At this time of year, every plant seems like a good idea. Spring is seeded with hope- and fed by optimistic catalog descriptions and growers' hyperbole. Eventually, though, reality sets in, when many of the latest, newest, and rarest specimens turn out to be fair-weather friends. Fact is, a garden's success depends on steady, reliable performers. We asked some of the best landscape designers to reveal their top, time-tested picks. Here are the plants they turn to again and again.
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Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) Zones 5-9
"One of the easiest, showiest, most useful perennials, this hydrangea boasts bold foliage that turns maroon in the fall, as the huge flower clusters fade to pink. It'll also tolerate dryish shade and thrives in just about any climate." -David McMullin, Atlanta
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Flower Carpet Rose (Rosa 'Noatraum') Zones 5-10
"No matter what soil you plant it in, this glamorous-and disease-resistant- ground cover rewards you with tons of roses two to three times a year." -Jamie Durie, Los Angeles
Ostrich Fern (Matteucci struthiopteris) Zones 3-8
"These dramatic plume-shaped fronds reach heights of three to six feet and naturalize easily. And while ostrich ferns prefer shade, they'll grow in full sun." -Julie Moir Messervy, Saxtons River, Vermont
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Pink Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum 'Claremont') Zones 6-8
"Shade- and drought-tolerant, this California native delivers dark-green leaves, clusters of rosy-pink blossoms-and almost no maintenance!" -Katey Mulligan, San Francisco
Sweet-Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas 'Blackie' and 'Margarita') Annual outside Zones 9-11
"Most self-respecting landscape designers would never admit it, but I love this common annual! It grows like a weed and covers all the flaws in a perennial bed." -Rebecca Cole, New York City
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Black Bugbane (Actaea simplex 'Brunette') Zones 4-8
"Black bugbane has wonderful burgundy foliage; three-foot-tall, cream-and-pink flowers that fill the garden with an intoxicating scent in late summer; plus, it's deer-proof. All in all, a great plant to mass." -Judy Murphy, Lakeville, Connecticut
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.