It never seems to fail – once people know you're a horticulturist and you teach about plants, people always want to know what your favorite plants are. Often my reply is do I have to pick just one?
There are so many amazing plants out there and depending on your garden or landscape some may work better than others. The other thing that I always stress that is important for any landscape is plant diversity. Diversity in plant materials helps to reduce the impact of damage done by diseases and insects or other problems. Also, make sure to remember right plant, right place – don't force a plant to fit into the landscape if the light availability is inadequate or too much or the soil conditions aren't right of the plant.
With that being said – here are some of my favorite plants.
Bald Cypress (Taxodium disitichum) – native to Southern Illinois and swamp areas, this is a gorgeous deciduous needled tree. It loses its soft needles every year, but before that turns a beautiful copper color in the fall. With age the trees base becomes fluted and is just spectacular. Bald Cypress is also great because of their tolerance of a wide range of soil conditions. Make sure to give this tree a bit of room, it can grow to 70-80 feet tall and have a 15-20 foot spread.
Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) – This perennial is one of my all-time favorites! Gorgeous purple-lupine like blooms in Spring followed by dark seedpods that rattle when you shake them. The is a larger perennial reaching 3-4 feet high and wide but is narrow at the base and flares up and outwards. It tolerates drought and poor soils and does well in full sun to part shade. This is one perennial that I recommend making sure to pick a permanent home for as it doesn't always transplant well. Blue False Indigo is well worth adding to the garden.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – I use basil constantly during the summer to make fresh pesto and to add to a variety of other dishes. It's extremely easy to grow from seed and does well in containers, just make sure to provide a large enough container as the plant can grow quite large. Let the plant grow for a few weeks before harvesting leaves as needed for use. Make sure to pinch out any flower buds right as they form.
Tomato and Kale – Yes I have two favorite vegetables. I adore tomatoes and I adore kale. So why pick just one? Both are easy to grow and with any vegetable crop its best if you make sure to rotate them and not plant them in the same spot every year to help with disease and insect management. Tomatoes should be transplanted into the garden and kale can be direct seeded. Tomatoes need full sun for best production. With kale it does best in full sun in spring and fall, but can benefit from some shade in the summer. Tomato and kale salad anyone?