Can't-Miss Midwest Plant Picks | Midwest Living

Can't-Miss Midwest Plant Picks

For can’t-miss plant picks, we peeked into the test garden outside our office and asked a panel of Midwest experts for their favorite blooms.
  • Get growing

    Shade-friendly ground cover Solomon’s seal (pictured) is as tough as it is pretty. Want more ideas to get growing with top Midwest plant picks? Click or tap ahead to see the recommendations from our panel: 

    Sandra J. Gerdes, Manager of Better Homes & Gardens Test Garden, Des Moines

    Richard Hawke, Plant evaluation manager, Chicago Botanic Garden

    Bob Henrickson, Coordinator, Great Plants program at Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

    Ed Lyon, Director, Iowa State University’s Reiman Gardens

    Susan Martin, Michigan-based perennials expert and noted garden lecturer

    Scott Stewart, Executive director, Chicago’s Millennium Park and Lurie Garden 


  • Best for sun

    IN OUR TEST GARDEN: Hibiscus ‘Dave Fleming’ (pictured) is a reliable perennial whose big, bold flowers wow all summer.

    FROM THE PANEL: Catmint ‘Joanna Reed’ will attract pollinators to your garden (Richard Hawke).

    Arkansas Blue Star goes gorgeously golden in autumn (Scott Stewart).

    Lambs’ Ears ‘Big Ears’ offers dense rosettes of velvety and silvery leaves, and it’s great for ground cover (Richard Hawke). 


  • Best oldie-but-goodie

    IN OUR TEST GARDEN: Iris ‘Best Bet’ (pictured) provides elegant cut flowers and may re-bloom in fall.

    FROM THE PANEL: Bleeding Heart shows off its status as a puffy-blossomed (and bumblebee-friendly) classic (Susan Martin).

    Shasta Daisy ‘Becky’ adds much-needed white to a perennials bed (Ed Lyon).

    Pale Purple Coneflower performs beautifully once established (Scott Stewart).


  • Best native

    IN OUR TEST GARDEN: Geum triflorum (pictured), a tough ground cover, has wispy fruiting heads that give it the common name prairie smoke.

    FROM THE PANEL: Prairie Dropseed has a wonderful popcorn-like smell when in flower and seed (Scott Stewart).

    Blue False Indigo is an everlasting perennial with indigo blue flower spikes (Bob Henrickson).

    Butterfly Weed lives up to its name and is a butterfly paradise (Richard Hawke). 


  • Best climber

    IN OUR TEST GARDEN: Clematis ‘Double Rose’ (pictured) will cover an arbor with shades of pink for most of the summer.

    FROM THE PANEL: Climbing Hydrangea can grow 75 feet tall and is one of the most substantial flowering shade vines (Susan Martin).

    Honeysuckle Vine loves the sun, flowers profusely all season, and attracts wildlife (Ed Lyon).

    Golden Hops is a trendy choice to quickly cover a pergola (Susan Martin). 


  • Best annual

    IN OUR TEST GARDEN: Coleus ‘Juicy Lucy’ (pictured) adds 
as much vibrant color as any flowering plant 
and is sun-tolerant.

    FROM THE PANEL: Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ offers deep cobalt flowers, each with a black calyx (Richard Hawke).

    Begonia ‘Surefire’ promises masses of color on sturdy plants that grow up to 2 feet tall (Susan Martin).

    False Banana (Musa Ensete) is sure to get looks—not much is more dramatic than bananas in the garden! (Ed Lyon)


  • Best for shade

    IN OUR TEST GARDEN: Hellbore ‘Golden Sunrise’ (pictured) is one of the late winter/early spring blooms commonly called Lenten rose, with large, cheery flowers.

    FROM THE PANEL: Barrenwort is long-lived and easy to grow (Bob Henrickson).

    Heartleaf Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ brightens dark spaces with its metallic silver foliage and blooms with sprays of tiny blue flowers in spring (Susan Martin).

    Wild Geranium debuts showy pink flowers in the spring (Bob Henrickson). 


  • Best plant-it-and-forget-it

    IN OUR TEST GARDEN: Polygonatum ‘Variegatum’ (pictured), the showy version of native Solomon’s seal, grows in shade and blooms in late spring.

    FROM THE PANEL: Hosta ‘Elegans’ grows very large and features dusky-blue leaves (Richard Hawke).

    Ozark Bluestar has early star-shape flowers, but any Amsonia such as this is plant-it-and- forget-it (Bob Henrickson).

    Stonecrop ‘Autumn Joy’ is a bit overused, but there’s a reason for that—it’s tough as nails (Ed Lyon). 


  • Best for Fragrance

    IN OUR TEST GARDEN: Lily ‘Black Beauty’
 (pictured) can grow to 5 feet tall, multiply over the years and fill gardens with heady sweetness.

    FROM THE PANEL: Downy Phlox has pretty, delicately scented pink blooms (Bob Henrickson).

    Peony blooms’ powerful perfume makes up for their short bloom time (Ed Lyon).

    Late Lilac is one of the most fragrant species of lilac, whose scent defines a Midwest spring (Susan Martin).


    Find ideas for starting a low-maintenance garden at

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