Some gardeners enjoy spending serious time with their plants, whether ornamentals or vegetables. They like pruning and primping them, getting them to be perfect. My wife, Nancy, and I fall into this group.

But others prefer plants they can put in the ground once and then count on to blossom reliably each year, often for many years. These sorts of plants can stand some care if the homeowners suddenly find themselves feeling ambitious, but mostly they can be ignored. You could call this second group of plants a gardener’s version of sustainable beauty.

None of the plants I name in this column is native to Maine and only two – echinacea and rudbeckia – are even U.S. natives. But all are both beautiful and well-mannered, meaning they won’t aggressively invade and take over native habitats in Maine.

Let’s start with bulbs, which create the earliest blossoms in most gardens, with daffodils living longest and providing the most variety. While yellow is the most common color, daffodils also come in white, orange and multiple-colored blossoms including pink, rose and orange.

Daffodils can last for generations because all its parts are poisonous, which means that deer, raccoons and squirrels won’t eat them. After daffodils bloom, you have to leave the foliage in place until it turns brown, which will feed the bulbs and help the daffodils thrive for years. It’s not the prettiest sight, but the spent leaves can be easily camouflaged by other plants.

A smaller companion plant for daffodils is muscari, also called grape hyacinth, although it isn’t a hyacinth and isn’t related to grapes either. It gets its name because the little blossoms look like clusters of grapes. These are mostly blue, just a few inches tall and grow just about anywhere – under big trees, in flower beds and in lawns. Some gardeners complain they spread too much, but I think those gardeners are control freaks. If you really like the muscari, they also come in pink, white, yellow and a blue and white bicolor.

Peonies produce flowers that are large, lush and come in a virtual rainbow of colors. They prefer full sun, but can stand up to half a day of shade, and well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. It helps to add a little compost when planting.

You can plant peonies as tubers in the fall or as seedlings in the spring, but fall planting usually works better. While they can be transplanted, it takes a while for them to recover and bloom again, so be sure you like the place you put them the first time. They can thrive for a century or more. We’re talking more than 100 years. Plant the eyes on the tuber just below the surface of the soil. Then sit back and enjoy them for the rest of your life.

Peonies come in two types: perennial peonies and tree peonies. You can tell the difference in nurseries just from the price tags – tree peonies usually cost in the three figures while a decent-sized perennial peony big enough to bloom soon ranges from $30 to $50, depending on size and variety.

Siberian irises bloom about the same time as peonies and look a lot like Asian paintings of Japanese irises but are easier to grow. They come mostly in shades of purple, but also can be white or blue and white bicolors. Plant the rhizomes about an inch below the soil level, and after a few years you will have clumps that are large enough to divide, put in other sections of your garden or give to your neighbors.

White Siberian irises are much slower to develop clumps, but the blue shades develop blooms and clumps readily.

Daylily, or hemerocallis, is another workhorse plant, especially if you plant the standard-size varieties descended from the orange variety often called the tiger lily (also called ditch lilies because they are frequently seen on roadsides in August in Maine). That is the daylily everybody’s grandmother grew – letting them naturalize to become almost a ground cover.

These plants are not true lilies, and get their name because each blossom lasts for one day. Daylilies will continue producing those blossoms for several weeks, and hybridizers are extending the bloom time of some varieties to 60 days or more, in addition to creating larger and more prolific blossoms. They come in almost any color in the red, orange, yellow, green and white range.

Echinacea is beginning to lose its reputation as a long-lived plant. Blame that on the hybridizers. The common name for echinacea is purple coneflower, but hybridizers started producing them in white, red, orange, pink, yellow, green and combinations of those colors. If you stick with the original purple echinacea, it will naturalize well in the garden, live forever and require little care. They are also called coneflower, because after the petals fall in autumn, you are left with a cone on the stem, which feeds the birds.

Rudbeckia, like echinacea, is sometimes called coneflower, but is also called black-eyed Susan. They have yellow to gold petals, dark cones in the center, spread a little in the garden and bloom for a long time in mid- to late-summer.

I’m including chrysanthemum on this sustainable beauty list even though most people plant chrysanthemums in the fall and they die over the winter. If you buy the right chrysanthemums, plant them in the spring and ensure they have good drainage and plenty of sun, they will live forever.

Nancy’s mother was not much of a gardener, but she had a “Clara Curtis” chrysanthemum – with bright pink daisy-like flowers – in her south-facing garden for 50 years. The pink daisy mums bloomed prolifically and they spread a bit each year, though sometimes the center of the clump would die. It was an easy fix to dig a hole in the center of the clump and transplant some of the edge plants to fill it.

That’s the kind of easy-to-maintain plant that gardeners love.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living and gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]

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