Whether you garden in the city, the suburbs, or have a large garden divided into smaller spaces, choose plants that offer texture, color, and structure—yet won’t overwhelm the landscape. Great Plant Picks (GPP), the horticultural program of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle, Washington, offers detailed information on almost 900 exceptional plant selections, over half of which provide outstanding attributes on a smaller scale.
GPP began in 2001 with the goal of creating a comprehensive palette of outstanding plants for gardeners in the maritime Pacific Northwest. The committee is made up of professional horticulturists and designers from botanic gardens, nurseries, and arboreta in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. These dedicated program volunteers use strict criteria aimed toward ensuring the gardener’s success when choosing plants best suited for this region.
For the past few years, GPP has promoted plant selections for sun and drought tolerance, shade, and distinctive foliage. For 2013, GPP is featuring a variety of bamboo, bulbs, conifers, ferns, grasses, perennials, shrubs, trees, and vines for smaller spaces. A brief sampling follows:
Zig-zag bamboo (Shibataea kumasasa)
Most bamboos are too tall and wide, or too aggressive, for a small garden. In fact, one of the conditions for a GPP selection is that it must not be invasive or overly vigorous in colonizing the garden or larger environment. Nevertheless, zig-zag bamboo is a fantastic bamboo for smaller sites. The evergreen, almost teardrop-shaped leaves are arranged in a zig-zag pattern along each stem. It is a compact grower and a very slow spreader, plus it is extremely resistant to the unsightly damage of bamboo mites.
Turk’s cap lily (Lilium martagon)
A bonanza of turban-shaped flowers on three-foot stems burst forth in summer from this easy-to-grow bulb. The blooms of Turk’s cap lily may be either pink or white with dark maroon speckling. A small group of these tucked among perennials will not take up very much space, but will reward you with a magnificent display of up to 50 flowers from mature bulbs.
Dwarf Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Spiralis’)
There are ten dwarf Hinoki cypress cultivars of various sizes and shapes that have been selected for GPP status. ‘Spiralis’ has a growth pattern of spiraling side branches along a crooked trunk with a narrow columnar form. At ten years, this conifer will be about five feet tall and only two feet wide—making it ideal for containers as well as for a specimen with sculptural qualities in the garden.
Maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes)
This diminutive fern is native around the globe including mountainous areas of the Pacific Northwest. Although maidenhair spleenwort has a delicate appearance, it defies drought in shady locations. The evergreen leaves form short tufts to only about eight inches tall and grow well in the crevices of rockeries in addition to woodland settings.
Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis ×acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’)
Light breezes rustling through the lustrous green leaves of this cultivar of feather reed grass create a calming effect. An upright form to three feet tall with only a slight arching of the foliage make ‘Karl Foerster’ a very popular ornamental grass with architectural interest. Pink-tinged inflorescences on tightly vertical flower stalks reach for the sky—up to six feet—in early summer and mature to buff for a lasting effect throughout autumn and winter.
Dwarf Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Little Spire’)
This dwarf selection of Russian sage brings along all the attributes of its larger brethren: full sun and drought tolerance, attractive gray-green foliage, and sprays of lavender-colored flowers that bees go crazy for in late summer.
Hebe (Hebe topiaria)
The tight, dense branching and mounding habit of this hebe is reminiscent of a clipped topiary. At ten years, plants can be four feet tall and slightly more in width. Flowers appear infrequently, scattered amidst light gray-green leaves. Hebes do best in full sun with excellent drainage.
Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica ‘Vanessa’)
With exfoliating bark, a distinctive branching structure, and an autumnal display of crimson, gold, and shades of orange foliage, Persian ironwood is a small specimen tree with multi-season good looks. ‘Vanessa’ is a cultivar with a columnar habit suitable for small spaces with the same notable and beautiful characteristics of the species.
Rooguchi clematis (Clematis ‘Rooguchi’ [Integrifolia Group])
Whether grown on a fence or trellis or clambering through an open shrub, this smaller clematis blooms with striking indigo-violet bell-shaped flowers all summer long. A non-twining vine with applegreen foliage, ‘Rooguchi’ typically grows to about eight feet long.