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Diggin' It

The six plants I can't live without

Ten garden bloggers choose their can't-live-without plants.

By / April 20, 2009

"That's impossible" was my first thought when Steve Bender (Southern Living magazine's Grumpy Gardener and coauthor of the wonderful book, "Passalong Plants") e-mailed to suggest a "blogathon" in which 10 garden bloggers would talk about six plants they can't live without. Only six? There are more groups of plants than that -- annuals, perennials, bulbs, trees, shrubs, vines, herbs, vegetables, fruits, and roses, plus ornamental grasses, wildflowers, and water garden plants (although, if you're being picky, those are annuals and perennials). ...

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And I try dozens of new plants every year. How can I limit myself to six? But, you know, I probably could -- if I really had to. I've moved around a lot in my adult life, which has greatly enriched my gardening experience, and there are some common threads in all the gardens I've created in various places -- among them Tennessee, West Virginia, Germany, Massachusetts.

What I look for in a "keeper" plant is simple -- it can't be fussy and it has to look or taste great. The second part needs no explanation -- nice appearance and great taste are the real reason we grow anything.

As for the first, I'm not necessarily jumping on the "no maintenance" bandwagon in wanting unfussy plants. I don't think there's any such thing as no maintenance, and I doubt I'd like it if there were. But I'd prefer to plant and nurture and pick -- not to mention admire and share with friends -- than deal with insects, disease, and constant pruning (faults of some plants that might otherwise make this list).

Also, because I'm now an urban gardener -- I live in an 1870s rowhouse in Boston -- all my favorites have to grow well in containers.

So here's how my list came out (winnowed down from 50 possibilities). Scroll down to the end of this post to see the links to the other bloggers on the same topic. Did we have lots of similarities or mostly differences? (I know that when I read each of them, I'm going to say, "Oh, I wish I'd put that on mine!")

Daffodils - I can't imagine spring without lots and lots of daffodils -- all yellow, white, orange-cupped, fragrant, early to late, tall, tiny. I love 'em all. They welcome spring in such a cheerful way. If I had to choose two favorites, they'd be little February Gold and Dutch Master.

Forsythia -- This is a shrub that many gardeners have a love/hate relationship with. When it grows much larger than homeowners think it will, they prune it and prune it (usually by -- incorrectly -- giving it a haircut), disliking it more and more each time. But I can't imagine having a yard without forsythia. It says spring to me in a way no other plant does. Maybe it's the bright color (I just realized that three of the plants on this list are yellow). Probably it's the shrub's exuberance. When forsythia flowers, I smile. Even if the weather's still a bit wintery, those blooms promise that spring is one the way. Can forsythia really be grown in a container? Yes! There are several nice small cultivars, although I still recommend large pots.

Daylilies-- What can I add to what everyone already knows about this delightful summer flower? I guess I'd encourage people to try more of a variety of them -- rebloomers, for instance, if you're in the less-snowy parts of Zone 6 and south. Different heights and colors. Talk to someone in a daylily society in your city or one nearby -- you might be amazed at what's available that you rarely see in nurseries. Probably the best honor I've ever received was to have a dayily named for me. I'd also recommend an old one that's completely trouble-free (and with clear yellow blooms, to continue that theme), Winning Ways.

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