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30 Great Plants for 30 Great Years (Part 1)


We hope everyone had a great time at Hortlandia last weekend.  What a great sale!  So many plant nerds (old & new) showed up to shop for their gardens, and we’re rooting for all their purchases to be a big success!

One of the ways we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the sale was by polling our audience for their 30 favorite plants for Pacific Northwest gardens.  We had dozens of initial selections provided by you on our Facebook page, then we polled you to narrow down the choices.  Over 1000 people cast a vote, and the final list of 30 Great Plants for 30 Great Years was published in the Oregonian: Hardy Plant Society of Oregon’s 30 favorite plants

We wanted to share a bit more about these wonderful plants as we head into prime planting season. Since it’s a long list, we’re splitting this post into two — here’s the first half, and stay tuned for the second half soon!

(this article is written by HPSO Board Member & blog/social media coordinator, Kate McMillan)

Acer circinatum

Photo by John Rusk from Berkeley, CA c/o Flickr

1. Acer circinatum (Zone 5a)

Our native vine maple has a well-deserved spot on this list.  Tolerant of sites from mostly sun to shade, it’s perfectly adapted to our winter-wet, summer-dry climate (although it’ll do better with a little water in the summer).  The new branches have that lovely red cast that some maples get in winter, and their large leaves color up nicely in the fall.  You can grow it as a single-stem tree, or as its name implies, as a multi-stemmed specimen with lots of branches growing from the base (my favorite).  There are also varieties that are small (like ‘Little Gem’) and that have even more fiery branches in winter (like ‘Midwinter Fire’) among others.

Agave ovatifolia

Photo by Loree Bohl of Danger Garden

2. Agave ovatifolia (Zone 7a)

Hopefully regional gardeners are starting to realize that some plants you might think of as adapted to drier/warmer climates do really well in our area — thanks to some amazing local nursery owners who are helping us push the boundaries of what we think we can grow.  This is one of the best.  Provided great drainage and a sunny spot, you could be growing your own bit of exotica in your garden.  I mean just look at it!  And no need to water in the summer either.


Photo by Loree Bohl of Danger Garden

3. Aspidistra elatior (Zone 8a)

Have some dry shade?  This easy, gorgeous plant (aka ‘Cast Iron Plant’) will handle your dry, difficult conditions happily.  If you haven’t yet seen it at the Lan Su Chinese Garden, you should make a trip just to see it as a beautiful underplanting.  There are varieties with variegation that is spotted, striped, and seemingly brushed onto the leaves. My favorite is Aspidistra elatior ‘Asahi’.

Azara microphylla

Photo by Loree Bohl of Danger Garden

4. Azara microphylla (Zone 7b)

This large shrub/small tree has tiny leaves (hence the common name, ‘Boxleaf Azara’), and tiny, yellow flowers in early spring that smell of vanilla/cocoa.  It will thrive in full sun to part shade, and requires almost no maintenance.  It also make a great, underused privacy hedge.

Beesia deltophylla

Photo by Bruce Wakefield / Old Germantown Gardens

5. Beesia deltophylla (Zone 6a)

With its glossy, heart-shaped leaves for a shady spot, this great ground cover needs a little bit of water in the summer to keep it happy, and rewards you with purple-tinged leaves & tiny white flowers in late spring. It’s great planted under shrubs like hydrangea, and along with anything that picks up on the purple, like Osmunda regalis ‘Purpurascens’, or Athyrium niponicum, or Sarcococca hookeriana ‘Purple Stem’.

Blechnum spicant

Photo by Drahkrub c/o Wikipedia

6. Blechnum spicant (Zone 6a)

Our native Deer Fern! You’ve seen it while hiking in the Gorge or at the Coast (among other places), and it’s a mainstay in Portland gardens. And with good reason: it’s tough as nails, evergreen, and sends up the most beautiful, delicate-looking new fronds in spring. It’s happiest in part shade, but you can easily stretch that into a bit more sun or a bit more shade without compromising the plant too much. The fertile fronds stand straight up against a skirt of the sterile ones, which is an enchanting look.

Choisya Aztec Pearl

Photo by Meneerke bloem c/o Wikipedia.

7. Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’ (Zone 8a)

With slimmer leaves than Choisya ternata, ‘Aztec Pearl’ is a tough plant that doesn’t look it. The fragrant, white flowers appear in late spring and are delightfully scented of citrus (hence the common name of ‘Mexican Orange’). Grow this in full sun where it’s drought-tolerant once established.

Clematis 'Etoile Violette'

Photo by Johnson from Cotswold Hills, England c/o Wikipedia

8. Clematis ‘Etoile Violette’ (Zone 5a)

If you only have room for one Clematis in your garden, I strongly suggest you consider this one. Once established, it’s smothered in deep purple flowers from late spring right on through the summer. The only maintenance it needs is to be cut back near the ground in late winter (it’s a Viticella hybrid). It’s easy and reliable, especially with a little extra compost mulch at its base.

Clerodendrum trichotonum

Photo by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT c/o Wikipedia

9. Clerodendrum trichotonum (Zone 6a)

You’ve probably smelled this small tree if you’ve been walking in SE Portland neighborhoods on summer evenings — although you may not have been able to identify where it was coming from — as it’s a common street tree. Also known as the ‘Peanut Butter Tree’ for the scent produced when you bruise the leaves, and ‘Harlequin Glorybower’ for the shape of the fruits/calyxes, it only gets 12-15′ tall (in time). It likes full sun, and fits nicely in a garden border. There’s a great variegated variety (‘Carnival’) that you can see growing beautifully near the sidewalk of the Portland Nursery on Stark street.

Cotinus 'Grace'

Photo by Kate McMillan of Cultiverity

10. Cotinus ‘Grace’ (Zone 5a)

If you have Verticillium wilt (and apologies if you do, as it’s common in some Portland gardens), this might be a gamble for you, but SO WORTH IT.  The foliage — which is the reason you grow this large shrub — starts out the season in shades of plum, and in the autumn you get a gold, orange, pink, and purple display, sometimes all on the same leaf!  It quite simply glows in the sun.  If you cut it back hard in winter you’ll get larger leaves and fewer flowers.

Davidia involucrata ’Sonoma’

Photo by Bruce Wakefield of Old Germantown Gardens

11. Davidia involucrata ’Sonoma’ (Zone 6a)

Also known as ‘Hankerchief Tree’ or ‘Dove Tree’ for the delicate shape of the large, white bracts displayed in late spring, this fast-growing tree will eventually reach 40′. If you have room for it, consider this rare tree as a centerpiece of the spring garden.

Eryngium giganteum 'Miss Willmott's Ghost'

Photo by Bruce Wakefield of Old Germantown Gardens

12. Eryngium giganteum ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’ (Zone 6a)

Apparently Miss. Willmott was a bit of a guerrilla gardener / seed bomber, dropping seeds of this plant into her friend’s gardens when she visited, so the plants persisted even after she was gone. Even without the romantic story, this a wonderful plant for full sun & good drainage that bees will go bananas over. It’s a biennial that’s dormant in winter, and may seed itself around if you’re lucky. The foliage is super spiny, so don’t try to cuddle it.

Eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy'

Photo by Loree Bohl of Danger Garden

13. Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ (Zone 6b)

Did you say you wanted a plant where the flowers look like pineapples? You’re in luck! Even before this ‘Pineapple Lily’ sends up its outrageous flower stalks, it has wonderful, strappy burgundy foliage. It needs as much sun as you have available — it’ll start to get floppy & won’t have great color in shade. Despite its exotic look, it’s super easy to grow.

Euphorbia rigida

Photo by Loree Bohl of Danger Garden

14. Euphorbia rigida (Zone 7a)

This sprawling, evergreen spurge is tipped in acid green flowers in early spring/late winter. Once the flowers are finished, the geometric, sculptural arrangement of leaves is captivating. It’s easy to grow in a dry, sunny spot and rewards you by seeding (politely) around. Spectacular with burgundy foliage nearby. Deer won’t bother it. Be careful of getting the milky sap on your skin as it’s an irritant.

Fothergilla gardenii 'Blue Mist'

Photo by Kate McMillan of Cultiverity

15. Fothergilla gardenii ‘Blue Mist’ (Zone 5a)

Full disclosure: I really love this plant! For part sun to shade, this 3×3′ shrub has lovely blue-grey foliage which is preceded by creamy-white, tiny bottle-brush flowers in spring. Its size makes it a great fit for smaller gardens, and it pairs beautifully with late white daffodils (like ‘Thalia’), white Aquilegia, and/or Athyrium ‘Ghost’. Plus the fall color is spectacular.


Click to see Part 2 of this list with the rest of the selections!

If you’d like to learn more about any of these plants, is a truly wonderful resource created by local talent.


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