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The Big Impact Garden

Darin Engh, from Engh Gardens, shows us some of the plants that will give you the biggest impact.


Problem: You love to garden, but there is never enough time. You know you should study lists of “low-maintenance” plants, but you don’t want to sacrifice excitement just for the sake of easy care. Life is hectic. In an effort to achieve that elusive life balance, we inevitably give up something we love to do—if you’re giving up on gardening, you’re also giving up just the thing you need to help manage stress-filled, hectic life.

Solution: Plants can be a tonic for the soul, rejuvenating the spirit. They can serve as a grounding connection to nature—something that is so needed by all of us in this frantic Bluetooth, Blackberry, iPod nano, big screen world. But plants shouldn’t add to our stress by being demanding and difficult. We should be able to enjoy them without being enslaved by them. These plants should not only be easy to care for but they should bring passion and excitement into our lives with their colors, textures, shapes, and scents. It’s great if a plant is easy to grow, but if it’s of minimal ornamental value, who really cares? With plants, like all things in our lives, we want to have our cake and eat it too. We want beautiful, wonderful things, but we don’t want to devote countless hours to them because we don’t have countless hours.

What makes a plant high impact? It should make a statement in multiple seasons because of its long-lasting bloom, its color, texture, form, or even fragrance. Better yet, it should possess all or most of these characteristics. On top of that it would be nice if it was somewhat theatrical and had a flair for the dramatic. A plant considered high impact needs to provide interest in several if not all seasons. For example, a multi-season plant may have beautiful flowers in the spring followed by foliage that has an interesting texture in the summer and then goes out with a bang of gorgeous autumn color. Color can be provided by long-lasting flowers, or by striking foliage, bark, or fruit. Plants with interesting and unusual texture or architectural forms create living art in the garden.

High-Impact Traits

• Multi-season Interest

•Colorful Foliage

• Long-lasting Bloom

• Outstanding Texture

• Architectural Form

Low-Maintenance Traits

• Long-lived

• Tolerates Heat and Humidity

• Cold-Hardy

• Deer-Resistant

• Resistant to Insects and Disease

• Requires Minimal or No Deadheading

• Prospers without Heavy Fertilizing

• Doesn’t Require Staking

• Infrequent or No Division Required for 4+ years

• Infrequent or No Pruning Required to Maintain Decent Habit, Appearance, or Best Flowering

• Non-Invasive

• Drought-Tolerant


We’ve selected these __ plants that we consider to be highly ornamental plants that require minimal care. Because many of these plants are drought-tolerant and don’t require heavy, if any, fertilizing to prosper, they are not only beautiful but functional and environmentally sound. Each of these plants meets most if not all five traits on the High-Impact Traits checklist. And, also had to possess at least nine of the twelve traits on the Low-Maintenance Traits checklist.

White Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus

Prized large shrub or small tree with upright branches forming dome shape. Soft green leaves back magnificent clusters of fragrant fringe-like whitish blooms. Log-lasting blooms in May. Attracts wildlife. A terrific accent for the landscape. Full sun. Slow-growing to 20-25 feet high, 25 feet wide.

Black Knight Butterfly Bush Buddleja davidii ‘Black Knight’

Summer color from dark, violet-purple flower spikes. Showy flowers are fragrant and attract butterflies. Blooms midsummer through fall. Good background or accent plant. Full to partial sun. Fast grower, arching to 6-8 feet tall, 4-6 feet wide.

Tri-color European Beech Fagus sylvatica ‘Tricolor’

Give this plant the right spot and you’ll be rewarded. Year-round interest. Striking foliage is purple with irregular pinkish-white and rose borders, giving an overall pink effect. Bronze-gold in the autumn. A colorful addition to the landscape. It is best positioned in moist partial shade, where it is protected from hot afternoon sun. Slow-growing to 25 to 35 feet tall, 18 to 25 feet wide.

Hansa Rugosa Rose

Voluptuous clove-scented flowers and large rounded red hips, one that can ignite memories and rouse emotion. The big shapely buds open to richly fragrant red-violet double flowers starting in late May to early June and repeating sporadically throughout the summer. The robust fast-growing shrubs reach 4 to 6 feet tall and wide. The lustrous dark green quilted leaves are beautiful through summer but stunning in the autumn when they change to yellow-orange. At this time the red hips develop, creating a warm color combination with the golden leaves. Plants are extremely durable, fast-growing, disease resistant, tolerant of cold and wet climates.

Rozanne Hardy Geranium Geranium ‘Rozanne’

Perennial Plant of the Year in 2008. Flowers strongly from May to July and then moderately or sporadically until October or November without deadheading—a gardener’s dream. Plants become lush and full as they reach about 18 inches tall and spread 24-28 inches wide. Flowers are blue-violet with a white throat and deeper violet venation. Full sun to part shade. A minor shearing after the first flush of flowers to help control legginess, promote rebloom, and create a better shape.

Endless Summer Hydrangea Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Bailmer’

An exciting discovery that has the ability to flower on new as well as old wood to extend color throughout the season. Dead head promptly for repeat bloom. Re-blooms continuously spring through fall. Clear blue mophead blooms that may turn pink in alkaline soils, are 8 inches in diameter. Deep green foliage is lush and mildew resistant. An excellent cold hardy addition to dappled shade under tree canopies. Shade or part shade. Moderate growing 3 to 5 feet tall and wide.

Sum and Substance Hosta

The award-winning hosta that’s still the golden grandmamma of them all is the big, the bodacious Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’. Large chartreuse to gold leaves; spikes of pale lavender flowers bloom in August. This goliath can form an immense clump to 2 ½ feet or more high by 4 to 5 feet wide. Leaves are yellow or chartreuse, corrugated, and heart-shaped, measuring 12 to 15 inches or greater in width by 20 inches or so in length. This beauty, adds weight and dominance in gardens. ‘Sum and Substance’ enjoys morning sun.

Autumn Fern Dryopteris erythrosora

Bold and beautiful choice for shady borders and woodland gardens. Dwarf-growing fern, young papery fronds display coppery-red color maturing deep green and deeply cut. It’s stunningly hardy, and basically requires no care. Fronds are distinctly triangular and pest free. Although best in part to full shade, they will tolerate some early-morning sun. Grows 1 to 2 feet tall.

Solomon’s Seal Polygonatum odoratum

Subtle beauty, graceful yet tough. Once established, can tolerate that dreaded condition—dry shade. Class, elegance, and has the ruggedness to stand up to tree roots. Dainty white bell-shaped flowers dangle from the leaf in the spring. Flowers blooming May to June. In the autumn the leaves turn a beautiful clear yellow. Grows 2 to 3 feet high and 2 feet wide. This plant has it “going on” with good looks, hardiness, and ease of care—qualities every shade garden can use.

Golden Japanese Forest Grass Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureloa’

Perennial Plant of the Year for 2009. Graceful, colorful ground cover for shady areas. Slender stems hold bright yellow foliage with thin green stripes having the effect of a tiny bamboo. Great in containers. Partial sun. Slow growing 18 inches tall and wide. Deer-resistant.

Golden Variegated Sweet Flag Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’

This plant gets its common name “sweet flag” due to its lightly fragrant leaves. Golden yellow and green foliage color, fine texture, compact size, and versatility in design. Plants are evergreen so they also look amazing in the garden over the winter.


For more information, you can visit Darin Engh at Engh Gardens in Sandy or online at www.enghgardens.com .

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