January is a good time for reflection. I’ve been keeping a garden journal since 1982 – actually three garden journals at this point! I record the varieties of all fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants I’ve planted. In addition, I write down the date I start seeds, whether under lights in the basement or sown directly in the garden.  Soil amendments, pest problems, growing details, and locations are all documented. Successes as well as challenges are noted at the end of each growing season. Through the years I’ve accumulated valuable gardening knowledge that’s tailored to my location, my soil and my preferences. So this month, I’ll focus on some of my all-time favorite plants.
It may be odd to list a lettuce as a favorite vegetable but Black-seeded Simpson has been a standard in my family forever. My grandparents and parents would grow nothing else. I can understand why. This pale green leaf lettuce is a gourmet delicacy.  Big Beef tomatoes are another special vegetable (really a fruit) I will always grow in the garden. They’re large, flavorful and yield well in my cold soils. One slice is enough for a tomato sandwich!

Black-seeded Simpson lettuce

Big Beef tomatoes yield many tomatoes

The flower gardens in front of my house extend to the street. It’s a challenging area to grow anything because of poor soil, infused with salt (sprayed on icy roads in winter), wind and all-day sun. So, when I find an annual that excels in this environment, I stick with it. Zinnias have been reliable bloomers with low-water needs. They never need dead-heading and continue to flower until a hard frost.  An annual Black-eyed Susan called Indian Summer is another one of my favorites. It starts flowering by mid-summer and just keeps going. It’s extremely tolerant of the harsh conditions along the street.

Bright, bold zinnias thrive in tough conditions.

Indian Summer Rudbeckia has large flowers.

It’s considered good planning to have a wide selection of perennials in the landscape because, their flowers often don’t last for long periods of time. But, don’t forget to look at the other characteristics of the plants you select – interesting foliage and fruit as well as the size and shape of the plant should be considered. Crocosmia always gets attention in my front gardens. Its tall leaves provide a nice vertical statement and the flowers are a hummingbird magnet. Despite the fact that most sources indicate this plant is only hardy to Zone 5, it has been coming back in my Zone 3-4 garden for years. I think reliable snow-cover provides insulation. I’m in ‘Zone Denial” - I took a chance and it paid off. Finally, I highly recommend perennial dianthus. When you see this plant in catalogs, they often focus on the flowers – yes, they can be beautiful. However, the bloom-time is short-lived. I grow this beauty for the tight, grayish-green foliage. It’s disease and pest resistant and is the perfect plant to edge the walkway to my front door.

Crocosmia often survices well in areas with reliable snow cover.

Dianthus has pretty flowers but the real star is the foliage.