unusual & under-used plants

christinmk z5b eastern WAJanuary 11, 2009

What plants do you grow that you think are not used enough by other gardeners? What makes it so special to you?

Is the plant not frequently used because it is:

A) rare/hard to find/expencive

B) so common no one cares any more

C) too unusual for most people

Asplenium scolopendrium- Hearts Tongue Fern. I don't think it is promoted enough. It looks like one of those Bird's Nest Ferns but is very hardy! I have only seen a few people in my zone growing them. They look tropical!

Ballota- Horehound. I bought three different kinds this spring. I hope they winter over well because they are AWESOME!

B. nigra 'Archer's Variety' has white/yellow leaves flecked with green. The flowers are a pale purple.

It is hard to describe what Ballota pseudodictamnus and acetabulosa look alike. They have silver-green foliage that is soft and fuzzy. The little flowers are purple. I will provide a link so you can see them.

Chyptotaenia japonica 'Atropurpurea'- Purple Leaf Japanese Ornamental Parsley. I have never seen anyone else grow this plant, so maybe it isn't very common. This is a neat foliage plant for part shade! Dark purple/black foliage.

Gillenia trifoliata- Bowman's Root. Native plant with lacy foliage dainty white flowers. I think many people have forgotten this plant. I hope that since natives are making a come-back it will be a favorite again.

Helianthemum- Sun Rose. I have not seen ONE person growing this plant besides myself. I think it has just fallen out of favor with many. I love it! Some say it is short lived, but mine have been growing for over five years. It is a short plant that forms a shrubby mat low to the gound. The flowers come in single and double form. This plant thrives in the most difficult of situations!

Hyssopus- Hyssop. This is an herb that can be made for teas. It smells like a skunk to me, but I adore it. I have a beautiful dark blue colored one and bought a pink in the summer. It re-seeds very well. The foliage is a wonderfully dark green. The plant stands under a foot tall.

Linaria- Toadflax. Beautiful plant no Cottage Garden should be without! It has tiny snapdragon like flowers that form long spikes. The foliage is blue-green. I have the cultivar 'Cannon J. Went' and it has light pink flowers.

Nepeta subsessilis- Catmint. I know quite a few people grow this, but not enough. It blooms for MONTHS with just minimal dead-heading. Stunning blue flowers.

Scrophularia auriculata- Water Figwort. Sold for areas by ponds and bogs. Mine does fine as long as the soil is moist. One of my favorite plants! The leaves are variegated and the flowers are a tiny and maroon colored. Love it!

I have pics for several of these, but I think I have shown them here several times allready.

Thats it for me. What about you?


Here is a link that might be useful: Ballota pseudodictamnus

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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

One comes to mind I'm very fond of 'Phuopsis stylosa' I use it as an edging one side of my stump bed. It give off a slightly musky odor at times but I don't find it offensive. A

Here is a link that might be useful: Phuopsis stylosa

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 6:48PM
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nckvilledudes(7a NC)

Any of the US native clematis. They are plants grossly underutilized by most US growers since they are rarely seen, advertised or sold in most garden centers because they bloom on new wood and are not in bloom in the spring when most people are in the garden centers making their spring splurge impulse buys for those things in bloom at the time. Such a treasure of beauties should not be ignored.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 8:05PM
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libbyshome(z9a BC)

melampodium.............a small, rounded yellow daisys
mignonette...............for it's fabulous scent
salvia horminum .........annual salvia, coloured bracts
Angelica gigas...........tall, interesting plant
annual & perennial Scabiosa


    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 9:59PM
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midnightsmum (Z4, ON)

Annette - that is gorgeous - do you have extras????


    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 10:14PM
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token28001(zone7b NC)

I've got seeds for melampodium. Can it be wintersown or should I start it in the spring?

I also sowed scabiosa this year. I've got what is described as a white/cream variety. I snagged a few from a bluish plant at Lowes last fall. Tried trading for some catmint, but it turned out to be catnip. Oh well.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 10:16PM
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Mickie Marquis(6 SW Ohio)

Great thread.

It amazes me that more people don't grow the species tulips: batalinni, acuminata, humilis, whittalia, etc. They increase each year; you don't have to replant them.

How about iris reticulata? Nothing wrong with it! Mine bloomed February 7 one year.

Eremus robustus and Frittillary imperialis variegata are two I've never seen outside my own garden.

Some of the self seeding annuals are SO hard to find. I'm sure they don't sell well for the nurseries since they are popular passalongs. It's almost embarrasing to ask for some of them; but they don't have them anyway! Like... nigella, cleome, larkspur.

Kochia and Perilla fruitescens are two I don't mind running all over, but they are next to impossible to find.

When you have a plant you don't want to lose, give it away! If yours dies you know where to replace it.

Species and American clematis are almost taboo. Whats's up with that? Some of the texensis hybrids are my favorites.

I also agree with the salvia horminum poster; what a great plant.

I'll have to look for a few some of you mentioned.

Thanks, and hurry spring!

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 10:41PM
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In zone 8B (north Florida, near Georgia)

Philippine Violet
Salvia miniata
Copper Canyon Daisy
Flowering Maple (Abutilon)
Banana Shrub

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 10:45PM
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little_dani(9, S. Tex Coast)

I love to use a carpet of purple heart in beds, along with brilliant orange, yellow, or blue blossoms. It is stunning in a long bed with plumbago.

Another plant I love to use is variegated flax lily. I don't know the botanical on it, but it is stunning in the garden. Long, strap like leaves, blue-ish green and creamy white, but with a very nondescript bloom. Tough, too. It is just a spectacular plant.


Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 10:48PM
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Nell Jean

Tom, Melampodium should be started in hot weather. It reseeds about the same time as Madagascar periwinkle. It literally comes out of the ground blooming and never has to be deadheaded, lasting until frost.

Persian Shield (strobilanthes) is something I think is underused. I put a pic in Edna's thread on Purples in the Gallery.


Here is a link that might be useful: Show your Purples

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 12:01AM
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token28001(zone7b NC)

Thanks. I'll wait to sow them in May.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 12:09AM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Nancy, remind me in the spring and I'll send you a piece. I think Phuopsis stylosa is related to Sweet Woodruff. In the link below you can see it planted at the edge of my stump bed.


Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 12:09AM
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midnightsmum (Z4, ON)

A- can I just have that whole tableau?? So pretty, and I do have other expectations!!! lol!


    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 12:18AM
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Nothing to add here, but Annette, that bed is gorgeous!

I do grow perilla, had scabiosa ochroleuca for a couple of years, love melampodium, have salvia hormium (Clary Sage), and love my Walker's low nepeta.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 6:22AM
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Allium senescens var. calcareum (a blooming machine for hot sunny areas where you need a low edger...flowers are a silvery lilac on glaucous foliage, so it's not a blowsy companion, but one which you appreciate for its dependable attractiveness. One of my longest blooming plants...it takes a short break mid-summer, but as soon as it regains some steam, it sends up more blooms.)

Calamagrostis arundinacea brachytricha (an ornamental grass for part sun/shade. How many of there are those?)

Cerastostigma willmottianum (the bluest of blue flowers in Fall on a very easy plant. C. willmottianum 'Palmgold'is my favorite because of the chartruese foliage. When in bloom, the contrast of the blue and chartruese is spectacular.)

Dicliptera suberecta (one of the few silver-foliaged plants that doesn't melt on me. Drought-tolerant and attracts hummingbirds to its orange tubular blossoms. The only detractant: the deer like to nibble it on it, which is a bit surprising because it's foliage is soft and felty like a lamb's ear. You'd think the leaves would get stuck to the roof of their mouth.)

Eryngium yuccafolium (glaucous foliage on an adaptable native with alien-like silvery spiny flowers. One of the most asked about plants in the garden when it blooms. A really good contrast for roses.)

Habranthus tubispathus var texensis (a rain lily that has persistant evergreen foliage almost year round. The foliage disappears in early summer. Then, in mid to late summer, the cutest little orange flowers on short stems arise from the bare ground, followed later by the foliage. A great part sun plant for near a pathway.)

Selaginela braunii (a fern ally for the shade garden whose foliage looks like a cross between a fern and a conifer. Very tolerant of most conditions, even dry shade. I love to use the cut foliage in flower arrangements.)

Stipa gigantea (unusual grass, at least for here, probably not for California or other parts of the southwest....very tolerant of dry soil, but also doesn't mind being inundated by rainy spells.)


Acer buergianum (a smallish-medium tree that can handle most any condition you throw at it. Grows very fast when young, then slows down as it grows to maturity, so its a good investment for shade. Interesting bark, spectacular fall foliage, a manageable form, and small leaves all make it an appealing tree. One drawback: it's hard to find a named cultivar and most of the trees are seed-grown, so some variation in fall-color/time is to be expected.)

Cupressus arizonica var glabra 'Carolina Sapphire' (fast-growing screen for dry areas.)

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Gold Rush' (interesting winter interest, tropical looking foliage in the summer, and great fragrance when it blooms in early March. Plant near a shady pathway or a porch.)

Halesia monticela (the mountain silverbell, grows a bit taller than H. carolina. Interesting bark and very elegant tree when in bloom. Early Swallowtails love this tree.)

Juniperus rigida 'Pendula' (architecturally elegant with weeping branches. And, because it's a juniper, it's very adaptable to most soil conditions.)

Juniperus 'Saybrook Gold' (I really didn't like this plant at first because I felt it was too bright...you practically needed sunglasses to look at it, but now that it's aged, the new gold foliage effect has toned down and I think it's quite lovely. Give this one plenty of room. Ours is at least 12' or more across after 10 years.)

Sinocalycanthus chinensis (a chinese relative of our native calycanthus. Very similar, except larger and prettier cream-colored flowers. It doesn't have the fragrance of the native though.)

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 11:08AM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

I have had great enjoyment in looking up the plants everyone here loves to grow. I now have a few more plants to add to the list!

Another plant I must mention is Lonicera sempervirens- the native Trumpet Honeysuckle. If I could have only one vine in my garden this would be it. Everyone needs to grow this plant!

-organicmickie, I tried to grow both the Foxtail Lily and the Imperial Frittilaria and nither of them came up. I think I planted the bulbs at the wrong time. I need to try them again.

-Annette, that garden is beautiful!

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 1:24PM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Another plant I quite like is Kirengeshoma palmata (Wax Bells) this flowers later in the season in a soft shade of yellow. Don't have a picture of mine so I googled it and the below link shows what it looks like.

Here is a link that might be useful: Kirengeshoma palmata

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 1:52PM
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Mickie Marquis(6 SW Ohio)


Both foxtail and the fritts have to be planted early in the season (September, October) with the freshest stock possible. I tried unsucessfully, but once I had a good source had consistant success. I trek to Chicago Botanic Gardens in the fall for their bulb sale; great stuff. I think they sell mail-order but the list isn't available until late August. You can get on their email list even if you aren't a member.

The frittilary has to have impeccable drainage. They suffer from crown rot. I actually turn my bulbs 45 degrees and plant them under the bowl of a very large birdbath (inside the drip line). The ones I like best are variegated, quite lovely!

The large foxtails we grow are about 7' - 8' tall. We also grow the 3' tall ones. i like the big stuff.

Try them again!

I could probably think of something new for this thread every day. It always amazes me to see what visitors to my garden think is so different. Mexican hat (ratiba) was one people thought was so unusual. And Clematis viticella luxurians alba, C. viticella purpurea elegans, C. tangutica - all the small flowered and bell form clems.


    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 2:30PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

-Annette, I searched several years for the amazing Kirengeshoma before finding it at a local plant sale last summer. I adore the maple-leaf-like foliage! It adds such a nice shape and texture to the garden. I don't think I gave it enough room though; I may have to move it somewhere else in the spring. How big is yours?

-Mickie, thanks for the info. I did not know that Frittilaria needed such sharp drainage. It is hard to find somewhere that is dry, we have such wet winters.
I am with you; the taller the better. I saw the Foxtails at a local public garden and fell in love with them. They had an pretty peach colored one that I lust for.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 2:54PM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Mine hasn't got much bigger than the when I first planted it, maybe it needs a little more sun it only gets some late afternoon sun. I think I bought mine at a UBC plant sale quite a few years ago. A

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 6:09PM
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Nell Jean

Tecoma stans. Texans call it Esperanza, some call it Yellow Bells (not to be confused with Yellow Bells forsythia),
Esperanza's bells are huge in comparison and a mid to late summer bloom.

It is perennial in zone 9s and 10. It dies to the ground here but comes back to full size by late summer.
Easily grown from seed. If started early it can be used as an annual.


    Bookmark   January 14, 2009 at 10:59AM
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Christin, I know you live across the state from me and there is a big difference in our growing conditions, but many of the plants you list are very common and popular here. When I was buying for my retail nursery, I couldn't keep sunroses (Helianthemums) in stock - they sold out as fast as I could bring them in!

Same with ballota, which is evergreen here and used in much the same manner the sunroses are - as a border edger or groundcover. I hope yours overwinter, but I fear it is too cold in a zone 5 for these to be happy. Nepeta is also very popular here - I don't grow it myself as my cats have murdered it a few too many times for it to be practical, but I sold huge numbers of it.

I agree the Gillenia is seriously underused and relatively unknown and even here in the PNW where you can easily get just about any hardy perennial known to man, it is very hard to come by. I love this plant and have divided mine several times to increase my supply - white flowers over a long period (that the butterflies love) and even great fall color. While it gets quite a bit taller, I use this as a substitute for gaura, which doesn't care for our wet winters.

Eremerus is not the easiest plant to grow, IMO. It likes full sun, quite loose, sandy soils and very good drainage. I've not had much success growing it from tubers but started containers do well if give the right conditions.

A few of the plants I feel are underused and often difficult to locate are parahebes; Spigelia marilandica (not very common on the west coast); the more succulent forms of saxifrage - mossy saxifrage is very common but I prefer the umbrosa and xurbium cultivars; Lonicera crassifolium, an evergreen mat-forming groundcover honeysuckle; Potentilla tridentata; Polygala chamaebuxus and an assortment of species iris. For some reason, species iris are very hard to find outside of specialty nurseries or by mail order. I guess I shouldn't be too suprised - I couldn't give any type of iris away in the nursery.....unless they were in full bloom, which is hard to accomplish in a nursery pot.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2009 at 1:21PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

-Hi gardengal! Do you own a nursery? I bet I have been there at one time or another. Every year, when I make a trip to Seattle to visit relatives, I make sure to stop by the plant stores! I have been know to come back with a car load of plants.

I am glad to hear that Helianthemums are so popular! I especially love my double pink one. They are fairly common here too. The grocery store sells them. But oddly enough, I have never heard anyone else on the GW mention them besides myself. I don't know why, they are great little things.

I learned about Ballota from someone's website. They live in your area I belive. I have seen this plant in several PNW gardening books too, but never growing over here. Maybe the zone is a factor. I am not sure about the B. acetabulosa and nigra, I knew I was pushing the zone a bit when I bought them (but I just HAD to try). I am optomistic about my pseudodictamnus though, as the tag and online place said it was hardy in z5.
Good to hear from you!

    Bookmark   January 14, 2009 at 1:47PM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

I use to grow a lot of Helianthemums back in the 70's, I had singles and doubles in white, pink, red and yellow spilling over a rock wall. I haven't even seen these guys for sale locally for years. The rock wall had to go when we decided to put in a pool so the sunroses went too.

Gardengal, I have Parahebe petiolare (sp) running around the base of some deciduous Azaleas, some leave this alone to do it's own thing but every year I cut mine down as some of the foliage looks ratty after the winter. How would you treat this plant, cut or leave?

I've tried Ballota a couple of times but it didn't winter.


    Bookmark   January 14, 2009 at 2:02PM
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No, I don't own a nursery (thank the lord!! this is not a good time for that industry :-)) but I've been a manager and the perennial buyer for a couple over the last 15 years and most recently, a sales rep for a wholesale grower......probably made sales trips to your neck of the woods as EWA was my primary territory. No doubt you have visited the nurseries I used to work at - they are a couple of the bigger ones in the Seattle area.

Of your ballotas, the pseudodictamnus is probably the least hardy, sorry to say. The reports of a zone 5 hardiness are very optimistic. It might make it through a zone 6 although will likely die back to the roots. Even Annette, who shares a similar zone with me, has had trouble overwintering hers. But you never know....keep your fingers crossed!

Annette, I treat pretty much any 'evergreen' perennial/subshrub the same....if the foliage is damaged or looks ratty after winter, I cut it back as soon as new growth begins to emerge in spring. I mow back my parahebes (and hebes) often :-)

    Bookmark   January 14, 2009 at 8:42PM
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Hi everyone,

Great suggestions! Can you tell me of any on-line vendors that sell these plants? I'm always on the look out for something different to plant in my garden. Thank you!

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 11:57AM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

I certainly didn't think this would ever pop up again, lol!

-Bellarosa, is there anything in particular you are looking for? I find that the best way to find a vendor is to just Google the name of the plant. You can also sometimes find a vendor by looking the plant up on the Plant Files at Dave's Garden.

-GardenGal, not sure if you are lurking or not, but I just wanted to mention that all of my Ballota came back! The nigra is doing really great, thought it is still fairly short. The other two are still very small, but hopefully they will bulk up more in the warmer months. I was sure they would die after that horrible winter!

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 2:29PM
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alisande(Zone 4b)

Wow! I would have defined "unusual" as anything not sold by Lowe's and Home Depot. :-)

You guys are impressive! This thread reminds me of the days (20-30 years ago) when I used to read the Park's seed catalog cover to cover.

How about I add a "semi-unusual" category to the list? These are from the days when I grew almost everything from seed:

Siberian Wallflower - I usually lean toward the pink/blue/purple/white look, but I used to love these bright orange biennials. They smelled heavenly!

Lavatera "Silver Cup" - unfortunately, the rabbits liked this one as much as I did. But they just glowed in the garden. (The flowers, not the rabbits.) :-)

Tall nicotiana. Not so unusual anymore, especially in dwarf varieities, but how many people do you know who grow the big, night-scented ones? I like several kinds; alata was the first, and the most recent is Aztec.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 2:38PM
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Does catmint spread? I wanted to try this plant but feared it to be invasive and so didn't dare risk it.

I also grow Helianthemum- Sun Rose. And since I'm a follower of the wave movement, I use plants according to their shape and colour and height. So among the unusuals for a flower garden are:

greek oregano
bronze fennel
angelica giganta
jerusalem sage


    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 4:25PM
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remontant(z6B TN)

Good idea for a thread!

I'm surprised more people don't grow old garden roses. The once-bloomers (like albas and gallicas) finish their blockbuster flush before the Japanese beetle plague starts here. Their nice clean foliage is very disease resistant and their fall hips are a good source of vitamin C. And of course, the perfume from old roses is just *heavenly*. No maintenance; just flowers, foliage and hips.

Also surprised more gardeners don't grow French sorrel, a perennial green that can be grown in the South when it's too hot for lettuce.

I wish more Tennesseans knew about Tennessee echinacea and would plant it and pass it along. I'm trying to propagate some cuttings to give to a nearby state park which has a butterfly garden.

I'm surprised more people don't grow perennial blue flax. It's an almost-shiny true-blue which is really needed to balance the many pinks I have in my garden.

That's my list for now! ;-)

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 7:12PM
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I'm interested in getting two plants of the Lonicera sempervirens. Any suggestions on where I can buy it on-line?



    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 2:49PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

-Evelyn, I have posted a link (below) to Dave's Garden, which has a list of places that offer the species Lonicera sempervirens. I am not sure if you wanted just the species, or wouldn't mind having a cultivar.
If you are ok with a cultivar, High Country Gardens offers a few kinds, as does Lazy SS Farms (which is a bit cheaper). I think I have also seen them offered in Wayside Gardens.
You might also find a cultivar at a local nursery; many seem to carry them now. You will get a bigger plant by buying them locally, which is good since this type of Honeysuckle takes a little time to get growing.

-remontant, I grow blue flax. I really like it; pretty colored flowers and interesting habit (I like how the tops nod down before they bloom!). Such a nice filler for those empty spaces. The only thing I dislike about it is that it only seems to bloom for part of the day!

Here is a link that might be useful: companies selling species Lonicera sempervirens

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 4:05PM
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