- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2000

Landscape contractors often install plantings in commercial sites where there is no homeowner to nurture the plants and maybe no hose convenient to water them even if a caring person were around. Plants in these locations might be subject not only to neglect, but also to abuse as thoughtless pedestrians walk through flower beds and a truck occasionally jumps the curb to execute a U-turn.

A few years ago at the Aspen Hill Library in Rockville, a conscientious librarian brought from home a hose and sprinkler to water a memorial garden that had been installed at the front entry to honor a former member of the library board who had died. In a matter of days, the hose and sprinkler were stolen.

At the same library the same week, an employee whose responsibility it was to keep the sidewalk swept was spotted casually sweeping a pile of trash and cigarette butts into a flower bed.

It is difficult to anticipate the atrocities that might be inflicted on a public garden, but landscape contractors know that, at the very least, they must install the toughest plants they can find.

These plants must survive extremes of weather, particularly drought, and be resistant to insect pests and disease. They must require little maintenance virtually none, if possible. But they also must have pretty flowers and foliage, the more the merrier.

To help contractors identify such plants, a wholesale nursery in Baltimore that grows perennials has compiled a list.

The nursery is Babikow Greenhouses, a 125-year-old family business. Most homeowners haven't heard of Babikow because it does no retail business. If you garden in the Washington area, especially in the Maryland suburbs, however, it is likely that you have some of Babikow's plants because it supplies many retail garden centers here.

Anyway, Babikow has compiled this list with the heading "Commercial considerations." These tough, proven plants are aesthetically pleasing, tolerant of weather extremes, have a long-lasting show of flower and foliage and require little maintenance.

The plants on the list are broken into four categories: annuals, perennials, ornamental grasses and ferns. If you choose plants from the Babikow list below, you have to consider that some of them need full sun, some need partial shade, some are invasive, and some will be gobbled up instantly by deer if you have deer in your neighborhood.

Check the tag or other description before buying any plant to make sure it is appropriate for your garden.

Here is a sampling from Babikow's list:

• Annuals, of course, provide the most continuous mass of blooming flowers all summer, but you must replant them every year. If you're willing to do that, you still should select those that are toughest and drought tolerant so you don't lose them halfway through the summer.

Babikow recommends begonias, canna, celosia, coleus, lantana, marigolds, nicotiana, petunias, salvia and annual vinca.

• Perennials come back every year, and with careful selection of several different perennials, you can have successive flowering all summer.

Some of Babikow's recommendations are achillea (yarrow), aegopodium, ajuga, artemisia, aster divaricatus, bergenia, hardy begonia, brunnera (perennial forget-me-nots), caryopteris, cimicifuga (snakeroot), coreopsis verticillata, dianthus (including "Bath's Pink"), dicentra (bleeding heart), epimedium, eupatorium (Joe Pye weed and other varieties), wild geranium, heliopsis (false sunflower), helleborus (Lenten roses), hemerocallis (day lilies), heuchera Americana and heuchera villosa (varieties of coral bells), hibiscus Lord Baltimore, hosta, oak-leaf hydrangea, hypericum, iris, lamiastrum, lamium, liatris, ligularia, liriope, mazus, monarda (bee balm), nepeta (catmint), pachysandra, perovskia (Russian sage), phlox divericata, phlox paniculata and phlox stolonifera, plumbago, pulmonaria (lungwort), purple coneflower, scabiosa "Butterfly Blue," sedum, stachys (lamb's ear), thyme, Veronica and verbena.

• Grasses: calamagrostis (feather reed grass), carex (sedge), erianthus (plume grass), festuca (blue fescue), miscanthus (maiden grass and other varieties, some of them variegated), ophiopogon (dwarf mondo grass including a black variety), panicum (switch grass) and pennisetum (fountain grass, including a purple variety).

• Ferns: athyrium nipponicum "Pictum" (Japanese painted fern), dennstaedtia punctilobula (hay-scented fern), dryopteris (autumn fern), matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern), onoclea sensibilis (sensitive fern), osmunda cinnamomea (cinnamon fern), polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern).

Most of the grasses do best in full sun, and most of the ferns need partial shade. Neither appeals to deer.

Most annuals need full sun. Although they are not a favorite food of deer, rabbits will eat them.

The perennials on Babikow's list are divided between plants for sunny and shady gardens. If you have resident deer, avoid all hostas, day lilies except "Stella d'Oro" and "Happy Returns," all ajuga, aegopodium, liriope except spicata, and hardy begonia.

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