Here are five lovely workhorses to plant now (including a shrub and tree, which are woody plants). Provide them good soil preparation, watering, and mulching to maximize their generous natures.
1. Tall Snapdragons
You can plant these spiky annuals early in spring, as soon as the greenhouses make them available. Unlike with so many tender annuals, spring frosts ain’t no big thing to snapdragons. They rebloom until very late in fall, resting during hot spells. The tall ones are great for cut flower arrangements and stay fresh impressively long. I recommend the Rocket series, especially the Rocket Red, which looks like red velvet. The short snapdragons, a kind of “bedding annual,” are cute filling up garden beds but not good for cutting. Full sun to part sun.
Redbor kale is purple and gorgeous. Tuscan kale, aka Dinosaur kale, aka Lacinato kale, is the trendy, strappy and thick, deeply crinkled one that you see everywhere now. Most kale varieties are reliably beautiful in the garden, and when you are ready to eat your masterpiece, you can massage leaves with a little olive oil and salt to make a surprisingly tender kale salad. My favorite kale for eating is Vates Blue Curled, sold by the Hudson Valley Seed Library. Full sun. Purple kale (and cabbage) is also a favorite of Scott Zimmer from Zimmer Gardens in Kingston because it is both decorative and edible. "Great to mix with flowers in pots or a border," he says.
3. Japanese Anemones
White, pink, or a soft pink-lavender, it is delightful to have these long-stemmed lovelies blooming in fall when so many other perennials have finished up for the season. With adequate water they spread nicely, too, and they perform well in partial shade. Mine are happy on the east side of the house, where they bask in sun in the morning then are shaded in the afternoon.
4. Black Lace Elderberry
It’s both a focal point and a great team player. Every plant in the vicinity gets an aesthetic boost from having this gorgeous dark foliage alongside it. Black Lace Elderberry reaches 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. Provide full sun for best foliage color, and lots of water (in keeping with where you see elderberries in nature—in ditches and other wet places.)
5. Persian Parrotia
More growers are bringing this underappreciated small tree into the home garden trade. Slow-growing and tough, Parrotia has long been used as a street tree in North America and Europe. Once established, it can endure drought, flooding spells, and other forms of indignity with aplomb. It matures at about 35 feet tall, and there are varieties like ‘Vanessa’ that are upright and narrow enough for small properties. The beauty comes from red-tipped new foliage in spring, lustrous green leaves in summer, yellow/red/orange/purple fall color, and a multicolor, mosaic-like bark that captures notice all year, but in winter especially.