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Statement plants for your garden

By: Jennifer Howell
Looking to add that "wow" factor to your garden? Check out these 8 statement plants that are guaranteed to demand attention.

statement-plants-for-your-garden-wedding-cake-tree-lead: The ‘Variegata’ giant dogwood is nothing short of a show-stopper with its beautiful variegated foliage.

How to make a statement in your garden

A statement plant has a certain “wow” factor: It may be glorious color — an unusual shade or something shockingly bright. Or maybe it is the plant’s form — architectural lines or soft flowing shapes that set the tone for a landscape or container. The size of a plant can be so enormous it makes your jaw drop, or delicate and diminutive to cause you to pause and look closely to appreciate its attributes. Even texture can speak volumes — velvety foliage creates a cozy, laid-back feel in the garden while sharp, stiff leaves generate excitement.

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Plants that demand attention

It can be difficult to use plants that make such a show of themselves. Sometimes they just need a spot to stand alone. But if you take their top attribute into consideration, be it color, shape, size or texture, and play it up with other plants in your garden that accentuate or contrast with it, you’ll be able to find a way to utilize all those “wow” plants. Here are a few of my favorites that make a statement.

Kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos spp. and hybrids)

With fuzzy flowers reminiscent of a kangaroo’s paw, this unique plant is sure to cause inquisitive garden visitors young and old to stop and touch — they won’t be able to help themselves.

The many species and cultivars range so much in height and color you’ll surely find one to suit your garden. Dramatic in the back of the border, tall varieties call for attention. But even the shorter kangaroo paws make their presence known in containers or the front of the border with spiky foliage and nonstop furry blooms. Cut back spent flowers to the ground to motivate it to bloom even more. It loves hot weather, but cool temperatures intensify the colors.

Type Tender perennial (Usually grown as an annual) Blooms Red, orange, yellow, white, pink and purple flower clusters spring through fall Light Full sun Soil Sandy, well-drained Size 1 to 6 ft. tall, in bloom, 1 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11

‘Variegata’ giant dogwood (Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’)

Strong horizontal branching gives ‘Variegata’ giant dogwood, also called wedding cake tree, a unique tiered look in the garden. Young specimens are particularly pronounced. Leaves are green with creamy white variegation that can brighten a shady location. Planted under the canopy of another nearby tree helps prevent leaves from scorching. Used as a focal point, this tree will draw your eye, then encourage it to move across the landscape.

Type Tree Blooms White flower clusters in late spring mature to blue-black fruits in fall that will attract birds to your garden Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 35 to 40 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

Mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias wulfenii)

Mediterranean spurge is so easy to grow, it would be a crime not to. And why wouldn’t you with these striking bottlebrush blooms glowing in chartreuse green?

Even though it’s only perennial in warm zones, Northern growers can enjoy Mediterranean spurge in containers as an annual. It tolerates drought and heat, making it the perfect choice as a focal point in a rock garden. Used in a mass planting, it can make a backdrop to play up other colorful plants.The foliage contains a milky sap that can be irritating to skin and eyes, so do be careful when cutting back spent blooms to the ground to encourage more flowers.

Type Perennial Blooms Large bottlebrush blooms with green-yellow bracts in early spring to early summer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained to dry soils Size 3 to 5 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 11

Weeping redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Weeping redbud lends a topiary look without the need for constant pruning and maintenance. Its loos branches will gently sway in the breeze—perfect for a comfortable hideaway. ‘Traveller’ (above) looks good in any season. It begins in early spring with bright rose-purple flowers dripping from the cascading branches, followed by coppery new leaves emerging that mature to green. In winter you can see the contorted trunk and dark bark.

Type Tree Blooms Rose-purple flowers in early spring before foliage emerges Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 15 to 25 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Globe thistle (Echinops ritro)

Sturdy and statuesque, globe thistle throws spheres of spiky steel-blue or white blooms into the air like a talented juggler. Though its thistlelike foliage looks harsh, it's not actually thistle and is less prickly than it might visually imply.

Use globe thistle to give sharp texture in the back of the border of an otherwise soft garden. Deer- and drought-resistant, this iron tough plant appeals to many pollinators. When flowers fade, deadhead them on the stem to keep seeds from spreading, then as bloom stalks finish, cut the stem down to the ground to encourage more flowers to form.

Type Tender perennial (Usually grown as an annual) Blooms Spheres of spiky white or blue flowers midsummer to fall Light Full sun Soil Dry, well-drained, even salty or lean soils Size 24 to 36 in. tall, 18 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus)

Tall and statuesque, artichoke is more than just a delicious side dish — it's an impressive specimen alone or as a back-of-the border eye-catcher. Coarse, thistlelike foliage with a silvery cast commands attention. Multiple strong flower stalks emerge from this textural tempest to produce tasty edible buds. Wait too long to harvest and they lose their tenderness, so if any buds start showing purple color, let them finish blooming—they're beyond eating and you won't regret allowing them to put on their pollinator-friendly show.

Type Tender perennial (usually grown as an annual) Blooms Edible flower buds open into fragrant purple globes in late summer Light Full sun Soil Organic matter-rich, moist, well-draining Size 3 to 5 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10

Mangave (Agave x Manfreda)

Plant breeders have outdone themselves selecting interesting cultivars of this cross between Agave and Manfreda. Rising from a spiky rosette, the long, arching succulent leaf blades often have soft spines on the edges, which may be straight, wavy or curled. Foliage color ranges from greens to silvers to blue-greens to burgundy tinted greens, usually with striking stripes or speckles, such as 'King Cobra' above, that intensify with sunlight. It really shines when potted in a unique planter.

Wet soil in cool weather is a recipe for disaster, so let it get dry between watering in winter. In cold zones, winter mangave over as a houseplant in a bright, sunny window.

Type Tender perennial (Usually grown as an annual) Blooms Infrequent burgundy-brown or yellow flowers in midsummer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 4 to 28 in. tall, 12 to 42 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 11

Foxtail lily (Eremurus spp. and hybrids)

Just when you thought the spring flower show was over, foxtail lily springs into action. And what a show it is! From a nondescript cluster of strappy leaves near the ground emerge glorious spikes of warm color shooting skyward several feet tall. Planted against a backdrop of shrubs with dark green or burgundy foliage, foxtail lilies will virtually glow as they tower above their garden companions. Cut a few for bouquets indoors—they make an excellent cut flower. The rosette of leaves dies back later in the summer after the blooms fade, so mix foxtail lily in borders with late-summer-flowering-perennials that will take up the space.

Type Perennial Blooms Long spikes of white, pink, yellow, orange, or brown bloom from the bottom up in late spring to early summer Light Full sun Soil Rich, well-drained Size: 3 to 6 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

Kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos spp. and hybrids)

With fuzzy flowers reminiscent of a kangaroo’s paw, this unique plant is sure to cause inquisitive garden visitors young and old to stop and touch — they won’t be able to help themselves.

The many species and cultivars range so much in height and color you’ll surely find one to suit your garden. Dramatic in the back of the border, tall varieties call for attention. But even the shorter kangaroo paws make their presence known in containers or the front of the border with spiky foliage and nonstop furry blooms. Cut back spent flowers to the ground to motivate it to bloom even more. It loves hot weather, but cool temperatures intensify the colors.

Type Tender perennial (Usually grown as an annual) Blooms Red, orange, yellow, white, pink and purple flower clusters spring through fall Light Full sun Soil Sandy, well-drained Size 1 to 6 ft. tall, in bloom, 1 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11

Globe thistle (Echinops ritro)

Sturdy and statuesque, globe thistle throws spheres of spiky steel-blue or white blooms into the air like a talented juggler. Though its thistlelike foliage looks harsh, it's not actually thistle and is less prickly than it might visually imply.

Use globe thistle to give sharp texture in the back of the border of an otherwise soft garden. Deer- and drought-resistant, this iron tough plant appeals to many pollinators. When flowers fade, deadhead them on the stem to keep seeds from spreading, then as bloom stalks finish, cut the stem down to the ground to encourage more flowers to form.

Type Tender perennial (Usually grown as an annual) Blooms Spheres of spiky white or blue flowers midsummer to fall Light Full sun Soil Dry, well-drained, even salty or lean soils Size 24 to 36 in. tall, 18 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

‘Variegata’ giant dogwood (Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’)

Strong horizontal branching gives ‘Variegata’ giant dogwood, also called wedding cake tree, a unique tiered look in the garden. Young specimens are particularly pronounced. Leaves are green with creamy white variegation that can brighten a shady location. Planted under the canopy of another nearby tree helps prevent leaves from scorching. Used as a focal point, this tree will draw your eye, then encourage it to move across the landscape.

Type Tree Blooms White flower clusters in late spring mature to blue-black fruits in fall that will attract birds to your garden Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 35 to 40 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

Globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus)

Tall and statuesque, artichoke is more than just a delicious side dish — it's an impressive specimen alone or as a back-of-the border eye-catcher. Coarse, thistlelike foliage with a silvery cast commands attention. Multiple strong flower stalks emerge from this textural tempest to produce tasty edible buds. Wait too long to harvest and they lose their tenderness, so if any buds start showing purple color, let them finish blooming—they're beyond eating and you won't regret allowing them to put on their pollinator-friendly show.

Type Tender perennial (usually grown as an annual) Blooms Edible flower buds open into fragrant purple globes in late summer Light Full sun Soil Organic matter-rich, moist, well-draining Size 3 to 5 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10

Mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias wulfenii)

Mediterranean spurge is so easy to grow, it would be a crime not to. And why wouldn’t you with these striking bottlebrush blooms glowing in chartreuse green?

Even though it’s only perennial in warm zones, Northern growers can enjoy Mediterranean spurge in containers as an annual. It tolerates drought and heat, making it the perfect choice as a focal point in a rock garden. Used in a mass planting, it can make a backdrop to play up other colorful plants.The foliage contains a milky sap that can be irritating to skin and eyes, so do be careful when cutting back spent blooms to the ground to encourage more flowers.

Type Perennial Blooms Large bottlebrush blooms with green-yellow bracts in early spring to early summer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained to dry soils Size 3 to 5 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 11

Mangave (Agave x Manfreda)

Plant breeders have outdone themselves selecting interesting cultivars of this cross between Agave and Manfreda. Rising from a spiky rosette, the long, arching succulent leaf blades often have soft spines on the edges, which may be straight, wavy or curled. Foliage color ranges from greens to silvers to blue-greens to burgundy tinted greens, usually with striking stripes or speckles, such as 'King Cobra' above, that intensify with sunlight. It really shines when potted in a unique planter.

Wet soil in cool weather is a recipe for disaster, so let it get dry between watering in winter. In cold zones, winter mangave over as a houseplant in a bright, sunny window.

Type Tender perennial (Usually grown as an annual) Blooms Infrequent burgundy-brown or yellow flowers in midsummer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 4 to 28 in. tall, 12 to 42 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 11

Weeping redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Weeping redbud lends a topiary look without the need for constant pruning and maintenance. Its loos branches will gently sway in the breeze—perfect for a comfortable hideaway. ‘Traveller’ (above) looks good in any season. It begins in early spring with bright rose-purple flowers dripping from the cascading branches, followed by coppery new leaves emerging that mature to green. In winter you can see the contorted trunk and dark bark.

Type Tree Blooms Rose-purple flowers in early spring before foliage emerges Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 15 to 25 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Foxtail lily (Eremurus spp. and hybrids)

Just when you thought the spring flower show was over, foxtail lily springs into action. And what a show it is! From a nondescript cluster of strappy leaves near the ground emerge glorious spikes of warm color shooting skyward several feet tall. Planted against a backdrop of shrubs with dark green or burgundy foliage, foxtail lilies will virtually glow as they tower above their garden companions. Cut a few for bouquets indoors—they make an excellent cut flower. The rosette of leaves dies back later in the summer after the blooms fade, so mix foxtail lily in borders with late-summer-flowering-perennials that will take up the space.

Type Perennial Blooms Long spikes of white, pink, yellow, orange, or brown bloom from the bottom up in late spring to early summer Light Full sun Soil Rich, well-drained Size: 3 to 6 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

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