Little-known Garden Gems

It has always been a goal of Specialty Growers to carry plants that are unusual and not likely to be found in the local garden centers.  Here we are featuring a few of these garden “gems” - plants that are unknown, under-used and under-appreciated.  You’ll find some of my personal favorites in this category! 

Asarum splenden

Asarum splendens – Chinese Wild Ginger


This is a beautiful plant for the shade, with its mottled dark green and shimmering silver arrowhead-shaped leaves. This Asian species has found a happy home in Midwestern gardens where it is used as a gently spreading groundcover and accent plant. Plant it in moderately moist soil in full to part shade. The foliage may remain evergreen in mild winters, but if foliage is marred by spring, simply cut it back and new leaves will fill in. Like all wild gingers, it is deer and rabbit resistant.


Photo from: Walters Gardens

Eryngium ‘Blue Glitter’ – Blue Glitter Sea Holly

The Sea Hollies are perhaps underused in gardens, but that is changing as gardeners discover that they are among the most drought resistant and maintenance-free perennials. ‘Blue Glitter’ produces amazing spiny flowers of true blue on equally blue stems; it is certainly a conversation piece in the garden. All it requires is full sun and well-drained soil; it will rot if the soil stays too wet, particularly over winter. It grows about 3 ft tall, and makes a wonderful companion for Orange Butterfly Weed, which enjoys the same growing conditions.

Photo from: Walters Gardens

Eryngium Blue Glitter

Bouteloua Blonde Ambitio

Bouteloua ‘Blonde Ambition’


This is a selection of the Blue Grama Grass, Bouteloua gracilis, found and introduced by David Salman of High Country Gardens. The species is native to much of the U.S. and grows in full sun sites with dry, well-drained soils and was once a primary grass of the short-grass prairie ecosystem. ‘Blonde Ambition’ improves upon the original with its unique platinum blonde-colored seed heads, held horizontally on the stems. They look somewhat like false eyelashes or perhaps a cloud of hovering insects – distinctively different from most of the commonly grown ornamental grasses. The fine-textured clumps of blue-green foliage are attractive as well. Plants grow 30-36” tall with equal width.

Photo from: David Salman

Polemonium reptans


Creeping Jacob’s Ladder is a native North American wildflower that makes a good addition to semi-shaded perennial gardens and woodland settings. The common name is not entirely accurate, as the plants do not creep underground, nor do they grow as groundcovers. Rather, the plants have an informal flowing habit that complements more well-defined plants like hostas and ferns. The ladder-like arrangement of the leaflets is distinctive and adds to its charm. The lilac-blue bell shaped flowers appear in spring and pair well with pink bleeding hearts or yellow wood poppy. Creeping Jacob’s Ladder grows 12-18” tall and flowers best in a site with morning sun.

Photo from:
North Creek Nurseries

Polemonium Reptans

Ruellia Humilis

Ruellia humilis


This plant is sometimes called Wild Petunia, although the two are not related. They have similar funnel-shaped flowers, but the flowers of Ruellia are always lavender to lilac. In the wild, Ruellia grows in dryish soils in open woods, prairies and fields. In the garden, plant it where it will have plenty of sun and well-drained soil. Wild petunia will bloom all season long and is an excellent choice for harsh sites, in rocky or sandy soil. Make sure to include it in native-plant gardens where it will attract insect pollinators, especially butterflies and long-tongued bees. It is also a host plant for the buckeye butterfly. Growing just 1-1.5 ft all, this is an easy plant to work into any sunny garden.

Photo from: Prairie Moon Nursery