Friday, March 8, 2013

The Cast Iron Club - 2013

I have a small confession: I've decided to take a radically different approach to gardening this year. I'm no longer worried about bugs, drought, or bizarre plant diseases. But I am seriously concerned about how my garden will withstand the upcoming zombie apocalypse. The roses? They're toast. My zinnias? Goners.


I've decided that perhaps I should just purge my garden of anything requiring the slightest bit of care and just focus on adding more plants that are zombie-proof. Welcome to the Cast Iron Club - 2013. Once the zombies have finally died off and it's time to reclaim your garden, these plants will still be there. But I'd keep a shovel handy, just in case. I've linked these to the online nurseries where I purchased them. However, most can be found at your local garden center. Plants without a link were purchased locally.

Plants That Laugh at Hot, Dry Sunny Spots

Orange milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)


Milkweed and knautia


 I grow the shorter clay-tolerant cultivar. Here it mingles with native ruellia humilis, also known as wild petunia.

Orange milkweed is an outrageously tough plant that will take hot burning sun as well as high, bright partial shade. It self seeds if you don't deadhead it, but I consider this a bonus since I always have a supply of seedlings to help fill new beds. Milkweeds are the only food source for Monarch butterflies. Orange milkweed can range in height from 18-30" tall, depending on the cultivar. High Country Gardens sells a rare cultivar native to clay soils that is much shorter at 15-18" than the more common strain that prefers looser soils and grows from 2 to 3 feet tall. The taller clay-tolerant cultivar can be found at Prairie Nursery.

Knautia




Knautia is a tap rooted beauty that thrives in adverse conditions and self sows easily. It forms a basal rosette of leaves before shooting up tall stalks of flowers that weave themselves easily between other plants. They bloom from early spring until December in my garden. They come in shades of red, pink, and burgundy and attract pollinators.

Liatris


Liatris spicata 'Floristan White', also known as Gay Feather is ultra easy to grow. These grew from a cheap bags of corms I bought at a hardware store.


I have a lot of different types of liatris and they all want the same thing: hot sun and dry, well drained soil. If you have clay soil, which is a thick, slippery mess when it's wet and concrete when it's dry, just dig the planting hole extra deep and fill the bottom half with compost and pea gravel to help it drain. Highly attractive to pollinators. A large selection of native cultivars of liatris can be found at Prairie Moon Nursery, Lazy S's Farms Nursery, and Prairie Nursery.

Penstemon


Penstemon and knautia


I've lost track of how many penstemon varieties I've killed. While they're beautiful the first season, my heavy clay loam always rings their death knell and the party's soon over. Penstemon digitalis, a southeastern native, is the only one I can keep alive for longer than a few months. Mine blooms in late spring and early summer and attracts pollinators.

Salvia


Salvia thrive on neglect. I think this is saliva plumosa, otherwise known as the purple fluffy salvia. I cut mine back in spring to keep it bushy but that's it. They need well drained soil and to be ignored. If they were any more maintenance free, they'd be fake.

Sedum


Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is a tough plant that enjoys a long drink about once a week. If you give it too much water, it will rot. But if it doesn't receive enough, it will have smaller flower heads and will develop mildew, which is a stress response. Of course, I learned that one the hard way. They can take a bit of bright shade in the afternoon and root easily if stuck into a pot of moist soil. They are a pollinator magnet when they bloom in the fall.


Hens and chicks (Sempervivum)


Warning: Do not water these. Ever. Just put them in a cute pot with massive drainage and you're done.

Silene 'Rolly's Favorite'


Silene 'Rolly's Favorite' blooms in very early spring. A dwarf white nepeta, also a champion of heat and drought, grows nearby.


I bought this silene off the clearance table at my local nursery and am glad I did. It blooms bright pink in early spring and is completely maintenance free the rest of the summer. It spreads slowly to form a neat clump and stays small, kind of like a fat chihuahua.

Thyme


I can't remember what kind of thyme this is since I planted it about 8 years ago, but it refuses to die, which I appreciate. I give it well drained, dry soil and don't use it for cooking after the dogs have peed on it. If this plant can withstand a daily onslaught of dog pee, it can take on a zombie.

Annual vinca (periwinkle)


Annual vinca, also known as periwinkles, come in cheap six packs and thrive in hot sun. They don't want to be fertilized, pampered, or given much water. I use them as my drainage litmus test. If I stick them a spot and they turn yellow, the soil is too heavy. If they thrive, the soil is free draining. Needless to say, I've had a lot turn yellow. I'm glad they're cheap!

Verbena bonariensis


A bent verbena bonariensis stalk mingling with the fall blooms of an aster ericoides.


A skipper on a verbena flower

Verbena bonariensis is one tough mutter. It self seeds with gusto, attracts pollinators, and pokes its head up and into other plants. But I can't help but love it. It's tall, lanky, and if it were a person, would laugh at its own jokes. It's a food source for buckeye butterfly caterpillars.


Plants That Love Dry Shade Like a Baby Loves its Mama

Amsonia 'Blue Ice'



Amsonia with yellow chrysoganum (Green and Gold)

Amsonia is one of the toughest plants in my garden. Of course, it took me forever to realize this. I added about a dozen more 'Blue Ice' to my garden last fall. It blooms in early spring and will grow in bone dry shade. It has cool yellow foliage in the fall. It's much shorter than most amsonia and tops out at about 16" tall.

Heart leaf aster (Aster divarcatus)


Heart leaf aster and blue plumbago in the fall


Heart leaf aster's spring growth is very upright. It collapses a bit as the summer progresses, creating a carpet of white asters in the fall. The asters are between the bird feeder and the tan pot.

Heart leaf aster is another really tough plant. While it can take more moisture than dry shade has to offer, it grows just fine under tall shrubs and between other plants. I'll give an extra drink when we've gone long periods without rain but more out of pity than necessity.  


Epimediums


Epimediums have tiny flowers that look like UFO's when photographed from underneath. Many cultivars have beautiful tinting to their spring and fall foliage. 


Multiple epimedium cultivars all grown in a happy jumble

Epimediums look like they should be fussy but they're not. They spread to form a short but wide clump and require zero care. I'm serious!

Hellebore


I have no idea what color my hellebores are because they haven't bloomed yet. They're all seedlings given to me by a friend. But here's what I do know: deer hate them, they like shade, and they don't need to be watered. When our temps hit the triple digits last year, they laughed. Mine will eventually bloom in late winter/early spring. Apparently, adversity suits them well.

Linaria (Linaria purpurea)


Linaria is the tall bluish plant in front of the monarda. Despite being as far from the soaker hose as possible, I still ended up moving them to a drier spot.


If you've never heard of linaria, I'm not surprised. It's one of those under-the-radar plants that is absolutely incredible. It's evergreen during the winter, attracts pollinators, and thrives in bone dry bright shade. It also self seeds, which gives me an ample supply to use in my ever expanding regions of dry shade.


Kalimeris


Kalimeris and sedum 'Autumn Joy'

I never realized how tough kalimeris was until I planted it in an absolutely wretched spot and it didn't die. Instead, it bloomed. I have two cultivars: one with pale blue flowers and one with white flowers. Both are easily available at most garden centers. It self seeds prolifically but you can always just toss the seedlings. However, I've noticed some pretty cool seedlings popping up from all the horizontal hokey pokey that's going on when I'm not looking. If my original plants don't survive the zombie apocalypse, they'll be enough seedlings around to fill their void.

Bowman's Root (Gillenia trifoliata formerly Porterantus)


Bowman's root with amsonia 'Blue Ice' and an epimedium


My Bowman's Root grows in the shade of a massive 'Heritage' river birch.

Southeastern native Bowman's Root doesn't attract wildlife and isn't showy. Instead, it's tough, reliable, and has beautiful spring blooms that feel like wildflowers to me. It forms an easy backdrop to summer bloomers and looks best when cut back by half after it's done flowering. 

Vinca vines


I think vinca vines are unkillable. I stuck this urn here, added a bit of decoration, and then stuffed in some variegated vinca last spring. I completely expected the vines to die over the winter. Nope! Not only are they still alive, but they had the audacity to root themselves into the surrounding soil. Cut them back through out the summer to keep them from looking stringy.

Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata  'Helleri')


These shrubs are the only remnants of the hideous landscaping left by our builder 10 years ago. They're growing in rotten alkaline soil, squished in between the front walkway and the patio. The patio and walkway leach so much lime into the soil, I have to add soil acidifier to them twice a year. Other than that, I don't do anything to them and they just keep living. Only the few by the clematis get any pampering and that's simply by value of proximity to her majesty, Madame President.

74 comments:

  1. What a splendid collection of plants, lots of which look as if they would require plenty of tlc, what a great way to be able to enjoy your garden without fear of plant stress. Love that white penstemon, and knautia is one of my favourite plants, I am currently nursing some seedlings for my new garden as I wouldn't be without it.

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    1. I love plants that look like they are high maintenance but aren't. It feels like an inside joke to me. I really love knautia, too. I have a pink one that was blooming into December! Penstemon would probably be evergreen in your climate. :o)

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  2. We share a few plants in common but my favorite in the list is Amsonia Blue Ice. When I find the plant I buy it up. It blooms for a respectable amount of time, looking fabulous all along, and then when only the foliage is left it looks even better. It reminds me of sedum (on the list) which looks great all the time too.

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    1. The longer I grow amsonia, the more I love it. I bought every single plant at my garden center last fall. The bigger the trees in my garden grow, the more dry shade I have. Amsonia seems to solve the problem of what to do with a new trouble spot every time. :o)

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  3. This is an outstanding selection of plants!! I really digging this philosophy! I have several of the plants above but there were many that I have not tried so I am thinking I need to flag your post so I can refer back to it...need to make sure that some of them grow in my zone! Thanks for sharing your beautiful garden! Love that rain barrel!!!

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    1. I think all of them will grow in your zone, except maybe the hens and chicks. Knowing I have a strong foundation of tough plants makes it easier to spend extra time on the more high maintenance plants like the roses. If all my plants were divas, it would take a lot of the fun out of gardening. I like plants that are self-sufficient.

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  4. Dużo jest kwiatów, które są wytrzymałe na brak wody. Nawet niektóre z nich mam. Mam nadzieję, że Tobie one wszystkie będą ładnie kwitły. Pozdrawiam.
    There are many flowers that are resistant to lack of water. Even some of them have. I hope that you all will be blooming nicely. Yours.

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    1. Some of the plants in my post will die if given too much water. It makes surviving droughts and heat waves much easier.

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  5. There are some tough brutes here, but aren't they gorgeous? I am going to see if I can get my hands on some Amsonia and give it a whirl. Here's to a stress-free year in your garden!

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    1. There are so many cultivars of amsonia! Some grow up to 3 ft tall but they're all tough and easy, which is a plant combination I love. :o)

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  6. Great list of sun loving plants. I'm going to try growing liatris again. Didn't work for me last year. Have you grown Salvia Indigo Spires for a full sun location? Its my top performing salvia in my Louisiana garden.

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    1. I've killed liatris by not giving it sharp enough drainage before. It grows great in a pot. Try it again! :o) I haven't grown Indigo spires in such a long time but it would be fun to grow again. I love how soft its flowers are.

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  7. Love your sense of humor!! I absolutely love Penstemons but have had the same luck as you with most of them. On another post I read about Penstemon Digitalis and have decided to buy some. Where do you buy yours and also the Salvia Plumosa? When I saw your picture of the Linaria my first thought was "ah oh"!!! I had something that looked like this foliage come up last year and I kept pulling it up thinking it was a weed!! It never flowered, probably because I kept pulling it up too soon!!! (I plant so many seeds that sometimes I forget what I planted!!) Maybe it will come up again and I'll see what develops!! Thanks for all the info!

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    1. Thanks! I bought the penstemon from Prairie Moon Nursery and the salvia was from a local nursery. If you click on the green words in the description, they'll link you to Prairie Moon. :o) I bought them bare root. It sounds like you pulled up a bunch of linaria seedlings! I'd throw more seeds out. It's such a great a plant.

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  8. I have a friend who has the 50% rule...you look less than 50% and you are gone (plants that is). I need to be more critical of some of my less than stellar performers. Time will tell if I am.
    I am surprised you say Amsonia is a shade plant....will have to rethink where some of mine are planted.

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    1. Amsonia can take morning sun but needs bright shade by the afternoon. But if you give it too much shade, they'll lean towards the sun. Before I toss a plant I try to figure out why it looked so bad. Maybe it just needed to be in a different spot, etc. I usually transplant them a few times before giving them the ax. It's like solving a puzzle. The answer is there, I just have to figure it out. :o)

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  9. Preparing for the zombie apocalypse is a good move. I've watched enough Supernatural to know that it'll be tough. The plants will have to fend for themselves.

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    1. I watch The Walking Dead as a primer for what to do. :o) I just need to get the zombies to water my garden.

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    2. We are so on the same page. I am temporary in an apartment because I just moved to a new state last year... I have promised myself that my future garden would be full of care free drought resistant plants because I want to spend time enjoying my garden not slaving in it. Love the plants that you have chosen for this idea.

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  10. Thanks for this heads off, er, I mean up. I'm always looking for plants that will tolerate dry shade and you listed a couple that I now want to try! We only have 78 more school days left until I get to be a full-time gardener again but who's counting?

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    1. Right now I'm just counting down until spring break which is in 11 work days. I have to survive my schools giant science fair first, of which I am the Grand Poobah. We don't get out until mid-June.

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  11. Gardening is always evolving. Even myself changing the whole perimeter to flowering shrubs. We change and so do our gardens. You've made some great choices.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. I like the idea of adding more flowering shrubs. They're easier to maintain. You're so right about change. :o)

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  12. I always enjoy your posts, especially the ones where I learn so much new information on new plants.
    I've been trying to find one of those climbing vincas for a while now, but not successful. Do they grow from seed or only cuttings?
    Loved the clematis a whole lot.

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    1. I've never known vinca to climb and have never tried to root a cutting. But they grow so easily they shouldn't be too hard to root. If you wanted them to climb, you'd have to tie them to their support.

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  13. Your garden must be chokeful of beautiful flowering plants as you have so much to show. The clematis makes a good ornament for your patio. I like your cast iron mentality which is less stressful approach to life.

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    1. I think how small my garden is sometimes until I look at the plants I have. It is packed! I like a low-stress garden. It's more enjoyable that way. :o)

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  14. I love hardy plants that are low maintenance which is why I shifted to more natives...they love all the crazy soil and conditions in my garden and some are on your list...makes life in the garden so much easier.

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    1. Natives take care of themselves and are preferred by the local wildlife. It's a win-win situation. :o)

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  15. Kalimeris integrifolia is definitely a great plant. I grow both the white and light blue varieties too but I've yet to see any seedlings. Last year I added Gillenia and am looking forward to flowers. Haven't had much luck with Knautia and thinking my soil is just too wet in the winter. A few of these others I've yet to try but am always on the lookout for potential victims :).

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    1. Try knautia again. It needs strong drainage. Your winters must be too cold for the kalimeris orgy that happens here every year. If this were the 60's they'd qualify as a free-love commune. ;o)

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  16. Thanks for the list. Wow! that's a big list! I am going to write them down and going to buy the plants that are native to NJ.

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    1. Woo-hoo!! I hope they are fabulous for you!

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  17. Great list! I've taken note of several of them. Can you believe I killed some liatris? I am going to try again. I love the way they look, and surely they could be happy here! Thanks, too, for the penstemon suggestion. I have just the spot for them!

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    1. Thanks! Give your liatris sharp drainage and try them again. :o) They're so worth it. The pollinators go crazy for them. Once the penstemon finish blooming, cut the stalks back and the foliage blends well with other summer bloomers.

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  18. Tammy, nice collection of simple in growing plants. I love sedum, blooms prettily,has different colors, very hardy. My liatris died, don't know why, I suppose my soil doesn't suit him. All photos are lovely!

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    1. If you follow the suggestion I gave Holley, the liatris should do fine for you. They need sharp drainage. I love sedums, too. So easy and pretty. :o)

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  19. Ahhh, the eternal quest for the holy grail of gardening, the carefree but beautiful space. One friend found it by dedicating his entire space to weeds. Officially declared weeds. Your path to perfection looks much more elegant. Good luck.

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    1. That is so funny and profound! But I think I'll keep searching for my grail. Life's more fun that way. :o)

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  20. This is a great list.
    I have a lot of dry shade, with alkaline, clay soil.
    I think a few of these will work pretty well.
    Thanks...

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    1. Dry shade can be a beast until you learn what works and what doesn't. It took me quite a while to stop killing plants in my dry shade. I hope these are problem solvers for you. :o)

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  21. great list and info about the only kind of plants I too am interested in growing - tough, good looking - not too much to ask, is it?

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    1. I don't have much patience for divas in plants or people. I'll take a tattooed biker chick over an entitled cry baby any day. :o)

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  22. Hi Tammy -- you asked about the penstemon in my last post -- it's P. calycosus. You can see more here: http://www.clayandlimestone.com/search/label/Penstemon%20%20calycosus

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  23. PS not sure what's up with the spacing. lol

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    1. The spacing is hysterical! Very eye catching! :o)

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  24. What a great list. I thought at the start of this post you would be limited in any choices of plants if they all had to be such tough survivors, but this list is extensive, and they are all beauties.

    My particular favorite is the amsonia Blue Ice which I grow too (of course!) and I would use it anywhere. Hard to dig up and divide, though, with such tough roots. Epimediums are like that too, very hard to move because of their cast iron roots, but that is what makes them such survivors (and I do think they're glorious little plants).

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    1. I've never dug up an epimedium before but it doesn't look easy! I've transplanted several amsonia and they popped up pretty quickly. But they might have been smaller than yours. When it comes to dividing plants, I'm a big weenie. :P I've never done it before!

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  25. What a great list of plants! And good explanation too. Now I just need the same list for the weather we have had here in Britain the last few years, rain, flood and soggy, water logged flower beds. Last time we had a drought was in 2005, I can still remember it, can still remember all the plants I lost, but between then and now we have not had one good summer.

    But, despite all that I am going to try grow some of the plants on your list, you never know, they might like the British weather after all!

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    1. After all your rain last year, this summer will probably be bone dry. It always seems to work like that. Perhaps you need plants that are aquatic!

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  26. Tammy the penstemon is about 2 feet in my garden too. It grows in loamy soil that's dry in summer and wet in winter, so as far as I'm concerned it's the perfect garden plant!

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    1. I'm going to order it! Woo-hoo!! How much sun/shade does yours get?

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  27. Hi, I really enjoyed looking through the list of plants and noticed several I have in my own garden. A couple - like the white Liatris - are waiting to be planted once the weather warms up a bit more. To confess the main reason we have the Liatris is because they're so cheap, the same reason we have loads of alliums!

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    1. Cheap if my friend. So are alliums. :o)

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    2. I meant to say 'Cheap is my friend.' :o)

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  28. Great list of easy-care plants! I'm with you--I'm moving more in the direction of beautiful plants that can withstand the extremes, from arctic cold to high-heat drought. Because that's what we have here--the severe extremes, with lots of weeks of perfect weather in between. I really need to try some Epimediums. I learned about them in a gardening class about 10 years ago, but haven't gotten around to planting them here. One of these days! I love their shape, color, and texture!

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    1. Epimediums are really tough and maintenance free. The only thing easier to grow is a fake cactus. They would look great mixed in with your hostas and ferns. :o)

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  29. What a wonderful list of plants in your garden, makes me want to get out to mine and bring it back to what it once used to be... I have neglected it for several years! ...I am hoping this year to remedy that, and I am glad to learn about different plants that I might be able to give a shot up here... and it is nice to see what's in your garden! Thank you! Cheers~

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    1. It will be interesting to see what's growing out there without any help. I'm sure you have some tough beauties waiting for you.

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  30. Well, I don't agree about the roses but I love your other choises. I must find me some Knautia - so pretty mixed in with your asclepesias. It's true about the vinca vines as mine are in a flower bed that gets full sun and at least 100+ degrees in the summer. Fun to see many of your favorites also do so well here.

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    1. My roses might still be there, especially if I could get the zombies to water them. :o) Knautia is a wonderful plant. I have a pink one that never stops blooming unless it's the dead of winter. Their tap root helps them survive. Gotta love a tough plant!

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  31. What a great list. I had no idea we had so many plants in common but I also had no idea that so many of my plants are supposedly indestructible. I lost 2 Knautia Macedonia and still have one but it kind of of needs coaxing along, I guess because it's in semi shade. Actually if I had a garden of plants that didn't need attention, I'd probably cry and say 'no-one needs me anymore!' A bit of fuss is therapeutic for me.

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    1. I've had knautia stems flop over and grow along the ground they were so desperate for sun. Just give them more sun and free draining soil and they're happy. If my garden didn't need me, I'd be a bit depressed, too. I don't want divas but I don't want to be rendered useless, either.

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  32. This really is a great list. I do have many in my gardens... last year I bought several milkweed and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they made it through our Winter. That's the challenge of gardening here, if the hot temps of Summer doesn't finish them off, the extreme cold surely may.

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    1. I bet the milkweed will be back. They're prairie natives designed by Mother Nature to withstand extremes, which is good because we seem to have a lot of that lately.

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  33. What a gorgeous array of hardy plants.I was disappointed about your comments on Sedum Autumn Joy though, my husband noticed it in the nursery last week so we were considering it, but the too much water/not enough is a worry. Lovely photo of it btw.

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    1. Go back and get it! You're in such a different climate than I am that you may have a different experience with it. It's tough and attracts pollinators. It's a winner!

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  34. "Kind of like a fat chihuahua," lol! Love it. The penstemon has such a great overall shape, and the flowers are lovely.

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    1. Hopefully at the plant swap you can find more plants to add to your dry hill. The penstemon would be a good choice.

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  35. For what it's worth, I think the thyme may be Thymus pulegiodes 'Foxley'. Good luck with the Zombies - I bet they're turning tail and walking in the direction of your neighbors now...

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    1. I really like my neighbors but they can eat a few others I know. ;o)

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  36. This post is priceless for me! I do have a dry hot spot, and I would love to have several of these plants growing there! Thank you SO MUCH!!!

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    1. You are very welcome!! I am so glad to be helpful. Yay! :o)

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  37. Another great list of Cast Iron contenders. I made note of the Amsonia 'Blue Ice' from your posts last summer and am determined to try some at the back in the dry shade. I also like the Silene 'Rolly's Favorite'. What a pretty pink! Linaria looks like something I had once upon a time, but I am not quite sure. It is really pretty and I added it to my spring wish list.

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