Landscape designer Stephen Suzman likes the groundcover species Senecio mandraliscae for its fast growth and distinctive chalky-blue fleshy foliage. A native of South Africa, it grows 12 to 18 inches tall with masses of 3- to 4-inch pencillike leaves. greatgardenplants.com
A vibrant groundcover for the shade garden, Lamium maculatum ‘Anne Greenaway’ forms a 6- to 8-inch-tall mass of scallop-edged variegated leaves that glitter with chartreuse, silver and mint green. Clusters of small lilac-mauve flowers add to the display in late spring, but the foliage can last all year in mild-winter regions. Perennial.
A black-eyed Susan amped to the max. Heads of narrow, quilled golden petals look like a cheerleader’s pom-pom. Blooms summer through fall, 18 inches tall. Hardy to Zone 5a.
One of the most-striking and long-lasting cut flowers isn’t even a flower. The foliage of ‘Crane Red’ ornamental kale forms a tight cluster, rose veined with a rosy-purple center, at the end of a long, sturdy stem, looking like an oversize rose blossom. The Crane Series (which comes in several colors, including bicolor and white) was bred specifically for cutting, taking the popular cool-season annual kale to new heights, up to 2 feet tall, with heads up to 7 inches wide.
This new Japanese water iris has a poetic grace, with large flowers of lavender falls veined in violet and a dark-purple central clutch of “petaloids.” Adds a lovely accent to summer water gardens when grown in a partly submerged container. Hardy in Zones 4-9. heronswood.com
For unusual muted shades, landscape designer Stephen Suzman likes to use Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ (powdery pinkish lavender) and E. ‘Perle von Nürnberg’, pictured (grayish brown with a pinkish mauve tinge). Both form rosettes of overlapping leaves, 1 foot across for ‘Afterglow’, 5 to 6 inches for ‘Perle von Nürnberg’. provenwinners.com
Often called pork and beans or jellybean plant, Sedum x rubrotinctum is a 6- to 8-inch low-mounding groundcover with fat little leaves that go from bright green to red. Suzman calls it “very easy and reliable.” The glowing hues of Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ have made it a must-have for containers and perennial borders, with needlelike chartreuse to bright-gold leaves usually tipped with orange. greatgardenplants.com
Making its common name particularly apropos, this snake plant has long, narrow, cylindrical leaves arranged in dramatic Mohawk fans. A collector’s form of an old-fashioned plant and a must-have for chic interior-scapes. This grouping, planted in a row of tall, stylish concrete planters, creates a simple yet dramatic accent to a contemporary home, though they also fit well in less modern settings. bobsmoleys.com, stokestropicals.com
Hot plus cool equals a jazzy ornamental pepper that’s not pungent, so it’s safe to grow around kids. Indoors it makes a wild “hairdo,” spring through Christmas, of twisty narrow peppers in ivory, yellow, orange and red. Also look for child-friendly ‘Chilly Chili’.