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Episode 94 – Plants that Play Supporting Roles

Join us on your favorite podcast platform or at the YouTube link above to hear our whole conversation on supporting role plants.

A good supporting role plant should look great without drawing too much attention to itself. Obviously, it should be noticeable, but it shouldn’t pull focus from others in size or color. It’s also important that supporting role plants have a habit that works around its neighbors rather than forcing them to conform to it. It’s typically annuals and perennials that best fill this role, but there are a few shrubs that fit the bill, like potentilla. Really, any color of potentilla will do this – and we have yellow, orange, and two pinks – but I’m going to highlight Happy Face White potentilla today. Why? Because I think that white is one of the most underrated flower colors, particularly when it comes to filling a space elegantly and playing nicely with others. You know how marker sets these days come with a “blender” to help you blend various colors together smoothly? That’s kind of what white flowers do, especially when they are fairly low, so they’re always interplaying with their neighboring plants, and when they have space in them so they don’t come across as just a big glob in the garden.

Potentilla is a North American native species that is extremely hardy – down to USDA zone 2 – and, as is common among very hardy plants, not very heat tolerant (only up to USDA zone 7). There are actually multiple species of potentilla across the continent, and the ones that you might be most familiar with are herbaceous, often weedy plants. The potentilla we are featuring today is a woody plant that was reclassified into a new species, Dasiphora, a few years ago. However, “potentilla” has been so deeply entrenched into the nursery industry and gardeners’ minds that it’s not likely to be unseated. In fact, it’s oft-given common name, shrubby cinquefoil, never even caught on, so changing from potentilla seems a particularly tall order.

So, our potentilla here is a low growing shrub that reaches roughly 2-3’ tall and wide. It grows with a mat of palmately compound leaves – in other words, the leaves are made up of multiple leaflets and resemble small hands. When the foliage first emerges, it has a silvery, silky look and texture, which also contributes to this supporting role status. But the main feature of this plant is its flowers: the Happy Face series in general boasts much larger flowers than conventional potentilla, so the tidy, five-petalled blooms have a pronounced visual effect in the landscape. The flowers of Happy Face White potentilla are, of course, pure white. But one of the things that I think really elevates it to the supporting role status is how long it blooms. It’s practically like an annual, even though it’s a shrub, since it blooms non-stop from about late spring through frost, and honestly, even beyond, if the frost was just a one-off. Extreme heat will cause it to stop flowering briefly, but once cooler conditions return, it starts flowering again.

Best planted in multiples, especially as a supporting role plant.

If you’d like to add Happy Face White potentilla – or any of the 320+ Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs – to your garden or landscape, you’ll find a list of local retailers here

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A hydrangea in a low decorative container covered in pink and purple mophead flowers.

Episode 96 – Garden Regrets

Regrets? We’ve had a few, and maybe you have too, which is why we’re dedicating this episode to the things we wish we had – and hadn’t – done in the garden. Featured shrub: Let’s Dance Arriba reblooming hydrangea.

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