Yellow flowers on green and purple leaves

Gardening in the shade can be challenging. Few plants grow their best in low light conditions, and the plants that do often lack gorgeous blooms. If a lawn of large-leaved hostas is letting you down, experiment with uniquely textured foliage and distinct blossoms offered by shade-loving plants. You’ll be eager for a retreat from the heat to enjoy the additions in your summer shade garden. 

Yellow flowers on stems of forsythia, wood chip background

With the anticipation of spring and returning pops of color, you may find your forsythia and lilac shrubs are a bit lackluster from improper management.

Two photos side-by-side: Left, little bluestem in fall; right, purple and yellow violas

With over 400,000 species of plants in the world, one might wonder which ones are the best to grow in your garden or landscape. Many plant associations select a “Plant of the Year” using rigorous criteria to highlight plants they feel are deserving of the title. Consider these plants when planning your garden or looking for something new to grow this year.

A single ripening asian pear hangs among green leaves.

I don’t know about others, but I myself am fighting a case of the winter blues. My happy place is in the garden, looking at my growing plants—not snow!

As you daydream about your spring and summer garden, consider planting some unorthodox plants that are fueling a growing agricultural trend in the Midwest—agroforestry. There are a few different definitions of agroforestry floating around, I am partial to the following, the mixing of annual and perennial crops in a well thought out way. Here’s an illustrated example:

Hosta in fall

Hostas are among some of the most cherished perennials of all time, creating a lush pallet of bright greens, muted greens, chartreuse greens, variegated greens and creams, and blue-greens. This fall, some are displaying a vibrant yellow lighting up the landscape.

They come in miniature versions to lofting leaves as tall as a small child. Hostas are commonly described as ''fabulous foliage plants" by the industry, but some of their blooms can be exceedingly showy, exceptionally fragrant and especially attractive to hummingbirds and bees.

calamint and Echinacea

Sun-loving, season-long blooming, low maintenance, dependable and pollinator-friendly. Sound like a perfect perennial to add to your garden?  

butterflies on sedum by Candace Hart

A few years back, Illinois gardeners learned that there is more to monarch decline than a lack of milkweed to support larvae, or habitat destruction in their overwintering home. Another contributing factor is a lack of floral resources for adult monarch butterflies to make the journey in the fall. University of Illinois Extension pushed a campaign to plant more of these fall bloomers.

aster, purple with yellow centers. credit: pixabay.

When thinking of fall bloomers for your garden, everyone's usual go-to is the mum, but don’t rule out the gorgeous asters sitting next to the mums. There are 180 species of aster, many of which are native to Illinois. New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) are two easy-to-find favorites.

full season french intensive garden

Connie Kostelc has been a Master Gardener volunteer for University of Illinois Extension in Livingston County for the last 22 years. When gardening for edible plants, Connie uses the French intensive raised bed method.

brilliant red-orange oriental poppy pixabay

If you have a vigorous perennial that has been in the garden bed for more than a few years, or it is starting to choke out some other plants and no longer looking healthy, then it may be time to divide.

Plants that need to be divided cannot support healthy foliage and flowers. Some perennials like to be divided yearly (chrysanthemum); some can go three to five years without division; some can go much longer. Some do not require division at all, like butterfly weed with the taproot, or baby’s breath.

plox from pixabay

While designing a perennial flower bed, remember to add personal favorites, and throw out “garden design rules” that don’t fit your vision. Some of the plants I choose are favorites because they are tough, dependable, and beautiful.

blue false indigo (Baptisia australis)

silvery checkerspot by kathy dumler

Are you ready to take your butterfly gardening status to the next level and allow some of your beautiful plants to be eaten by caterpillars?

Choosing the right plants, some care and voila caterpillars. I am not only altering the habitat of my backyard for the greater good, I will have some more willing specimens for my Instagram posts.

nodding onion

Planting perennials can bring you wonderful surprises and inspiration for future garden design.

Aralia cordata 'Sun King' Photo credit Janet Draper

The Perennial Plant Association is proud to announce the 2020 Perennial Plant of the Year®! Aralia ‘Sun King’ is a fabulous high-impact perennial that brings a bold pop of glowing color and texture to the shade or part shade garden. It's a secret that just Perennial Plant Association (PPA) members know! PPA members can annually nominate 2 perennials for consideration. The top 5 nominees are put on the ballot. PPA members vote for the Perennial Plant of the Year® each summer.

male asparagus ferns on left, female asparagus ferns with seed on the right

Asparagus goes great with hollandaise sauce, has a nutty flavor when eaten raw (wash it first, and cut off the lower third), and is always a welcome treat at a restaurant. With a little patience and some planning, you can grow loads of asparagus each spring.

Growing Requirements

Full sun is required.

Poor drainage in your asparagus patch will promote disease issues in the roots.