Cold-weather plant lust

Aster oblongifolius
Aster oblongifolius

It’s January, so that means we are trapped inside and there’s plenty of time to think about what to plant once the weather warms up. My list of “Wow, I love that!” plants gets longer all the time, so I just pick a few to try each year.

No firm decisions have been made yet, but here are a few of 2018’s contenders, in case you’d like to look them up and see if you like them too. One thing to note: These are not new plants, just a bunch of not-often-seen lovelies that I’m thinking about.

Othello ligularia (Ligularia dentata ‘Othello’)

I love ligularia for its gorgeous lily pad-like foliage and wonderful yellow flowers that open later in the summer when other things are tired and ragged. This variety seems particularly nice because its blooms look a lot like daisies and it grows to only about 2–3 feet tall and 18–24 inches wide.

Like all ligularias, Othello does best in shade to partial shade and requires more moisture than many perennials. So plant this with other water-loving shade plants like astilbe, foxglove, black snakeroot, Rodger’s flower (Rodgersia) and foam flower. Plants are hardy to Zone 4.

Raydon’s Favorite aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’)

Asters get a bad rap for being tall and gangly. But there are many asters out there that don’t behave like that. This one is among them, growing to just 2–3 feet tall and wide.

If you’d like to keep bees happy with fall flowers, Raydon’s Favorite is a great choice with its lovely lavender blooms. Full sun is best, and plants are hardy to Zone 4.

Purple Japanese burnet (Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Purpurea’)

I’m not totally sure about this one. Look it up online and you’ll see what I mean.

With its little pipe cleaner-like purple blooms perched atop long grassy spikes, it’s either cool looking or just too weedy for my taste. But I keep going back to it because those little pipe cleaners are pretty neat. Plants grow to 3–4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. The long stems emerge from a nice-looking clump of foliage close to the ground.

Hardy to Zone 4, this beauty should be planted in full sun and needs moist soil.

Golden Fleece goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’)

If you haven’t yet noticed, I can be a sucker for late-blooming flowers. Not only do I appreciate having something in bloom from August into fall, I love to see bees happily finding something to nourish themselves when other flowers are long spent.

Goldenrod is always a bee favorite and Golden Fleece is unique in that it grows to only 12–18 inches tall and wide, making it much more compact that other varieties.

Plants will do best in full sun but can take partial shade and are hardy to Zone 4.

Purple Prince epimedium (Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Purple Prince’)

If you don’t have epimedium in your garden, run out and get some as soon as spring comes. I’ve only recently added some at my house, and I can’t say enough good things about these pretty perennials.

Like most other epimediums, Purple Prince has dainty heart-shaped leaves that last all season and look great. Purple, almost orchid-like flowers appear in spring and plants grow 12–15 inches tall and wide.

Full sun to partial shade is best, and plants are hardy to Zone 4.

Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum)

Cup plant is a prairie native that is striking because plants can grow to 8 to 10 feet tall and about 3 feet wide or more. I’ve seen these in the back of people’s gardens a few times, and I’m always wowed by them.

The name comes from the cup-like shape that is formed where the leaves of the plant meet the stems. It is said that wildlife and pollinators can sometimes get a sip of water from those rain-filled cups. That’s a reason to buy this plant, right there!

The yellow blooms look like a cross between daisies and sunflowers. If you want to try these, put them in the back of the garden in a sunny spot. To keep them from being too tall and gangly, I recommend cutting them back by half in early summer before they set blooms.

Plants are hardy to Zone 4.

Meleah Maynard is a writer, editor and master gardener. Visit her blog,, for more gardening ideas and tips.