Friday, May 18, 2012

Summer Landscape Plants

oakleaf hydrangea
photo by Jason Holmes

By Jennie Carlisle

Plants are the bread and butter of good landscape design. Ornamental plants can be used as either an accent or focal point in a yard or garden—adding shape, color, texture and fragrance. Their flowers, foliage and fruit provide seasonal flare. Beyond just looking good and smelling nice, ornamental plants add value to a property.

With so many choices available at local nurseries and garden centers how do you go about picking the right ones for your landscaping needs?

Landscape architect Bobby Mottern, Duke Gardens’ director of horticulture, leads a series of seasonal workshops at the Gardens that focus on dozens of plants that are ideal for gardeners in our region. The latest installment, “Landscape Plants for North Carolina Gardens: Summer,” will run for four Thursdays—May 31 to June 14 and June 28—from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

Mottern shared some thoughts about some of the plants he’ll discuss in the workshop, and tips for selecting them.

What are your favorite plants to use in landscaping? “I like plants that are easy, plants that tolerate many conditions, plants that look great and that provide multiple points of interest. I love oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). It’s a big shrub with bold, textured, large leaves that turn brilliant red in the fall, and it has huge white flowers in the summer. Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is also a nice large shrub that has 8-inch long blue flower spikes in June and July. It’s also deer tolerant. I also love torch lily (Knifophia uvaria), which is a June-blooming perennial with tall spikes of orange, red or yellow flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Are there any new plants on the market we should know about? Yes, new introductions are available every year. A relatively new panicle hydrangea is called ‘Limelight’ for its lime-green foliage. A new dwarf butterfly bush called ‘Blue Chip’ is now quite popular, and coneflowers are available in a variety of colors other than the traditional pink/lavender shades.

Do you have any other suggestions for finding and growing ornamental plants? Be adventuresome.  Always be willing to try new and unusual plants, and share plants with your friends. Perennials always need dividing, and seedlings of certain plants need transplanting. Plants are a great gift and it’s always nice to have a story associated with your plants. I still have plants in my yard that my grandmother grew!

REGISTRATION: To register for Mottern’s class, or for more information, please call our registrar at 919-668-1707. The  class is limited to 15 students, so there is plenty of time for addressing gardeners’ questions and concerns. The fee is $105; $85 for Gardens members. For information about other classes and public events at Duke Gardens, please go to

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. The Gardens is at 420 Anderson St. 

Jennie Carlisle is an events assistant at Duke Gardens. This column first appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun.

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