OT: your perfect plants

I imagine many gardeners have a handful of garden plants that for their conditions and tastes are perfect: what are yours?

Two that come to my mind are the asters that are a staple of local gardens, and cyclamen. The asters are called "settembrini" in Italian; I don't know their botanical or horticultural affiliation, though suspect they're not native, though widespread. They're perennial plants, reaching about a yard tall, blooming profusely in early fall in shades ranging from pink through violet. They don't mind heat, or cold, or drought, or heavy poor soil; they don't get disease; they seed moderately, so you have a supply of new plants; they come back year after year, wonderful stout creatures. The only thing I do with them is cut them to the ground once they've finished flowering, so I don't see the naked stalks all winter; then the next spring the cycle begins again.

I currently have three species of hardy cyclamen in the garden, C. hederifolium, C. cilicium, C. coum. I like all three, but C. hederifolium is the star. This is probably the hardiest and most adaptable of all cyclamen species, and, though it's scentless, one of the handsomest. Cyclamen grow from tubers that increase in size and floriferousness with age. This species is fall flowering, starting with the emergence in August of a few pallid blooms, then accelerating through September and October as the leaves start to emerge, and finally tailing off in November, leaving the very handsome patterned leaves for the gardener to enjoy through the winter. When the weather turns warm and dry in mid-to-late spring, the leaves die down, and the cyclamen is dormant until the cycle begins again in later summer.

Cyclamen hederifolium has charming little flowers in shades of soft pink (there are also white forms), but the foliage is as ornamental as the flowers. My theory is that leaf patterns vary from plant to plant, but are identical for one plant, occurring in various combinations of silver, medium gray green, dark green, and variable in form. Cyclamen seed readily, so that I see new babies popping up all over; they don't get disease; apparently the porcupine, which destroyed my nascent, highly poisonous autumn colchicum colony, doesn't eat them; cyclamen can't crowd out anything. They like to live under deciduous trees or large shrubs, with shade in the summer and sun in the winter; they like clay well amended with organic matter, though my C. cilicium in the woods is growing in root-netted heavy soil and doing fine. Cyclamen are Mediterranean plants, appreciating hot dry summers and mild chilly wet winters; much of the U.S. is not really their kind of place, though, as I said, C. hederifolium is apparently adaptable enough to grow well in parts of the country. Oh, yes, another virtue: they bloom when there's not much going on in my garden, which is probably one reason I pay them so much attention.

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