Friday, January 28, 2011

The Cast Iron Club

Last summer was brutal at Casa Mariposa. It didn't rain for almost five weeks, I laid my soaker hoses wrong, (soaker hose fiasco) and it was hot, hot, hot! However, despite the weather and lack of moisture, several plants were brilliant performers. If these plants had been a concert, we'd still be screaming for an encore. My garden is in zone 7A with heavy clay loam. Welcome to the Cast Iron Club!

NOTE: For an updated Cast Iron Club - 2013, click here.

Achillea 'The Pearl'

This plant will not go away. I've dug it up, moved it, given huge chunks away, ignored it. And all is does is ask for more. Honestly, I'm suspicious. A doppleganger for baby's breath, it blooms all summer, takes a tiny bit of shade, dukes it out with a nutrient and water hogging trumpet creeper, and still looks great. It doesn't attract wildlife but I've come to respect the absolute detemination of this plant to thrive regardless of where I put it. Cut it back by half in early July for a bushier plant or it gets leggy. Grows to two feet if you don't cut it back and likes hot, dry sunny spots. Pros: Tough as nails, tiny white flowers that are pretty mixed in with larger blossoms. Cons: Doesn't attract wildlife

Achillea 'The Pearl' has thin, needle-like foliage and clusters of little white flowers.

Althaea syriacus 'Ardens'   Double Flowering Purple Rose of Sharon

I have two Rose of Sharon shrubs in my garden that function as Grand Central Station for hummingbirds, song birds, butterflies, bees of all types, and praying mantis, just to name a few. Undemanding and drought tolerant, they leaf out in mid-spring and are in full bloom by early summer. While many pollinators avoid double flowers, they love this shrub! They can grow to 10 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Mine receive morning shade, afternoon sun, and no supplemental irrigation. Not even a soaker hose! Pros: They are very easy to grow, grow quickly, attract wildlife. Cons: They attract Japanese beetles but since my neighbor and I added milky spore to our soil, I haven't seen any!

Rose of Sharon grows against my house next to 'Laura' phlox and a 'Sceptre d'Isle' rose.

Butterflies and honey bees are daily visitors to the rose of Sharon.

Anemone canadensis
My friend Annette asked me one day at work if I wanted some anemones. Annette is the most tough love gardener I've ever met and only grows plants that can take care of themselves. Dependent on a well, Annette gets the water but the plants do not. "They're taking over!" she exclaimed. A tough, beautiful plant that self seeds and fills in all the blank spots for me? Sign me up!! Despite their name, anemone canadensis is native to all of North America. Supposedly they like prefer moist soil but mine thrive under a river birch that demands all the water in the shady part of my garden to the point that the beds near it have become bastions of dry shade. Snuggled up next to a soaker hose, they get a deep soaking about once a week, if I remember. If not, they forgive me and stay beautiful. Pros: They're tough, pretty, and will thrive in moderately dry shade. Cons: They like to run and will romp through your garden like an unleashed puppy. Personally, I'm okay with that!

This is my river birch garden. I took this picture right after I started my blog and forgot to take any close up photos. The anemones are between the variegated iris and the bird bath. Another plant that is tough as nails and brilliant for dry shade is the epimedium. They have amazing flowers that look like tiny spaceships. They are between the variegated iris and the variegated brunnera, a beautiul, water sucking diva that goes dormant by midsummer.

This picture is from I wish I had taken it, but I didn't. Anemone canadensis blooms in the spring. 

Coreopsis pubescens 'Sunshine Superman'

I've struggled to grow coreopsis in my garden because my soil is so heavy. I bought this plant based on rave reviews I'd read online and am thrilled that I did. It wants hot, dry, fast draining soil in full sun. That's it! I add granite grit to my soil to help it drain and where other coreopsis have died, 'Sunshine Superman' has taken off like the true superhero it is. It receives very little extra water and blooms all summer. It self-seeds easily but I think that's a bonus. I just dig up the seedlings and plant them in other dry spots. The only place I've seen it for sale is Niche Gardens, an amazing nursery in North Carolina specializing in tough plants native to or well adapted to the southeast. It makes a rounded mound about a foot tall and can be sheared after blooming to keep it from sprawling. Or just let it sprawl! Pros: Read the paragraph above! Cons: I can't think of any.

Coreopsis 'Sunshine Superman' thrives in the toughest spots in my garden.

Helianthemum Sun Rose

I grow sun roses as a ground cover in several hot spots in my garden. They get whatever water Mother Nature sees fits to bless them with and that's it. Tough and evergreen, they come in every shade of red, pink and yellow you can imagine. They grow about 8" tall and very wide but if you plant several close to each other, they intermingle beautifully. Shear them after they bloom to help maintain their shape. Pros: Tough and reliable. Cons: They don't attract wildlife.

The small red flowers with yellow centers are cheerful and make a perfect edging plant for the front of the border.

Indigofera 'Rose Carpet'

This little indigofera is one of my favorite plants. It's a small, quiet plant that forces you to look down into the nooks and crannies of the garden and appreciate it's resiliant beauty. It's late to wake up but the wait is worth it. Like the sun roses, I never water this! It doesn't seem to mind. I read online that indigofera needs full sun and doesn't thrive in hot, humid climates. Apparently my little plant didn't get the memo. It gets mostly sun but does enjoy a few hours of high bright filtered shade every day. And as for heat and humidity, Virginia summers are so thick with sticky air you could slice it up and serve it on a plate. Pros: Very tough Cons: I had a hard time establishing it, but once it decided it was happy, it was very happy.

Indigofera 'Rose Carpet' grows along the edge of my patio. 

 The small, pink flowers remind of tiny sweet peas.


Lantana is my absolute go-to plant every summer. An annual here, it comes in every shade of pink, lavender, white, red, and orange immaginable. Utterly undemanding, it grows in one of the hottest, most inhospitable parts of my garden. I water and fertilize occasionally just because I love it and want as many flowers as possible, but thrives even if ignored. Bees and butterflies adore it. Pros: Tough plants for hot, dry, sunny spots, attract wildlife. Cons: Their foliage can smell weird but only if you really take a big sniff, annuals in most places.
Yellow trailing lantana grows well in pots. 

 Every summer I grow a huge patch of trailing lavender lantana next to the walkway to my front door.

A skipper on the lavender lantana.

Orange and yellow lantana fill a difficult spot in front of a rain barrel.

Leucanthemum x superbum Shasta daisies 'Becky'

I think it's quite rude these amazing flowers have been called bums! They are the first of my daisy-type flowers to bloom, brightening the garden in early summer with their sunny faces. After blooming, I cut them back, allowing the plants behind to grow tall above the daisies evergreen foliage. They enjoy a deep soaking when the weather gets too hot and are unbothered by heat or humidity. Pros: Tough as nails! Cons: They only bloom once a season but may throw up a few more later in the summer out of pity.

Shasta daisies in full bloom.

Ruellia 'White Form' Wild White Petunias

I stumbled along a listing of ruellias in a list of native plants that attract butterflies. I added some ruellia humilis to the garden and loved how tough they were, but forgot to take any pictures. When I saw the ruellia 'White Form' listed by Lazy S's Farm Nursery I decided to give them a try. While very different in height than the blue humilis, they are incredibly tough and do as well in high bright filtered shade as they do in full sun. Growing well in dry, poor soil they are elegant in appearance yet sturdy in demeanor. They aren't water hogs and establish themselves quickly. They can grow to 3 feet tall. Pros: Native to the southeast, attract butterflies. Cons: I haven't discovered any!

'White Form' ruellia grows well near blue mist flower. These are called wild petunias because they look like....petunias!

Rudbeckia hirta 'Indian Summer'

I bought these on a whim last summer because I thought they were pretty and I liked their fuzzy leaves. I had no idea they would be the last flowers standing in the Flower Bed of Death! In the picture, which was cropped to save my dignity, the rudbeckia are one of the only plants left in a bed so dry and miserable everything else was dead by August. They stood bright and cheerful all summer, warriors in a battle that had reduced its foes to a withered husk. A tireless biennial, I look forward to leigons of its offspring carrying on the battle come spring. Pros: Champions of drought and heat. Cons: Short-lived

Rudbeckia 'Indian Summer'

Viburnum pragense  Prague Viburnums

Viburnums are to the world of shrubbery what crazy, screaming fans are to American football: the game just wouldn't be complete without them. Neither would my garden. Evergreen Prague viburnums line the side of my house like chaperones at a school dance. Thick and stalwart, they are beautiful but not beauty queens. Planted six years ago in rich, fertile soil, I never water them and only fertilize them once a year. In six years they've grown to almost 12 feet tall and provide year round dense cover to the flocks of songbirds that call my garden home. In the spring they're rich with white snowball shaped blossoms and fresh leathery leaves.They are so tough and utilitarian, I don't even have any pictures of them, and honestly, I feel guilty. They deserve better. Pros: Everything! Cons: Nothing!

Prague viburnums and orange-red lantana hide one of my rain barrels. Sun roses grow in front of the lantana. 


  1. Wow! Has this blog just gone through a make-over? It's beautiful! It's impressive!!!

    I like the photo of your dog looking outside the window while lying comfortably on the couch. Your flowers are so lovely and hardy. Thanks for the details which include pros and cons.

    Wow again!!!

  2. I like your cast iron plants indeed. I love love love indigofera. I did not know there was a prostrate kind so I'll be on the watch out for it.

    Wanted to tell you the fudge turned out! It is very good indeed. Thanks!

  3. I love the picture of your dog, all comfortable and cozy in that big chair, gazing wistfully out the window! The Cast Iron Club- what a great title! Who wouldn't want to rush to the nursery this spring to search out such dependable plants. I too rely on rudbecka, daisies, anemone and coreopsis for their excellent performance. I have yet to conquer a Rose of Sharon! I am not sure what my problem with them is. I always loose them overwinter (yet I see they are hardy in other local gardens). I think this year I should try to get one established early in the spring, so it has more of a fighting chance. Have a great weekend!!

  4. One - Thank you!! I changed the font and a few colors using the new-ish Blogger template. I'm glad you liked it!

    Tina - I'm so glad the fudge worked out! I originally bought the indigofera online from Bluestone perennials but they no longer carry it. It self seeds, which is wonderful. :o)

    Jen- The plant tag on the Rose of Sharon doesn't say what zones it does well in. My shrub is in a really well drained area, which I think helps. I give it a big pile of compost every year but that's it!

  5. Hello,
    I liked what I read in your sidebar about mail-ordering plants because I have had my doubts as well about ordering through the mail.
    One day, when funds are plentiful, I will have to try those companies you listed. I have had success with High Country Gardens in the past.

    These cast-iron plants look like they flourish wonderfully in your garden. I like how you used the shrubs to disguise your rain barrel. Good idea!
    Funny how I always kill is def. not cast-iron for my climate! It thrived when we lived in NE but in CO it is a no-go in the mountains.

  6. Wow, what a post! Fun to see your tough-guy plants.

    Thanks for your comment at Hill Country Mysteries. Sorry to hear your Texas Betony/Scarlet Hedge-nettle pooped out! The only thing I can think is that it wanted more sun or drainage or less rain? Mine have survived Texas blast-furnace full-sun in thin clay but we do NOT get too much rain...and the ones that have thrived are in raised beds with good soil, part sun & regular watering (weekly during drought).

  7. TS, your title is wonderful! Funny how coreopsis is part of your cast iron club - I kill it every time! I have heard tell that there is a variety that can handle our conditions...I'll have to research to see if it is the superman variety. Have a great weekend!

  8. Fantastic post. Always good to know which plants are tough to kill. I particularly like the Rose of Sharon, absolutely beautiful.

  9. that is a great collection of plants and advice you have here.
    The photo of your dog is the best!

  10. I thought from the title I would be seeing some tough plants with sparse blooms, but you show some real lush stunners! Several are plants I want to try now that I've seen yours. I do have 'Becky' shasta daisy and it's easy, but like yours, doesn't bloom all summer as I had expected. I love that little anemone!

    I must try rudbeckia 'Indian Summer'... I like that it survived your Flowerbed of Death!

  11. Rosey - I used to be skeptical about ordering plants through the mail, but they arrive in perfect condition. Hooray!

    Kathleen - I might have to give your betony another try. It was really pretty and had soft leaves.

    Cat - I've struggled with coreopsis here in VA, although it does great in pots. 'Sunshine Superman' is amazing! It's probably the result of alien technology. I should be careful.

    Marguerite - A Rose of Sharon would be gorgeous in front of your freshly painted farmhouse! The cultivar I have is sterile so I don't end up with a zillion seedlings.

    Fer - My dog Lucy assumes that pose quite often. Being a dog is exhausitng and requires long periods of rest.

    Laurrie - 'Indian Summer' is an amazing plant! To make up for having to spend the summer in the Flower Bed of Death, I've moved it to a happier spot. I didn't want it to feel like it was next.

  12. I need to join the Cast Iron Club because those are the only ones that survive our hot summers! Looks like your dog has a comfy life at your house.
    I am going to try coreopsis this spring. Enjoyed your post. :)

  13. That's quite a roll call of tough plants, and so beautiful too. I particularly love Rose of Sharon and the Rudbekia. So satisfying to find plants that thrive in your conditions, so much less stressful than trying to cajole something that isn't happy to live.

  14. Great list of super tough plants. I have many of them. I have to tell you that I love that photo of your dog in the chair!

  15. The latest issue of How to Find Great Plants is here and your penstemon post is featured. Thanks so much for participating, I hope you will again next month. Here’s the issue:

    I wish 'The Pearl' attracted pollinators. It's so pretty but I am reluctant to give it the space in my garden if it isn't a dual performer. That coreopsis sounds great, though!

  16. Wow! There are some tough and beautiful plants in that club! love your Rose of Sharon! And the dog... priceless...

  17. Herzlich willkommen als neuer Leser meines Blogs.
    Ich schreibe auf deutsch, weil mein Schulenglisch nicht gut ist.
    Der Post über die vielen Pflanzen in deinem Garten ist sehr beeindruckend. Einige davon wachsen auch bei mir. Zum Beispiel Achillea "The Pearl" hier heißt die Pflanze "Schafgarbe", genauer "Bertrams Garbe"
    Auch Althaea syriacus wächst als Hibiscus bei mir im Garten.
    Ich werde bald wieder vorbei schauen.
    Liebe Grüße

  18. What a great title and a great list of plants! I grow many of those you listed but I have the hardest time growing Rudbeckia. The rabbits always get them! I grew coreopsis in hanging baskets for many years. They are great. I put them in the ground the first time this past year so I'll see if they come back. Your Rose of Sharon is beautiful. I have never tried to grow it but I want to now.

  19. Anette - Mein deutsch nicht gut ist! Ich spreche nicht Deutsch und benutze ein Internet deutsche Übersetzerwebsite, dies zu schreiben! Vielen Dank zum Besuchen meines Blogs. Ich freue mich, dass einige von meinen Pflanzen auch in Deutschland wächst. Ich bin nach Deutschland gewesen und es ist sehr schön! Wenn ich war in Rottenburg ich habe gesehen erstaunliche dunkle purpurne Flieder, die ich nie hier gesehen habe. Ich habe lila Sträucher aber die Blumen sind viel blasser als das derjenig ich habe in Rottenburg gesehen.

  20. Thanks for a terrific post. Your plant listings are very helpful. I have added the reuella, anemone, and rose of sharon to my list. Your rose of sharon is gorgeous. They grow well here. I don't know why I don't already have one somewhere in my garden!

  21. Anemone canadensis made me nervous even though I love self-sowing plants so I took it out. I have been meaning to find a place for a rose of sharon for a long time. Great review of some tough plants for the garden. I am like your friend: no water , no pampering, sink or swim.

  22. I love your River Birch garden! I did not know there was a creeping Indigoifera or a white wild Ruellia. I have the blue but it's good to know that the white is tough too. It's lovely.

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