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10 Best Landscaping Plants You May Not Know About

Not Household Names, but Names You Should Remember

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Some of the best landscaping plants are hardly what you would call "household names." They fly under the radar, unlike plants that even non-gardeners have heard of, such as tulips, rose bushes, oak trees and holly shrubs. Think of all the free press coverage these well-known specimens receive in popular culture. Most everybody familiar with the music of the past century has heard of:

But in the list below, I present 10 great landscaping plants you may not know about, in hopes of getting the word out to beginners. Gardening junkies will recognize these choices right away. But even they might learn a thing or two by clicking on the "More Information on..." links that accompany my selections below. I made my choices with an eye to variety (perennials, vines, bushes and trees are all represented) and four-season interest.

1. Adonis

Adonis flowers are yellow in color. And if you do not believe me, check out this picture.
David Beaulieu

You may think "tulips" and not "Adonis" when you hear talk of spring, but Adonis is no ugly duckling (how could it be, with a name like that?). And Adonis vernalis owns bragging rights over the tulip in one area, at least, unquestionably: this perennial blooms much earlier in spring. Indeed, its cheerful yellow flowers are one of the true heralds of spring.

2. Lenten Rose

Wonder what Lenten rose looks like? Here is a picture of the "flower bud."
David Beaulieu

So why am I including a rose in my list after stating that everyone has heard of roses? Ah, but Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) is not really a rose at all; it is a hellebore. And "hellebore" is one heck of a funny name, which is probably why people prefer the common name, Lenten rose.

In my article, I explain the "Lenten" part of that name. But first I describe what this early spring bloomer looks like so that you'll learn why it makes my list of 10 best landscaping plants you may not know about. Hint: the foliage influences my selection as much as the flowers.

3. Crown Imperial

As photo shows, Fritillaria is a sensational lily. Crown Imperial Fritillaria has orange blooms.
David Beaulieu
Some bulbs that bloom in spring are small and really need to be massed together to make much of an impact. Snowdrops and glory-of-the-snow are examples. Others, like some of the tulips, can offer quite a bit of drama even when they fly solo. Crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis) is one of them. This spring bulb plant does not have to take a backseat to tulips whatsoever in terms of showiness.

4. Kiwi Vines

The leaves of kiwi vines are tri-colored, as image shows. Spring colors of kiwi vines most vibriant.
David Beaulieu

Anybody in North America who pays attention when shopping in the produce section has heard of kiwis, right? So why do I include kiwi vines in my list of best landscaping plants you may not know about? Well, because it's a different kind of kiwi we are talking about here.

The kiwi vines I am recommending are grown for the beauty of their variegated leaves, not their fruit. In fact, there's no fruit involved at all, since it is the male vines that are generally grown. While kiwi vines offer great interest in only one season (spring), the display they put on during that time can be truly breathtaking.

5. Golden Chain Trees

Picture of golden chain tree.
David Beaulieu

Like kiwi vines, golden chain trees are showy only in spring -- but make up for it by lighting up the whole yard when in flower. Consequently, while this is not the type of landscaping plant around which you build a landscape design, it most certainly does put on the type of display to which you'll look forward all winter. Treat it as a divine play thing, missing nary a chance to enjoy its splendor while opportunity knocks.

6. Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf hydrangea displaying fall color. This photos shows why it is an excellent 4-season plant.
David Beaulieu

Hydrangeas, as a general class, are well-known for being one of the best landscaping plants for summer, but the names of some of the specific types most useful in the yard are not household names. For example, folks often become frustrated in their search for a perennial vine that will grow well in shade, while the solution to their problem is readily available but flies under the radar: climbing hydrangea.

But for 4-season interest, it is hard to beat oakleaf hydrangea bush. My picture (left) shows what this landscaping plant looks like when it displays its fall foliage color.

7. Virginia Sweetspire

Virginia sweetspire turns red in fall, as this image shows. The shrub is native to North America.
David Beaulieu
Virginia sweetspire is another bush that has the potential to be a fall-foliage standout. After growing it for years, I've learned that for optimal fall color, it is best to grow this landscaping plant in full sun (at least in my zone 5 landscape). Some people use Virginia sweetspire as a substitute for another star of the fall-foliage season: burning bush. The latter is often avoided in North America since it has landed on the list of worst invasive plants.

8. Korean Spice Viburnum

Korean spice viburnum bush gives fall color, also bears nice-smelling flowers in spring.
David Beaulieu
Korean spice viburnum is another landscaping plant with good fall color. A related bush that can make the same claim is arrowwood viburnum. But I have another reason for including Korean spice viburnum on my list. Striving, as I am, to compose a list that offers a variety of noteworthy qualities, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention a specimen rich in fragrance. The spring flowers of Korean spice viburnum bushes produce an aroma you will not soon forget.

9. Purple Beautyberry Bushes

Purple beautyberry bush displays beautiful purple berries in fall, as this picture indicates.
David Beaulieu
Here is a twist on the fall-color theme. Instead of supplying fall interest via leaf color, the aptly-named purple beautyberry bush does the job through its berries. This bush works well when landscaping for small spaces, as you can cut it down to the ground each spring to minimize its size and generate new growth, without harming it (or interrupting berry production) whatsoever.

10. Contorted Hazelnut Bushes

As you can guess from the picture of contorted hazelnut, it's at its best in winter. It's deciduous.
David Beaulieu

Last but not least, I present a landscaping plant that is a must-have for the winter yard.

We are usually sad to see the leaves fall off of our deciduous bushes. But contorted hazelnut bush is the exception to the rule. Also called "Harry Lauder's walking stick," this bush is at its best in winter, when its leaves no longer mask its madcap branching pattern. Like pussy willow, contorted hazelnut bears catkins, but in this case, the catkins are just a bonus: with contorted hazelnut, it's really all about the intricate twists and turns of its branches.

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