When you think of flower gardens your mind probably jumps to familiar, favorite plants such as the roses your grandmother always grew, or daffodils and peonies you see popping up next to farmhouse driveways across the nation each spring.

These flowers that are so widely loved even people who don’t garden know them by name. Their classic beauty, often coupled with reliability, has earned them a place in many gardener’s hearts.

And, while we’ll always love the classics, there are so many more unique and interesting plants available! Here are some of our favorites that might just have you looking at your garden with a fresh eye this spring.

Toad Lilies (Tricyrtis hirta)

Toad lilies are largely overlooked, but wonderful, late summer and early fall flowering plants perfect for moist shade gardens. Intricately designed, orchid-like blooms really wow wherever they’re planted. There are few plants that rival toad lilies’ beauty and color for shade. Their petals are typically white or light yellow with pink or purple spots. As an added bonus, because they like more water than some shade plants, they’re perfect for planting around a bird bath.

Passionflower (Passiflora)

The flowers on all passion flowers or passiflora look similar but there are hundreds of passion flower species available. Some are shrubs and trees, some are annuals, others are perennials, and many grow large vines. What they all have in common are their impressive flowers and incredible fragrance.

The flowers have wide, flat petals, a circle of thin filaments, and a central stalk with the ovary and stamens. They appear in mid to late summer and are typically a combination of colors including blue, purple, pink, white, and red. Grow in a container near your front door or on the patio where you can enjoy their stunning display.

Birds of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae)

This flower is named for its striking resemblance to the colorful stature of the Greater Bird of Paradise, with its orange plumes and inky blue under feathers. Except in the tropics, this banana relative is typically grown indoors and blooms in late winter or early spring.

In its native lands of Indonesia and Australia, or closer to home in places such as Southern California and Florida where the native climate can be replicated, it can bloom year-round. Brightly colored flowers emerge from the ends of long stems erupting from clusters of broad green leaves. These plants are attractive even when not in bloom.


You might think of tropical island breezes when you hear the word, hibiscus, but did you know there are many cold-hardy varieties, too? Tropical hibiscus, with their brightly colored flowers and dark green foliage are spectacular specimen plants for container gardens on sunny patios. Hibiscus “standards,” which are shrubs pruned into small tree forms, are striking accent plants. Cold-hardy hibiscus plants can die back to the ground each year, only to emerge again in late spring, sometimes growing to heights of six feet or more. Flowers in shades of pink, white, purple, and red can be as large as dinner plates. Hibiscus acetosella, the cranberry hibiscus, has pink flowers and red leaves, which are used to make a tart, vitamin C rich tea.

Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Named for its upward-facing, tulip-shaped green and orange flowers that cover the tree in late spring, the tulip tree is a tall, striking, native hardwood that blankets the hillsides in the Washington, D.C. and Maryland area. They are fast-growing and can reach heights of 80-100 feet over time (Not an ideal choice for small yards, but beautiful if you have plenty of space).

Butterfly lovers might want to make room for a tulip tree because it’s the larval host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. Plant one for the caterpillars and enjoy the butterflies that emerge.

Hopefully we’ve opened your eyes to some new and unusual plants to try growing this summer! Or, if you don’t have room for a huge hardwood tree or interest in tending tropical plants, you’ll have some new gardening trivia in your back pocket.

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