The six plants I can't live without

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

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"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). ...

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.

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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.

Alpine strawberries  - Regular readers of Diggin' It will recall that I've gone on and on about these before. I'll just link to one of those previous posts and say I haven't changed my opinion a bit. Small handfuls of tiny, tasty strawberries are a great way to start the day from early June through frost. They're perennial, they don't have runners, and yes, I grow them in large containers. Blueberries are a very close second only because you don't get fruit the first year after planting (important if you're establishing a new garden). And there are cultivars that grow in containers.

Hydrangea - Ten years ago, hydrangea might not have made this list. True, I loved all the hybrids of oak-leaf hydrangea since my landscape at that time was mostly wooded. But I didn't bother with other hydrangeas except Annabelle. But then came the reblooming hydrangeas -- which are great container plants, by the way -- and I fell in love. I think I've grown all of the rebloomers (although I can't guarantee it since more seem to be released each spring) and I've been successful with them all. Hydrangeas from late spring through frost -- what a great idea. Now I can't imagine being without them.

Tomatoes- I compiled this list by blooming/fruiting time, or tomatoes would have been at the top. I simply can't imagine a garden -- or a summer -- without them. If I were limited to only one plant, a tomato would be it. Fortunately, I've never been reduced to that. I enjoy the heirlooms that are popular again but find that often they are troubled by disease and so I can't count on them for my main crop. The two faves that pop up in my garden year after year are Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and Park's Whopper.

Now you'll want to read about the choices of the other bloggers who are listing the plants they can't live without:

Digging -- Pam in Austin, Texas.

Hoe & Shovel – Meems in central Florida.

Fairegarden – Frances in Tennessee.

Defining Your Home Garden – Cameron in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Gardening With Confidence– Helen Yoest in Raleigh, N.C. 

Sweet Home and Garden Chicago --Carolyn Choi.

Fresh Dirt -- Sunset Magazine, California and Washington State.

Jim Long’s Garden -- Jim Long in Blue Eye, Mo. 

The Grumpy Gardener - Steve Bender in Alabama.

{Tomorrow in Diggin' It: New greenhouse owner Alexandra Marks continues her Greenhouse Journeys. This was the first installment.)

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