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Favorite Plants for a Garden Decorator

Interior designer Susanne Hudson lists her favorite plants in her 3-1/3-acre garden.

Interior designer Susanne Hudson's garden in Douglasville, Georgia, is built on 3-1/2 acres around a 19th-century Greek Revival house that she restored. Flanked by two giant magnolias, the white-columned house has a front porch fitted with mosquito netting and a comfortable assortment of chairs and swings.

Hudson had always wanted a garden where she could pick flowers like she did as a child at her grandmother's home. The first area she cultivated, though, was an herb garden. More paths were eventually added to accommodate hydrangeas, which had been a mainstay of her grandmother's garden.

A collector at heart, Hudson has embellished the garden with found pieces that serve as furnishings for outdoor rooms. On the multi-level, expansive deck, salvaged church windows form tall see-through walls for the living room section. In the adjacent al fresco "dining room," an electric crystal chandelier hangs over a table.

Throughout the garden, trellises and arbors provide structure. Many of the objects used in the garden were found on the property. Old rusty farm implements have been welded together to form an arch. Plow parts have been lined up as a border along a path. As she was installing a fence in another area, Hudson uncovered two garden pools that had been buried for decades. She restored them and created seating areas nearby. The tables are topped with electric lamps for relaxing nighttime reading. One of the most unusual structures in the garden is a large greenhouse made completely of old windows pieced together and painted French green.

Here are some of Hudson's favorite plants:

Plume poppy (Macleaya cordata)

The plant: Native to China and Japan, this towering perennial grows from six to nine feet tall and is topped by large, branching clusters of cream to pinkish flowers in mid-summer. The eight-inch wide leaves resemble fig leaves with grayish-white undersides. Plume poppy spreads by rhizomes and is extremely aggressive. Many gardeners, however, are willing to control the invasiveness by judicious thinning. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8.
How to use it: This plant's value is in its size and structure. The gardener would probably do well to isolate a grouping of the plant, or if you are willing to curb its enthusiasm, allow a few to grow at the back of a shrub border.
Cultivation: Very easy to grow in any garden soil. Plant in full sun or partial shade. Do not plant near delicate perennials.
Source: Contrary Mary's Plants

strong>Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Sunkist')

The plant: This semi-dwarf selection grows naturally in a compact, broad- pyramidal shape. A slow grower (6 to 10 inches a year), 'Sunkist' will eventually reach six to eight feet at maturity. Hardy to USDA Zone 4, the evergreen shrub often takes on a bronzish cast in winter.
How to use it: Use as an accent plant or focal point, or as a screen. With its yellow-gold branch tips, 'Sunkist' is beautiful mixed with conifers that have either blue or green foliage.
Cultivation: Grow in full to partial sun in well-drained soil. A light shearing in mid-summer can add to the overall beauty of the plant. Best foliage color is achieved in full sun.
Source: Twombly Nursery

Columnar Japanese holly (Ilex crenata 'Sky Pencil')

The plant: This upright selection of Japanese holly (sometimes called box holly) has a tight, columnar growth habit. The plant will ultimately achieve four to six feet in height by one to two feet wide. It has a fairly rapid growth rate. 'Sky Pencil' is hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 8.
How to use it: This is an excellent punctuation mark or vertical accent for the garden. It can also be used in a narrow space against the house or to flank the entrance to a section of the garden. It's a good container plant as well.
Cultivation: Plant in well-drained, rich moist soil for best results. Grow in full sun to partial shade; in colder zones, protect from winter winds.
Source: Joy Creek Nursery

Mophead hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla 'Pia')

The plant: This dwarf selection of bigleaf hydrangea grows to only 2-1/2 to three feet tall. The rose-pink flowers are slightly flattened hemispheres instead of the round globes of other mopheads. This deciduous shrub is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8.
How to use it: Grow in combination with other hydrangeas or in a mixed flower border. 'Pia' is an excellent container plant.
Cultivation: Hydrangeas need even moisture and don't tolerate drought. Grow in rich, moist, well-drained soil in partial shade.
Source: The Crownsville Nursery

Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

The plant: This old-fashioned biennial comes in a range of colors including red, rose, pink, yellow, apricot, white and dark maroon. Some selections have single flowers up and down the six- to nine-foot-tall flower stalk; others have semi-double or extremely double blooms. The leaves are coarse, large and heart-shaped. Native to China. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9.
How to use it: This is a great plant for the cottage garden. Plant hollyhocks along the fence of a vegetable garden or at the back of a flower border.
Cultivation: Grow in well-drained soil in full sun. When plants are spent, they can be unattractive and can be cut down to the ground. Seeds sown in August and September should bloom the next summer. Plants may also bloom the same season when sown in early spring. Hollyhocks will also re-seed on their own.
Source: Renee's Garden Seeds

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