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CrocusCrocuses are especially gratifying for gardeners winter-starved for color. Usually associated with the purple and gold chalices that appear amid the last snowdrifts, crocus blossoms actually range from substantial to dainty and come in a variety of tones. Certain crocuses also bloom in the fall.
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DogwoodDogwoods deliver much more than splashy spring blossoms. The trees' rich summer foliage follows the bloom, and bright red fruit attracts birds in the fall. Come winter, some shrubs have vibrant red or gold stems. Within this genus of 45 deciduous trees and shrubs, you're sure to find plenty of species that are attractive year-round.
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Tree PeonyWith their perfumed, sensual blossoms and rough brown bark, tree peonies are a study in contrast: the garden's largest, most glorious flowers paired with one of its most rugged shrubs. Though it is native to dry, chilly mountainsides in China, the very adaptable tree peony can flourish throughout much of the United States.
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Yellow MagnoliaThere's something extraordinary about a magnolia no matter what its color, but yellow ones are particularly appealing -- much less common than their white, pink, or purple cousins. When the tree or shrub's buttery flowers burst forth before the new leaves unfurl, it's as if the sun has come right down to earth, banishing winter forever.
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LilacFragrant lilacs are incredibly sturdy and undemanding. Given plenty of sun and well-drained soil, they'll thrive with relatively little care. But these durable plants don't take kindly to the Deep South or the desert, preferring chillier zones with a cold period each year to ripen their fat flower buds for the following spring.
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LavenderLavender gives any sunny garden bed a silver gleam, and its spiked purple flowers exude a fresh scent. What's more, it requires little water or fertilizer to thrive. Of the more than 28 species and countless varieties, some grow in the high desert, others in the humid South, and still more in temperate locales, like this field in northern California.
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PhloxFor those who appreciate fresh flowers all summer long, phlox is an essential. In July, just when most other blossoms fade, phlox reinvigorates the garden with new splashes of color. Individual flowers measure about an inch across, but they open in bunches that may measure 7 inches tall and nearly as wide -- making each stem a bouquet unto itself.
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Climbing RoseClimbing roses are exceptionally versatile. The extra length and pliability of their canes make them a dramatic covering for rock walls and fences, and they furnish living architecture when trained on trellises and arbors. Certain varieties bloom repeatedly from spring through fall, offering many months of their powdery, romantic scent.
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FernsWith their elegant fronds and vivid shades of green, ferns work double duty as ground cover and -- in the case of larger plants -- focal points that draw the eye. Most common in rain forests and wet climates, ferns generally do best when planted beneath trees and shrubs, at the edge of woods, or alongside a stream, but some varieties will grow in drier areas.
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DaylilyDaylilies are a species to be enjoyed one by one. On most plants, each flower opens only for a single day; blooms pop open, one after the other, during a three-week show. Thanks to newer hybrids, some of which erupt early, or late, or others that rebloom, daylily season now extends from early summer to early fall.
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MarigoldMarigolds don't always get the credit they deserve, perhaps because they're commonly associated with roadside and gas-station planters. But practically nothing's easier to grow than marigolds. Thanks to their wide range of form and color, and their adaptability to diverse growing conditions, marigolds can fill important niches in any garden.
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HostaAlthough hostas also produce graceful and sometimes fragrant flowers, they are prized primarily for their foliage and their ability to thrive in shade. The leafy plant is low-maintenance, exceptionally long-lived, and a real workhorse at camouflaging what might otherwise be glaring holes in a garden.
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SucculentsWith crisp, architectural leaves and subtle coloring, succulents make a nice addition to many gardens and are a fixture of the Southwest. There are some varieties, however, that will grow in northern climates. Among the most dramatic are agaves, such as this Agave franzosinii, which has thick, fleshy leaves with barbs that keep grazing animals at bay.
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Toad LilyColor can be rare in shade and woodland gardens, but toad lilies offer a shot of brightness. They look equally at home with bold foliage companions (such as hostas or hellebores) and with more reserved ones (including ferns and astilbes). This perennial's sometimes mottled flowers are probably what gave rise to its unromantic common name.
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AsterIn September, when the flower garden has mostly faded, starlike asters provide summer's encore, with some blooming into late fall. Many asters are actually native American wildflowers, which accounts for their carefree, slightly untamed look. Some varieties grow low and billowy, while others develop into tall back-of-the-border plants.
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