6 Landscape Pros From Across the U.S. Share the Plants They Really Dig
Edwina von Gal, East Hampton, New York
Landscape designer, founder of Perfect Earth Project
There are almost as many names for Nyssa sylvatica (tupelo, black tupelo, black gum, sour gum, beetlebung, pepperidge) as there are reasons to love it. The deciduous tree naturally appears in wet spots, but it’s happy in almost any soils that can hold some moisture. The tree’s branches grow perpendicular to the tall, straight trunk, and its tiny twigs give it a witchy quality, especially in winter. Its leaves and flowers bloom at the same time, all lime green. In the fall, they go from shiny dark green to purple and then blazing red. Bees love the flowers; birds love the fleshy fruit. Squirrels, raccoons, and possums nest in the cavities left when the limbs fall off, which they have a way of doing. Deer eat most of the young seedlings as they sprout, but those that make it live longer than any other non-clonal flowering plant in eastern North America: more than 650 years.
Joseph O. Evans III, New Orleans
Landscape designer and permaculturist, Evans + Lighter Landscape Architecture
Some would describe New Orleans as hot and humid. I tend to think of it as a liquid landscape, existing on the precipice of gulf, river, lake, groundwater, and atmospheric precipitation. The cathedral of live oak trees in New Orleans is astounding. I love the plethora of species that live symbiotically with the oaks, especially the resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides). To me, the resurrection fern is more than a symbol of resilience; it models a biomimetic solution for the future. It acts as a living sponge that intercepts rainfall where it lands, going from dry dormancy to green lushness within hours of a rain event. This is what our cities must become—not concrete-laden watershed superhighways, but networks of "green infrastructure" capable of adapting to variable climatic conditions and modulating the pollutants and flooding in our urban environments.
Shaun Doering, Oklahoma City
Landscape designer, TLC Garden Centers
For a Midwestern state, Oklahoma has a very diverse climate, ranging from arid plains to subtropical forests and mountains. Our weather is famously erratic, as noted by favorite son Will Rogers, who, sending up Mark Twain, said, "If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute and it will change." Plants must adapt to heat, drought, and cold, as well as a wide range of soil conditions. We have a large palette of native grasses, wildflowers, trees, and shrubs to choose from, but one of my favorites is the possum haw (Ilex decidua). This deciduous holly has shiny leaves and an outstanding display of vibrant pea-size red berries in winter. It’s best used as a shorter clumping shrub or tree, or to create screens and hedges. The Possum Haw is also great for attracting wildlife, especially cardinals.
Ron Henderson, Chicago
Landscape architect, L + A Landscape Architecture; professor of landscape architecture, Illinois Institute of Technology
American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a fall-blooming understory species common throughout the temperate forests of the eastern United States, including in Chicago, where I live. It has a subtle woodland presence compared to dogwood, redbud, viburnum, or magnolia, whose spring flowers or bracts provide more substantial visual punch. Witch hazel is a rare fall blooming shrub, with small strands of lemon-yellow flowers that drift across the lower canopy of woodlands. These flowers occupy the stems at the same time as the previous year’s seed capsules, or nutlets. In the summer, its distinctively large, bright green oblong leaves with deeply incised veins are valuable in gardens for shifts of foliage scale and texture. Few plants reward close inspection of fine details like the American witch hazel.
Jody Estes, Seattle
Landscape designer, Wittman Estes Architecture + Landscape
In the Pacific Northwest, our maritime climate features mild wet winters and very dry summers. As a result, our native flora includes large numbers of both coniferous and broadleaf evergreens. One of our best broadleaf evergreens is the native salal (Gaultheria shallon). I love it for its pearly flowers, reddish new growth, and dusky blue berries, which can be used in jams and preserves. This shrub has great visual adaptability and is equally attractive in a woodland setting, a modern landscape, and a Japanese-influenced Northwest garden. I suggest generous swathes of salal for projects needing native re-vegetation.
Carlos Morera, Los Angeles
Cofounder, Cactus Store
The ironically named teddy bear cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) is far from cuddly. In fact, it makes a formidable bouncer when planted in the garden.This obstinate opuntioid enjoys very wide distribution throughout the American Southwest and prefers environments that are hostile to humans. It’s so nasty that even the toughest shoe rubbers are no match for its barbed spines. On a mature plant (five to nine feet tall), the old growth turns black, while its new growth is a bluish-green color with white translucent spines that glow in the sun. Yellow-green flowers come out in May and June. Notwithstanding having features at odds with our general well-being, these many-pronged monsters seduce, like sirens with a silent song. Tie me to the mast of my Jeep and turn it off the road. I want to go into the teddy bears.