Little-known Garden Gems

It has always been a goal of Specialty Growers to carry plants that are unusual and not likely to be found in the local garden centers.  Here we are featuring a few of these garden “gems” - plants that are unknown, under-used and under-appreciated.  You’ll find some of my personal favorites in this category! 

Asclepias verticillata – Whorled Milkweed –

Gardeners are encouraged to plant milkweeds for monarch butterflies, but might not realize there are dozens of milkweed species. In fact, the common milkweed, often promoted for the monarch, makes a poor candidate for the cultivated garden due to its wild and wandering tendencies. Whorled Milkweed (aka Horsetail Milkweed) is an attractive species that deserves wider garden use. It is less aggressive, and has interesting needle-like foliage which provides textural contrast in the garden. It turns golden-yellow in fall. The clustered white flowers are fragrant and serve as a nectar source for monarchs and other butterflies. Monarchs lay eggs on the foliage, and the larvae use the leaves as a food source. This species prefers dry, infertile soil in full sun, and grows 1-2 ft tall.

Photo from: North Creek

Calamintha ‘Marvelette’ -

The Calamint is one of the Rodney Dangerfields of the plant world. It never gets the respect of its better-known cousin, Catmint (Nepeta). The species name, Calamintha nepeta, alludes to this relationship. Calamintha has been quietly gracing gardens for years, but has never achieved notoriety. Its subtle beauty may not command attention, but rather it complements and enhances the bolder members of the garden. The new hybrid ‘Marvelette’ has boosted this underused species to the forefront by virtue of its larger flowers, neat compact form and everblooming habit. The foliage is deliciously mint-scented (Calamintha translates to “beautiful mint”) and the flowers attract bees and beneficial insects. Unlike the true mints, Calamintha does not form runners. The clumping plants grow 8” tall and spread about a foot wide. ‘Marvelette’ is a Fleuroselect Gold Medal Award winner.

Photo from: VanHemert

Muhlenbergia reverchonii ‘Undaunted’ -


Many southern gardeners are familiar with Muhly grass, where M. capillaris is a staple item. We northern gardeners have craved the amazingly full, fluffy pink plumes of Muhly grass, but lack of hardiness prevented us from growing it. With the introduction of ‘Undaunted’ we have the opportunity to grow a hardy type with similar color. Rated zone 5, the species R. reverchonii has been relatively unknown in the Midwest. ‘Undaunted’ provides a late-season display of see-through pink plumes on fine-textured clumping plants that grow 15-18” tall. It performs best in full sun and requires well-drained soil.

Photo from: North Creek


Thalictrum rochebrunianum -


‘Lavender Mist’ generates many comments when in bloom in our display garden here at the nursery, but few gardeners are familiar with it. This is a stately plant: references say it grows 4-6 ft tall, but in our rich moist soil in partial sun, it easily attains 8 ft. Indeed, it’s common name is Giant Meadow Rue. In August, the tops of the dark purple stems are adorned with multitudes of small charming lilac flowers with yellow centers, which dangle and sway in the breeze. The dainty maidenhair-like foliage is especially attractive in spring when it may be tinged with purple before becoming gray-green. Grow ‘Lavender Mist’ at the back of the perennial border, planted en masse, or as an accent plant in a partly shaded garden.

Photo from:
North Creek

Viola walteri ‘Silver Gem’ -

This Appalachian native violet forms a dense tidy mat of silver heart-shaped leaves attractively veined in deep green. In spring, the classic lavender violet-type flowers appear, adding to its charm. Once established, ‘Silver Gem’ makes a good drought-tolerant ground cover, but it can also be used at the front of perennial gardens to show off its beautiful foliage. We find that it is also a nice addition to hypertufa planters or other container gardens, combined with other foliage plants, such as small ferns and mini coral bells. Grows 3-5” in height.


Photo from: North Creek