Garden Greats

Plants with the right stuff for spring

By Dan Vierria
February 2022

Peek outside if you dare. Behold landscape plants on the critical list, already deceased or unanimous picks for the All-Ugly Team. Craters may mark spaces that plants once occupied. Yes, you need plants, but not just any plants.

While scouring local nurseries this spring, please consider the perennials and annuals recommended in this column. All perform well in Sacramento gardens. My current favorites:

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha)—Spectacular fall bloomer with silver-green foliage and purple flower spikes. Loved by hummingbirds and butterflies.

“Berzerkeley” (Salvia microphylla)—Spreads two or three times its height (2 feet) and pink flowers begin in spring and continue into fall.

Coastal Gem (Grevillea lanigera)—A low-spreading shrub or groundcover with cheery pink blooms. Flowers for months during fall and into winter.

Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas)—An ornamental (not edible) perfect for cascading over a container or atop retaining walls. Attractive foliage, especially “Blackie” and “Tricolor.”

Coreopsis “Gold and Bronze” (Coreopsis grandiflora)—Cheery all summer long with yellow and reddish-bronze petals. Compact growth habit is a bonus.

I asked a few “hort heads” to recommend and describe their favorite plants.

Greg Gayton, California certified nursery professional, Green Acres Nursery & Supply:

May Night (Salvia sylvestris)—“Blooms and bloom and blooms! The flowers are so prolific, and it seemed to enjoy the heat of last summer. Stays compact and does not get leggy. It attracts beneficial insects and pollinators.”

Ascot Rainbow (Euphorbia martinii)—“Love this perennial because it looks great anywhere. Super hardy in the sun but will take partial shade. Looks great as a filler in a container. The foliage is vibrant with its variegated leaves and showy flowers are yellow and green.”

Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticose)—“A drought tolerant perennial with yellow flowers that bloom most of the summer. Loves the heat but needs space.”

Lavender Cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus)—“Known for its fragrant foliage and yellow flowers, it is a very drought-tolerant perennial. Looks great in a rock garden, a moon garden or nestled against a boulder.”

California fuchsia (Epilobium canum)—“My favorite California native. It attracts hummingbirds and the orange flowers are amazing against gray foliage. Great for the brown thumb gardener.”

Coral bells (Heuchera)—“Unique foliage plants that have vivid color and perform best with afternoon shade.”

Jan Fetler, University of California master gardener, who suggests these favorites for flower arrangements:

Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)—“My all-time favorite summer annual flower. Easy to grow from seeds planted in May, flower forms and colors are almost endless, drought tolerant and they last a long time in arrangements.”

Statice (Limonium sinuatum)—“Grown for dried arrangements because they retain their color. They are also very long lasting in fresh arrangements. They come in several colors.”

Gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta)—“There are many warm color varieties of this perennial grown as an annual. All do very well in arrangements. When they find their happy place, they plant themselves if you leave a seed head or two.”

Coleus hybrids—“Easy to grow in summer shade when other flowers are plentiful. My favorite is ‘Henna’ with green leaves with dark red backsides. It makes wonderful filler in bouquets.”

Leather fern (Rumohra andiantiformis)—“The best fern for arrangements and is long lasting through several arrangements and is easy to grow. Does well in shade, even under redwoods.”

Marlene Simon, horticulturalist at UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, known as “The Plant Lady” on TV and other media:
Lavender “Grosso”—“A dark-flowered hybrid lavender that handles heavy soil much better than true English lavender.”

Margarita BOP (Penstemon heterophyllus)—“The flowers are almost iridescent on this long-blooming, drought-tolerant perennial.”

Coral aloe (Aloe striata)—“Grow this aloe for its beautiful foliage plus late winter flowers for hummingbirds. Plus, it can handle some shade and zero summer irrigation.”

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)—“I love this drought tolerant native shrub for its versatility. Grow as a single-trunked small tree or use as a hedge.”

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)—“This is an easy to grow perennial with beautiful flowers, plus it’s a host for Monarch butterflies.”

Best of luck with your landscape choices this spring!

Dan Vierria is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener for Sacramento County. He can be reached at For answers to gardening questions, contact the UCCE Master Gardeners at (916) 876-5338, email or visit Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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