These high-performance plants are our favorites—we think they'll be yours too.
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Crocus (Vernus ssp. vernus)
Crocuses 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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Tree Peony (Paeonia Burgundy Wine)
With their perfume, 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 its native to dry, chilly mountainsides in China, the very adaptable plant can flourish throughout much of the United States.
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Yellow Magnolia (Magnolia x Elizabeth)
There'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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Lilac (Syringa vulgaris Glory)
Fragrant lilacs are incredibly sturdy and undemanding. Given plenty of sun and well-drained soil, they'll thrive with relatively little care.
Photography: John Glover5 of 11
Lavender (Lavendula Angustifolia Twickle Purple)
Lavender 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.
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Phlox (Phlox paniculata Katherine)
For 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.
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Climbing Rose (Rosa Blaze)
Climbing 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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Daylily (Hermocallis Chicago Peach)
Daylilies are a species to be enjoyed one by one. On most plants, each flower opens for a single day; blooms pop open, one after the other, during a three-week show.
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Marigold (Tagetes patula Yellow Boy)
Marigolds 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.
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Hosta (Hosta Pacific Blue Edger)Although 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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Photography: Richard Donovan/Almay Stock Photo11 of 11
Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)
If you’re in the market for privacy plants, there are many versatile choices, including hornbeam (pictured). On her farm in Bedford, Martha has English hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), whose dense green foliage turns yelloworange in fall.