist Gertrude Jekyll, who relied on wallflowers for their summer-long bloom.

Carex testacea or orange New Zealand sedge. A high-impact, low-maintenance ornamental grass, it forms a textural mound of shiny olive green and copper. It doesn’t seed around much, looks good all year, and is effective edging beds or cascading down the sides of pots.

Ligularia dentata ‘Britt-Marie Crawford.’ Every garden needs a few big-leaf plants, and this fills the bill with bold chocolate-purple leaves a foot long and nearly as wide. I repeat it through the borders as contrast to lighter, brighter plants. A primeval-looking beauty, it blooms in a burst of golden daisies in July. It needs plenty of water and protection from slugs.

Lilium ‘Red Hot.’ When lilies poke their fat snouts out of the ground, summer is on its way. Lilies deliver more fragrance and elegance per square inch of soil than any other plant, especially this bi-colored beauty. One of the new “Orienpet” lilies, it combines the exotic looks and fragrance of Oriental lilies with the durability of trumpet hybrids.

Heuchera ‘Marmalade.’ This one has the prettiest ruffled apricot-colored leaves, brilliant for year-round edging or in pots. I trim a sunny terrace with it because ‘Marmalade’ stands up to heat better than many heucheras, and its foliage persists all year ’round.

Hydrangea aborescens ‘Annabelle.’ I’m a hydrangea junkie, in love with mopheads, paniculatas and lacecaps. This plant is the essence of hydrangea, with huge fat balls of white flowers that dry to a soft chartreuse.

Clematis ‘Rouguchi.’ A vigorous grower, its flowers are delicate blue-purple dangling bells. An amazingly free-flowering vine and sweetly fragrant, it obligingly clambers up trees, screens, fences or sturdy roses.

Nasturtium ‘Alaska Orange.’ Is any flower more cheerful than a nasturtium? (Except when invaded by aphids; hose off your nasturtiums with a strong jet of water to keep them aphid-free.) Nasturtiums grow quickly from seed and tolerate drought and neglect. Both leaves and flowers add a delicious spicy taste to salads. I grow ‘Alaska Orange’ for its warm-colored flowers and cream-marbled leaves.

• Sweet peas. I can think of no garden task more satisfying than picking sweet peas; their heavenly perfume and watercolor hues are as beautiful in the vase as in the garden. I love the dark colors like ‘Black Knight’ and grow a variety of the old-fashioned ‘Old Spice’ and ‘Spencer’ types, which are the most ruffled and fragrant.

• ‘Cinderella’ pumpkin. I can’t remember a summer of my life when I didn’t grow pumpkins. ‘Cinderella’ is a French heirloom, slightly flattened in shape with deep ridges and vivid orange skin. It grows easily from seed and is good for eating and for carving. Popular in France since the 1800s, this is supposedly the pumpkin that Cinderella’s fairy godmother turned into a coach.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net. Julie Notarianni is a Seattle Times news artist.