Plant Love: Favorites from the Pros

Don’t have a degree in landscape architecture? Don’t fret. Four professionals weigh in on their favorite plants—why they love them and tips for how and where to plant them and how to care for them. No more wandering the isles of the local nursery trying to decipher sun, water and space requirements.

Rabbitbrush_Chrysothamnus_nauseosus_flowers_and_budsRABBITBRUSH
Ransom Beegles • R Landscape Architects
Scientific Name: Chrysothamnus nauseous 

My favorite plant is Rabbitbrush Chrysothamnus nauseosus. It’s native to Colorado and has a really beautiful color and texture. It can get fairly large for a shrub, 4–6 feet tall and wide in a “globe form.” If it’s used in a residential application, it’s best used to help blend to an adjacent prairie environment. Because of its size, it is typically used on larger sites. Rabbitbrush thrives in full sun and it’s highly adaptable to a range of soils conditions, heat tolerance and requires very little water. It blooms mid-summer through fall. It has a very dramatic yellow flower with silvery-blue foliage; the bloom tends to stay on the plant throughout winter. I also think it has beautiful winter texture as it contrasts the snow. Rabbitbrush is not necessarily considered an ornamental plant, but I think it’s a beautiful and truly responsible choice. I have three of these shrubs in my garden in Boulder.

AgaveAGAVE
Courtney McRickardThree Sixty Design
Scientific Name: Agave bovicornuta  

At first glance, Colorado tends to have very simple, large landscape types: the vastness of the open prairie, aspen groves that create a huge golden expanse and evergreen forests that carpet the mountainside. However, as you take a closer look, there are gems within the landscape that add rich texture and interest. I have always loved the large scale of the western landscape and one of the plants I have always been fascinated with is the agave. Few plants can be organized en masse, on a grid, randomly or as a specimen and provide such interest. The structural qualities, texture and color—ranging from a turquoise to a deep blue—provide a wonderful contrast to most native plants. Since agave are not widely available on a commercial level, we have started sourcing them out of state, but there are a few local nurseries that have a great selection. Just remember: They need to be used in the appropriate location with the right drainage, soil, protection and sun, but they are worth it!

Fountain GrassFOUNTAIN GRASS
Jeromy MontanoDesigns By Sundown
Scientific Name: Pennisetum alopecuroides 

With so many plants to choose from, fountain grass is one of my favorites because it meets several requirements like seasonal variation, color, texture, form, adaptability and toughness. Fountain grass prefers sun or part shade in moist, fertile soil, likes damp conditions and may self-seed in the right environment. There are interesting varieties like Hameln, Moudry, Karley Rose and Little Bunny that are reliable, graceful and versatile in several garden styles. All summer, its flower stems display foxtail plumes, highlighting silver and red that shimmer in the sun, and both foliage and seed heads dry to a pleasant golden tan that makes it interesting during the winter months. Use it to plant en mass, as a border plant or to spill over pool coping stones. Some companion plants include several species of Rudbeckia, Yucca, Sedum, Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed), Aster and Echinacea.

Eastern RedbudEASTERN REDBUD
Jon OuelletteEnvironmental Landworks
Scientific name: Cercis canadensis 

The Eastern Redbud is an ornamental flowering, multi-stem or low-branched tree that can grow to 20–30 feet high and have a spread of 20–30 feet. Beautiful, reddish-purple flower buds are produced along stems in late April through early May followed by heart-shaped leaves. The leaves open in a glossy, warm green and darken as they enlarge. I like to use this plant as a wonderful accent or isolated specimen in the garden. This tree grows well in lightly shaded areas, is suitable for Hardiness Zones 4 and 5, needs a moderate amount of irrigation and can adapt to alkaline and clay soils. Like Magnolia trees, the flower buds are susceptible to late frosts or heavy snow and, in some cases, may not emerge from the tree stems. I have three of these trees in my garden in Boulder. The early flowering buds are a welcome sign spring has arrived.