Not all of these plants are unusual, says master gardener Paul James, "but to my mind, they're all cool." The first is the 'Mariesii' viburnum, hardy to USDA Zone 5. The branches of 'Mariesii' grow horizontally, an unusual trait among shrubs, and as a result, its flowers almost seem to float. Like all viburnums, this beauty needs a fair amount of afternoon shade in the South, but the farther north you go, the more sun it can handle. It also needs a fairly rich, slightly acidic soil that drains well.
A relatively new and exciting ornamental grass is a fescue called 'Golden Toupee'. "I haven't had time to plant this newcomer," says James, "but when I do, I'll put it in a spot that gets full sun to partial shade -- whether it's in the ground or in a container." Hardy to Zone 5, 'Golden Toupee' will grow eight to 12 inches tall.
Equally interesting is Jack-in-the-pulpit, or Arisaema triphyllum. This Zone 4 native is easy to grow in a woodland shade garden where the soil is rich and moist. It's sure to spark a conversation.
"Finally, I wanted to show you this plant. It doesn't look like anything special, but it is special to me." James grows this coffee plant as a houseplant during fall and winter months and as a patio plant during the rest of the year. "And believe it or not, in time it should flower and produce enough berries or beans to produce a cup of coffee. Of course, I'm talking about a really tiny cup of coffee."