Here are 11 of the easiest, tried-and-true, plants to grow in your garden that will provide all-year-long interest – and a few to stay away from.
Do you need plant recommendations for your garden that are really real? Not just some list that’s been reworked from a magazine or garden website – a tried-and-true list of plants to grow in your garden that you can trust are the lowest maintenance, longest living, and provide a long bloom or garden backbone. That kind of list?
I thought so – me, too! So I took a long, hard look at our garden and am sharing the list I came up with based on what I think is the ultimate plant criteria:
What would I always plant again – and what would I avoid?
Of course, under that are a few other must-have criteria like:
- easy care (does it need a lot of cutting back, spraying, training, does it become weedy, etc.)
- long bloom time or seasonal interest
- lives a long time (so, obviously, this isn’t a list of annuals…)
The other thing that I think you’ll appreciate about this list is that these 11 perennials and shrubs provide all-season interest. Meaning, if you planted only the plants on this list, your garden would have something blooming from February through October (maybe even November in milder climates) and even have some evergreens to provide winter interest!
This is different from my previous favorite plants lists (which you can see here and here to compare!), and time has sharpened my view of good-vs-bad plants, which is why I’m also adding a few plants to the end of this list that I will NEVER plant again. Live and learn, right?
And, since this is also a Tuesdays in The Garden, you will find even more plant recommendations from our group at the bottom of the post. I love seeing what others are growing and why, don’t you?
11 Easy Care Plants for Every Garden
Listed in order of bloom time in my Pacific Northwest Garden, zone 8 (affiliate links provided for reference):
1. Spring Bulbs: Daffodils (February-March), Grape Hyacinth (March-April), and Tulips (April-May)
I will never have a garden, even the smallest bed, that doesn’t include these bulbs. The only- and I mean only- hard part of planting bulbs is to remember to plant them in the fall. They are truly one of the only “plant and forget it” flower, coming back every year (well, some varieties of tulips don’t, but you don’t have to plant those…) with no further care other than cutting back the leaves after they’ve turned brown.
Best Varieties: Any daffodils and grape hyacinths, but for reliable yearly blooms look for Darwin Hybrid Tulips. They are larger and come in a lot of colors (the pink tulip above is a Darwin) and never have to be replanted – a true perennial tulip.
2. Bunnera (March-May)
This pick is no surprise to those who’ve been reading AOC for awhile – I like to champion this little workhorse plant since it is so pretty, both when it’s blooming and when it’s not, since it’s almost evergreen in our garden. The most wonderful thing about this, though, is that it grows happily in dry shade, one of the hardest-to-grow areas of any garden. It does need supplemental water in the driest months, but that’s it for maintenance, basically.
Best Variety: ‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera, pictured above has glowing variegated leaves – and most importantly, doesn’t reseed everywhere like the common green brunnera does.
3. Hardy Geranium (April and even into fall, depending on variety)
There are so many varieties of this popular perennial in shades from white all the way to deep purple and blooming from just a month or so, to all summer long, that you’ll easily find something for your garden. I’ve grown a couple and they are a pretty perfect low-growing plant.
Best Varieties (highly subjective, as most are great!): purple ‘Rozanne’ (June-Sept.), white-pale pink ‘Kashmir White’ (May-July), and pink ‘Tiny Monster’ pictured above (April-July, with sporadic blooms after shearing into October). Note to ‘Tiny Monster’- it really does get huge, so the price for the longer bloom is that there’s more maintenance to keep it in check with shearing – I actually use a hedge trimmer for this plant!
4. Daylilies (1-2 months bloom, most varieties May-June, some all summer)
I’ve grown a lot of daylilies over the years and my favorites are the pinkish varieties like I show here, just because they’re different from the normal orange or yellow. I do, however have the small Stella d’Oro yellow daylilies, since they bloom all summer long and the leaves just look great in a bed with other plants. I’ve had to deadhead and pull off brown leaves, but that’s about it for maintenance – and when they’re blooming, they’re stunning.
5. Spirea Japonica (shrub pictured blooms June-August)
There are quite a few spirea shrubs, many of which bloom in spring like Bridal Wreath (which I have too), but I love this pink blooming shrub pictured above the most. It’s about 4′ tall and wide, it blooms June-July and then will bloom again if sheared back. And although they’re listed as full sun, I have 4 that are in partial to almost full shade and still bloom. Love.
Best Varieties: Unfortunately, I can’t find the name of the spirea pictured above, but there are a lot of similar varieties like ‘Little Princess‘ (3 ft. tall) and ‘Shirobana‘ as well as the fun pink and white ‘Peppermint Stick.’
6. Hydrangeas (June until frost)
Hydrangeas hold a special place in my heart, as I know they do for many others. Blooms that start out blue, white, pink, and green will change colors as they age to purples and mauves. They provide so.much.beauty for so little little time investment. Basically, you cut them back in winter and that’s it other than basic soil improvement like papering & mulching. If you have no other blooming plant, this one will give you enough for cut flowers all summer long.