Five Plants More Northern Gardeners Should Grow

foliage color and form

When designing a garden, Don Engebretson recommends gardners think first about foliage color, plant shape and form first, then blooms.

Don Engebretson, a.k.a., The Renegade Gardener, calls himself “the lone voice of horticultural reason.” That may be a bit of an overstatement, but Don — who also writes Northern Gardener’s By Design column — does make a lot of sense when he talks about plant choices. One of his basic points for gardeners is that when choosing plants, the last thing you should think about is bloom. Instead, consider foliage color as well as plant shape and form when deciding what to plant.

At his talk at the Minnesota Home and Patio Show, called “Really Cool Plants for Northern Gardens,” he highlighted more than 20 great plants for northern gardens. He’ll be talking about this subject again Saturday at 2:30 p.m., and  he’ll talk about “Plants and Design Tips for Sandy Spaces” Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Stop by the show and check it out.

While we don’t have space to list all the plants Don recommends, here are five great choices that you may not have heard of that will add form, color and texture to your garden.

Calamintha nepatoides ‘White Cloud’ is often listed as not hardy to USDA Zone 4, but don’t believe it. It is hardy to the Twin Cities, Don says, and it forms a delightful airy swath of foliage and bloom. The plants will bloom much of the summer and into the fall — Don had a photo of one blooming in December! It stays under 2 feet tall and likes sunny to part-sun gardens.

Heucherella ‘Alabama Surprise’ is one of several Heucheras and Heucharellas that add fabulous foliage color to sun to part shade gardens. Its lime-green foliage is streaked with burgundy-red. In fall, the plant turns red. If you want a striking plant in your garden, try this one.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘King’s Gold’ looks like golden dreadlocks in the garden. It stays small: 4 feet high by 4 feet wide and adds a bright element to any foundation planting or rock garden.

Fothergilla ‘Blue Shadow’ has blue green foliage all summer that turns a bright orange-red in the fall. It’s white bottlebrush flowers bloom in spring or early summer and offer fragrance to the garden.


foliage color and form

Here’s another plant Don recommends: Dwarf globe blue spruce.

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ is a dieback shrub, and that is a great thing, according to Don. This elderberry will grow 6 or more feet tall during the season with its purplish-almost black foliage, which is why it is sometimes called the northerner’s Japanese maple. Pink flowers in spring become deep red berries later in the season, which can be harvested or left on the shrub to attract birds.

These are just a few of the many great plant suggestions and ideas from Don. Check out his website or enjoy his presentations at the home show this weekend.



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