10 Best Landscaping Plants You May Not Know About

Not Household Names, but Names You Should Remember

Some of the best landscaping plants are hardly what you would call "household names." They fly under the radar, unlike plants that even non-gardeners have heard of, such as tulips, rose bushes, oak trees and holly shrubs. Think of all the free press coverage these well-known specimens receive in popular culture. Most everybody familiar with the music of the past century has heard of songs like "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," "Days of Wine and Roses," "Tie A Yellow Ribbon...MORE Round The Ole Oak Tree" and "Deck the Halls" (with boughs of holly).

But what about less famous but equally beautiful plants? The list below introduces 10 great landscaping plants you may not know about, in hopes of getting the word out to beginners. Gardening junkies will recognize these choices right away, but even they might learn a thing or two by clicking on the links below, which will take you to in-depth articles on those particular plants. Selections were made with an eye to variety (perennials, vines, bushes and trees are all represented) and four-season interest.

  • 01 of 10
    Adonis amurensis (image) is the first plant to flower in the springtime. It has feathery leaves.
    David Beaulieu

    You may think "tulips" and not "Adonis" when you hear talk of spring, but Adonis is no ugly duckling (how could it be, with a name like that?). And Adonis vernalis owns bragging rights over the tulip in one area, at least, unquestionably: this perennial blooms much earlier in spring. Indeed, its cheerful yellow flowers are one of the true heralds of spring.

  • 02 of 10
    Dark purple-flowered hellebore (Helleborus x hybridus), April
    Joshua McCullough/Getty Images

    Why include a rose in this list after stating that everyone has heard of roses? Because Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) isn't really a rose at all; it is a hellebore. And "hellebore" is one heck of a funny name, which is probably why people prefer the common name, Lenten rose. Tthe foliage of this early-spring bloomer influences its inclusion in this list as much as the flowers.

  • 03 of 10
    Crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis), Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Europe
    Wilfried Wirth/Getty Images

    Some bulbs that bloom in spring are small and really need to be massed together to make much of an impact. ​Snowdrops and glory-of-the-snow are examples. Others, like some of the tulips, can offer quite a bit of drama even when they fly solo. Crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis) is one of them. This spring bulb plant does not have to take a backseat to tulips whatsoever in terms of showiness.

  • 04 of 10
    Actinidia kolomikta
    Ralf Roletschek/Wikimedia Commons/Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

    Anybody in North America who pays attention when shopping in the produce section has heard of kiwis, right? So why include kiwi vines in a list of best landscaping plants you may not know about? Well, because it's a different kind of kiwi we are talking about here.

    These kiwi vines are grown for the beauty of their variegated leaves, not their fruit. In fact, there's no fruit involved at all, since it is the male vines that are generally grown. While kiwi vines offer great interest in...MORE only one season (spring), the display they put on during that time can be truly breathtaking.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10
    Laburnum Arch in Bodnant Garden
    Richard Klune/Getty Images

    Like kiwi vines, golden chain trees are showy only in spring -- but make up for it by lighting up the whole yard when in flower. Consequently, while this is not the type of landscaping plant around which you build a landscape design, it most certainly does put on the type of display to which you'll look forward all winter. Treat it as a divine plaything, missing nary a chance to enjoy its splendor while opportunity knocks.

  • 06 of 10
    Oak-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), September
    Cora Niele/Getty Images

    Hydrangeas, as a general class, are well-known for being one of the best landscaping plants for summer, but the names of some of the specific types most useful in the yard aren't household names. For example, folks often become frustrated in their search for a perennial vine that will grow well in shade, while the solution to their problem is readily available but flies under the radar: climbing hydrangea.

    But for 4-season interest, it is hard to beat oakleaf hydrangea bush. The picture shows...MORE what this landscaping plant looks like when it displays its fall foliage color.

  • 07 of 10
    Closeup of Itea virginica in fall color
    User:SB_Johnny/Wikimedia Commons/Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

    Virginia sweetspire is another bush that has the potential to be a fall-foliage standout. For optimal fall color, it is best to grow this landscaping plant in full sun (at least in my zone 5 landscape). Some people use Virginia sweetspire as a substitute for another star of the fall-foliage season: burning bush. The latter is often avoided in North America since it has landed on the list of worst invasive plants.

  • 08 of 10
    Viburnum carlesii 'Aurora'
    Wouter Hagens/Wikimedia Commons

    Korean spice viburnum is another landscaping plant with good fall color. A related bush that can make the same claim is arrowwood viburnum. But there's another reason to include Korean spice viburnum on this list: its fragrance. The spring flowers of Korean spice viburnum bushes produce an aroma you will not soon forget.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10
    Callicarpa bodinieri at Bern city of Switzerland
    Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo/Getty Images

    Here is a twist on the fall-color theme. Instead of supplying fall interest via leaf color, the aptly-named purple beautyberry bush does the job through its berries. This bush works well when landscaping for small spaces, as you can cut it down to the ground each spring to minimize its size and generate new growth, without harming it (or interrupting berry production) whatsoever.

  • 10 of 10
    Contorted Filbert
    Jimmy Thomas/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

    Last but not least, I present a landscaping plant that is a must-have for the winter yard.

    We are usually sad to see the leaves fall off of our ​deciduous bushes. But contorted hazelnut bush is the exception to the rule. Also called "Harry Lauder's walking stick," this bush is at its best in winter, when its leaves no longer mask its madcap branching pattern. Like pussy willow, contorted hazelnut bears catkins, but in this case, the catkins are just a bonus: with contorted hazelnut,...MORE it's really all about the intricate twists and turns of its branches.