8 Plants Which Snobs Love to Hate -- and You'll like to Grow

8 Plants Which Snobs Love to Hate — and You'll like to Grow

A while ago a mother of the bride had been lamenting her bride-to-be daughter’s objections to lily of the Nile as a marriage blossom. “It is just a freeway blossom,” the girl said. She had been perfect. Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus) is really easy to grow in California and some different locations that you see it along highways and big industrial landscapes. However, in colder climates the same plant — with its abundant blue blooms — is rare, precious, coveted. There are a number of different plants that a lot people think are too ordinary or too overused to be considered for our houses. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is the old expression. But if you look with fresh eyes, you might see some fantastic plants that plant snobs love to hate that you might love to grow. There are reasons many of these have been popular for so long and have been used so much better. Why don’t you give them a try?

FYI: I went into the marriage but forgot exactly what blossoms the mom and daughter consented to utilize.

Reconsider lily of the Nile. In my block 13 of 20 homes have lily of the Nile (Agapanthus)in their front lawns. No surprise that some folks are tired of it — maybe we’d get tired of Halle Berry also if she had been in each movie we saw. But look carefully in agapanthus. It is truly a gorgeous perennial, with its sturdy clumps of leaves topped with big balls of blue blooms from early summer into fall. Native to South Africa and increased in Europe as far back as the 17th century, agapanthus is tougher and hardier as it looks. You can use it in mass plantings, as a ground cover or alone as an accent or in a pot.

If you are jaded by the conventional colour, look for any range of new varieties available on the market; they are more streamlined, white or perhaps darker blue. ‘Baby Pete’ is both compact and deep blue.

Common name: Lily of the Nile
Botanical name: Agapanthus praecox orientalis (A. africanus, A. umbellatus)
USDA zones: 8 to 11
Water necessity: moderate or more (especially in warm climates)
Light requirement: Sun, or partial shade in warm climates
Mature size: 18 inches tall and broad, with flowers on stalks taller than two feet
Growing tips: Feed before growth starts in spring. Cut off faded blossoms. Watch for snails and slugs lurking deep in the foliage.


Do not judge junipers harshly. If you have experienced the tam juniper — that the king of overplanting a generation or two ago — you have probably never trusted junipers. The notorious tam grew much taller and larger than its advertised function as a low ground cover, and succumbed to diseases. But keep an open mind about the many very good junipers now offered. They’ve handsome forest-style looks, are easy to grow and are relatively pest free.

Shore juniper is just one favored, and a newer form, Juniperus conferta ‘Blue Pacific’, is blue-green, hugs the floor and spreads well in dry places. ‘Blue Star’ juniper, shown, looks like a bonsai since it creates a mound; the bluish foliage especially complements purplish or red plants. It creates a nice ground cover or accent plant, and looks fantastic in a natural setting with rocks.

Common name: ‘Blue Star’ juniper
Botanical name: Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’
USDA zones: 4 to 8
Water necessity: Light once recognized
Light requirement: Total sun
Mature size: 2-3 feet tall and 4 feet broad
Growing tips: Keep down weeds with mulch.

Remember dahlias. Few things say summer at Grandma’s like a dahlia — it’s up to you whether or not that’s a fantastic thing. There are thousands of kinds of dahlias, annuals and perennials, compact dwarfs and top-heavy giants. Flowers come in just about all colors except blue, in several distinct forms, from tiny ball shapes to floppy platters. A number of the plants sprawl, requiring staking and a lot of care, and are hard to work to a landscape. As a rule of thumb, mix dahlias (except for streamlined kinds) along with different perennials and annuals, and maintain them toward the back.

Dahlias have been developed over centuries, and many dedicated hobby growers and groups, such as The American Dahlia Society, can offer guidance.

Try the darkened dahlias. A number of the newer dahlias fit into today’s gardens — especially the types with leaves that are dark. They are more streamlined, with stronger stalks that are perfect for cutting. Dark foliage lends a fashionable mod appearance. ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ has almost black leaves and scarlet blossoms. ‘Mystic Spirit’, shown, is a hybrid vehicle with purplish foliage and apricot-colored blossoms.

Botanical name: Dahlia ‘Mystic Spirit’
USDA zones: 8 to 11; increased for summertime only in colder climates
Water necessity: Moderate
Light requirement: Sun
Mature size: 2-3 feet
Growing tips: It’s a fantastic choice for containers, borders or mass plantings. Start with tubers or nursery plants in the spring after the last frost. Supply abundant, well-drained soil. Deadhead faded blooms. In colder climates dig and store tubers in the fall.


Meet with the new generation. No wonder so many people got tired with India hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis, not a true hawthorn) from the 1960s and ’70s. It had been the default plant for landscaping a ranch house — as a foundation plant or massed as a ground cover. There were tall and short varieties that’d pretty blossoms and were almost pest free. The new dwarf yedda hawthorn rekindles our appreciation of Rhaphiolepis — notice the Royal Horticultural Society gave it an Award of Garden Merit. It is a compact evergreen shrub with solid-looking, glossy leaves and white blossoms in spring. Plus it’s easy to grow, especially in the Southeast and California. Use it like a medium-height background shrub, mass it as a tallish floor cover or line a walk or route. Yes, stunt yedda hawthorn is also an outstanding base plant.

Common name: Dwarf yedda hawthorn
Botanical name: Rhaphiolepis umbellata ‘Minor’
USDA zones: 7 to 11
Water necessity: Moderate
Light requirement: Partial shade to full sun
Mature size: 6 to 8 feet tall and broad, sometimes larger
Growing tips: Water frequently until the plant is created. Prune to control the shape and size following the spring bloom.

Grow your own birds. Bird-of-paradise is a precious cut flower in several places — just examine the complex, theatrical blossom and its flamboyant assortment of colours to see why. But in much of Southern California along with other mild climates, it develops like a like a weed. My antisnobbery suggestion: Even in the event that you live where it’s considered a weed, plant at least one bird-of-paradise at which you could see this up near — near a window or in a pot. Cut the flowers and bring them indoors — they are especially welcome in midwinter, even at Christmas.

Common name: Bird-of-paradise
Botanical name: Strelitzia reginae
USDA zones: 9 to 11
Water necessity: Light to moderate; gets along with little water once established
Light requirement: Complete sun, or partial shade in warm climates
Mature size: 5 to 6 feet tall and broad
Growing tips: In a borderline climate, plant it under an eave or in another spot that offers protection from frost. Feed and Water it frequently for a lusher look.

It grows like a weed (but isn’t). Lnstead of looking back on valerian’s strong survival instinct, why do not celebrate it? This is another old-fashioned perennial with a lengthy (spring-to-fall) bloom season. It is usually red but can be available in pink and white, and is typically found in failed gardens — as I remember it grew back with fellow survivor hollyhocks by my grandmother’s chicken house. If you think you’ve seen red valerian too many times, look for the white form shown here.

Valerian is said to grow well around stonework and walls, although I am not sure why. It is best to plant it one of annuals, perennials and shrubs at pastoral edges of a garden, where its wildish appearance and invasive tendencies issue less.

Common names: Valerian, Jupiter’s beard
Botanical name: Centranthus ruber
USDA zones: 3 to 9
Water necessity: Light once recognized.
Light requirement: Full sun or partial shade
Mature size: 2-3 feet tall and broad
Growing tips: Get the plant off to a solid start by watering it regularly through the first growing season. It can become invasive. Cut off old flowering stems to prevent seeds from dispersing. Remove dry foliage for a neater appearance. Divide clumps every few years.

Treat it nicely and see what happens. Here’s another plant guilty by association with California freeway plantings, where it sprawls and climbs out of control — but also shows how rugged it is. Give cape plumbago a small focus (watering, feeding) and see just how pretty it could become. The foliage is a nice bright green. And how can you resist those baby blues? In Hawaii the blue blooms are thought to be attractive enough to go into leis. This evergreen shrub grows big and quick, reliable as a background plant or on a slope. Or attempt it Hawaiian style — in a clipped hedge or perhaps in a pot, where you are able to observe the flowers up close from spring through fall.

Common name: Cape plumbago
Botanical name: Plumbago auriculata
USDA zones: 9 to 11
Water necessity: Light
Light requirement: Full sun or light color
Mature size: 6 feet and taller, and much broader
Growing tips: Prune or shear it back to control the size in late winter or early spring.

The New York Botanical Garden

Take a peek at coleus. Plant breeders have been churning out new types of coleus, another stalwart of industrial-size mass plantings. The newer types are taller and more sun tolerant, and exhibit even more colorful leaves in contrasting hot colours. Coleus is a continuing but is generally grown as a summer annual. It is a good choice for all those shady spots previously filled by impatiens ( now not advocated or being sold in several areas because of very harmful downy mildew). Coleus looks great mixed in beds or pots with other summer annualsplant or plant single types exclusively for a mass impact.

New types come in a wide assortment of colors and shapes. Leaf colors include red, orange, yellow and pink; leaves may be tiny or large, scalloped or frilly. Look for string such as Florida Sun, Solar and Sunlover. Or maybe you can not resist plants imaginatively named ‘Pistachio Nightmare’, ‘Black Dragon’ or ‘Dipt in Wine’. The stunning variety shown here, with all the pointillistic appearance, is ‘Florida Gold’.

Common name: Coleus
Botanical name: Solenostemon scutellarioides
USDA zones: Hardy only in very mild climates; typically increased as a warm-season yearly
Water necessity: moderate or more
Light requirement: Partial or full colour. Varieties called “Sun Coleus” may take more light.
Mature size: 8 inches to two or three feet or taller and both broad, based upon the number
Growing tips: Make sure to water and fertilize regularly. Regularly pinch the stem tips of young plants for bushier growth. Cut off blossoms (not much to look in) as you detect them. Watch for indications of twisted or discolored leaves, indications of a mould scourge similar to what is wiping out impatiens.

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