Riverbanks Botanical Garden has been growing and evaluating plants for nearly 20 years. Over the course of that time, we’ve had tremendous successes…and failures. So we decided to share our preferred picks with an official Top 10 list. These cream-of-the-crop choices are plants that can work well in any garden and will add beauty and interest to any landscape. With plans already in store to release a fresh pick list annually, Riverbanks hopes to grow the list by regularly showcasing exceptional plants with proven track records.

Senna alata — Empress Candle Plant

Even though Senna alata is an annual, it grows to mammoth proportions in its life span. By late summer, you will have a massive tropical plant in your garden. While the size may impress you, the best is yet to come. In October, Senna alata is covered with clusters of bright yellow, inch-wide flowers. The clusters are held high in the air as if the plant is a torch and the flowers are the flame.
  • Type : Annual
  • Color : Yellow flowers
  • Bloom time : Fall
  • Size : 5 to 10 feet tall, 4 to 6 feet wide
  • Exposure : Full sun
  • Soil : Average

Muhlenbergia capillaris — Sweet grass

Feathery pink plumes that appear in fall make Muhlenbergia capillaris a showstopper in the garden. This tough-as-nails performer will tolerate wet or dry conditions as well as lousy soil.
  • Type : Perennial
  • Color : Pink
  • Bloom time : Fall
  • Size : 2 to 3 feet tall by 2 to 3 feet wide
  • Exposure : Full sun
  • Soil : Tolerates poor soils

Alocasia macrorrhizza — Upright Elephant ear

Tropical plants can really make an impact in the garden. Alocasia macrorrhiza makes a big statement with individual leaves that can reach three feet tall and two feet wide—and that’s not even counting the leaf stalk! A mature Alocasia macrorrhiza can easily reach 6 feet in height. It offsets well and will form a large clump in no time.
  • Type : Perennial tuber
  • Color : Green foliage
  • Bloom time : Foliage plant, foliage present spring-frost
  • Size : 6 feet tall
  • Exposure : Full sun
  • Soil : Moist, organic

Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’ — Bear’s Breeches

The large glossy foliage of Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’ adds a bit of tropical flair to the shade garden. Even better, it will remain nearly evergreen in mild winter months. We would have no qualms growing this plant for the foliage alone, but when the tall stalks of white-purple flowers appear in summer, a great plant gets even better!
  • Type : Semi-evergreen perennial
  • Color : Glossy green foliage, white with purple calyces
  • Bloom time : Summer
  • Size : 4 to 6 feet tall, 3 to 4 feet wide
  • Exposure : Part sun/shade
  • Soil : Moist, organic

Morus alba ‘Unryu’ — Contorted Mulberry

In autumn, as giant leaves turn yellow and begin to fall, the twisted branches of contorted mulberry appear. The naked, spiraling branches reach toward the sky adding exceptional form to the winter garden. Prune every few years to rejuvenate and maintain pronounced spiraling.
  • Type : Deciduous tree
  • Color : N/A
  • Bloom time : Grown for winter interest
  • Size : 15 to 20 feet (if pruned every few years)
  • Exposure : Full sun
  • Soil : Average

Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’ — False indigo

Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’ is a real gem of a perennial. In spring, flower spikes covered in violet-blue flowers begin to shoot up through the rounded mound of foliage. Once flowering ceases, Baptisia hides neatly amongst other plants in the border, unlike some other perennials that just hang around and look awful after flowering.
  • Type : Perennial
  • Color : Violet-blue
  • Bloom time : Spring
  • Size : 2 to 3 feet tall by 2 feet wide
  • Exposure : Sun
  • Soil : Average

Edgeworthia chrysantha — Paperbush

Edgeworthia chrysantha drops its foliage in the fall, exposing bare branches with a crown of silver flower buds. Starting in January and continuing into April, the buds open to reveal deliciously fragrant yellow flowers that resemble honeycombs. Edgeworthia makes a fine looking shrub in spring and summer when covered with its light green, slightly fuzzy, foliage.
  • Type : Deciduous shrub
  • Color : Yellow flowers
  • Bloom time : Winter
  • Size : 5 to 6 feet
  • Exposure : Part sun/light shade
  • Soil : Well-drained

Cuphea micropetala — Cigar plant

The primary reason for growing the Cuphea micropetala is its brilliant, 1½-inch, yellow and orange-red tubular flowers that resemble candy corn! Starting in late summer or fall, flowers start to grow on top of the 3-foot-tall stems of slender green foliage. When mature, expect this plant to form a 3-foot-wide clump.
  • Type : Herbaceous perennial
  • Color : Orange/Red
  • Bloom time : Late Summer–Fall
  • Size : 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide
  • Exposure : Full sun
  • Soil : Average

Salvia leucantha

In late summer to early fall, fuzzy purple-and-white bicolored flowers erupt atop the stems of Salvia leucantha. Reaching 3 to 4 feet tall and nearly as wide, this plant is nothing short of spectacular when in full bloom. The silvery foliage is quite handsome by itself and provides astounding contrast when paired with its flowers.
  • Type : Perennial
  • Color : Purple and white flowers
  • Bloom time : Fall
  • Size : 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide
  • Exposure : Full sun
  • Soil : Average

Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’ — Leopard plant

Grown primarily for its large glossy foliage, Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’ provides a bonus in fall when 3-foot-tall flower spikes topped with yellow daisy-like flowers appear. In mild winters, this plant remains evergreen. If foliage is damaged by cold, simply remove it and it will be replaced by new leaves in the spring.
  • Type : Semi-evergreen perennial
  • Color : Glossy green foliage, yellow flowers
  • Bloom time : Grown primarily for foliage, yellow flowers in fall
  • Size : 20 inches tall, up to 3 feet wide
  • Exposure : Part sun/light shade
  • Soil : Moist, organic
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