Garden Favorites

Latest list of favorite garden plants

By Carol Papas
Penn State Master Gardener

Periodically in this column, Penn State master gardeners will feature plants that we “dig.” They are all plants that perform well in our area (USDA Zone 5b) and that we’d recommend to our weed-weary acquaintances. Our suggestions will run the gamut from large trees to vegetables. We’ll keep the descriptions on the shorter side so we can discuss several plants each time.

So, dig these plants:

'Komodo Dragon' hosta: Shade to part shade, 4-6 feet wide, foliage 30 inches tall. Herbaceous perennial.

Why we dig it: If you’re looking for a dramatic plant to anchor your shade garden, ‘Komodo Dragon’ should be on your list. Its dark green, rippled leaves provide interest from spring through fall. In late summer, it is topped with 4-foot-tall lavender flowers. Pair it with a fine textured groundcover such as Epimedium to highlight its impressive size.

Here’s the dirt: Be patient. Extra-large hostas take time to grow into specimen size. Young plants, such as those purchased online, may take three to four years to establish. Larger specimens can be obtained at local nurseries, but be prepared to pay for the time the nursery has spent caring for a more sizable plant. The leaves of ‘Komodo Dragon’ are thick and sturdy, which makes them more resistant to slug damage than thinner leaves.

Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii): Full sun to part shade, 3 feet wide and tall. Herbaceous perennial.

Why we dig it: Despite its common name, Arkansas blue star is a stalwart perennial native to North America. Sturdy yet graceful stems are cloaked in willow-like foliage. In late spring, it sports clusters of pale blue star-shaped flowers. It blooms around the same time as irises, and the plants look so pretty together — especially if the iris flowers are peach or pale yellow. It really shines in the fall, turning clear yellow for a second season of interest in the garden.


Here’s the dirt: After a couple of years, Amsonia hubrichtii assumes shrub-like proportions. It is well suited to the middle or rear of the border. It is effective used en masse, but a single specimen will add nice foliage interest to any border. Cut stems exude a milky sap which can be a skin irritant, so wear gloves when pruning. Apparently deer don’t like the sap either, making it a good choice if they are frequent visitors.

'Sun Sugar' cherry tomato: Full sun, annual. Botanically, tomatoes are fruits. Legally they are vegetables.

Why we dig it: ‘Sun Sugar’ produces loads of delicious fruits, starting at a relatively early 62 days, and lasting into the fall. It is a high-yield plant whose fruits crack less than other cherry tomato varieties.

Here’s the dirt: ‘Sun Sugar’ is an indeterminate tomato, meaning the vine will produce fruits over the entire growing season. The vines get quite long and require support. If space is a limitation, or if you’re not likely to stake your tomatoes, look for determinate varieties, which require less support and have a fixed, often earlier, harvest time. Tomato vines, especially the indeterminate type, perform best if they are pruned to direct the plant’s energy into fruit production. In the spring, Penn State Master Gardeners will cover pruning techniques in this column.


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