What to Grow in Your Garden


Meet Andrew Grossman, our newest OnLineRI Contributor!

Since 1993 Andrew Grossman has been creating landscapes that reflect his clients’ individual tastes and personal lifestyles. His completed projects combine imaginative structural solutions with a sophisticated horticultural sensibility.

Andrew’s award-winning landscapes have been presented in several national magazines including Fine Gardening, Garden Design, Country Living Gardener and Country Gardens. His portfolio spans both rural and urban residences and features a wide range of design elements including: perennial and flowering shrub borders; patios and walkways; water gardens; fencing, arbors, and pergolas; outdoor fireplaces; swimming pools; rockeries; and herb and vegetable gardens. His completed designs include properties in New York and throughout New England with an emphasis on Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Andrew is committed to “green” and organic landscape practices. He is available for lectures and contributes regularly to his blog, A Year In My Garden. He is also the host of IN THE GARDEN, a hands on cable television show featuring horticultural techniques and landscape design advice.

Because I’m a landscape designer, I’m often asked to name my favorite plant. In truth I don’t have a “favorite”. There are, however, a number of cultivars that I consider indispensible. After giving the matter some thought, I’ve narrowed my selection to ten garden plants that I wouldn’t be without. Most will flourish in full sun, a few are shade plants and all are hardy in zone 5. Perhaps you’ll find a place for one of more of following choices in your garden this year.

Nepetas are a wonderful group of garden plants and the variety, Walkers Low, blooms for most of the summer with the heaviest display during peony season. It makes a wonderful informal edging plant or sunny border perennial. It seems to have no pest issues and isn't bothered by snails, rabbits or deer. I regularly use it as a substitute for lavender, which can be rather temperamental. In the picture below I have used it to frame my lily pond.

Although I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't had much luck with large-flowered clematis, Clematis Montana Rubens never disappoints. Here I'm growing it over my roof, where its pink blooms put on a wonderful display that compliments the last of the daffodils. This is a sturdy vine that requires some space in either part shade or full sun. At my mother's house it covers a large arbor beneath an old, sugar maple, which is a testament to its tenacity. The new foliage and stems have a lovely reddish caste and the flowers smell faintly of vanilla.

Most foxgloves are biennials that form a roseate of leaves their first year and flower spikes the second. After blooming the plants set seed and die. The yellow flowered Digitalis Ambigua is a relatively long-lived exception. In full sun or part shade the plants, which have few pests and are ignored by deer, flower heavily in early summer and often bloom repeatedly until frost. They are also prolific self-seeders, increasing their numbers at a bountiful rate.



Many wonderful new hydrangea varieties have appeared in recent years but this old-fashioned beauty is still one of my favorites. It blooms abundantly in full to part shade and makes a terrific companion for ferns, hostas and astilbes. Unlike other hydrangeas it never fails to bloom and the flower color isn't affected by soil acidity. In the picture below I've paired it with Hydrangea Quercifolia (another old-time favorite) and hostas in my Blue and White garden. 


The large, crinkled, chartreuse leaves pictured above belong to Hosta Sum and Substance. While there are countless wonderful hosta varieties available today, this variety remains one of my favorites. Over time it takes on almost shrub-like proportions and the foliage becomes increasingly textured as the plants mature. Tall stems sporting blue flowers crown the plants in late summer, but this variety is grown primarily for its dramatic leaves, which are impervious to snails and slugs. Here it is growing around my farm pond and if given ample moisture this hosta will tolerate full sun, but it prefers a sheltered position and makes a superb addition to the shade garden.


In my estimation Kerria Japonica Pleniflora deserves more attention. The double yellow flowers are delightful in the spring and continue sporadically throughout the summer. Although it loses its leaves in the fall, the stems remain green throughout the winter and are lovely in the snow. It seems to thrive in full sun or part shade and spreads by underground suckers that will eventually create a dense almost impenetrable thicket. At five to six feet in height it's a wonderful addition to the shrub border or woodland garden. 



Cornus Ivory Halo is a smaller version of the more common variegated red twig dogwood. Ivory Halo makes a nice compact addition to the shrub border. Its leaves retain their silver edging all summer and in winter its brilliant red stems make a bold statement against the snow. It seems equally happy in sun or part shade and thrives in damp soil. 



Most people think roses are fussy shrubs plagued by insect pests and a host of diseases. The Fairy Rose, however, is an old time cultivar that couldn’t be easier to grow. The flowers, which are produced in waves from late spring until frost, are a delightful pale pink and the bush is a nice manageable size. A little pruning early in the season is all that's required to keep the plants tidy. Try pairing it with with Nepeta for a terrific combination.



The Painted Fern (Anthyrium Niponicum Pictum) is a terrific foliage plant for full to part shade. Despite its delicate appearance it is actually quite tough and even self-seeds a bit (or whatever it is that ferns due to procreate). As with all ferns, it isn't bothered by deer or rabbits although I have had a few issues with snails. Since the fronds are late to unfurl, it is wonderful under-planted with spring bulbs.



Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla Mollis) is a tried and true perennial that flowers in full sun and all but the deepest shade. Its masses of foamy chartreuse flowers compliment almost any color and look particularly lovely with pastels. Its leaves are a pleasing shade of green and their scalloped edges catch the early morning dew. I cut off the dead flower stems in late July, a time consuming task, but well worth the effort, as it encourages a flush of new foliage and new flowers. I keep finding new uses for this low grower and have clumps of it scattered throughout my Blue & White garden where it spills onto the walkway and softens the bases of taller plants.