Top mostest


On the list, courtesy of Shutterstock
On the list, courtesy of Shutterstock

Last month, an industry magazine ran a list of the plants it considered the Top Ten Most Influential Varieties.

Collective shrug. (And I am not sure “most” is needed.) Lists like these may not mean much to home gardeners, who often aren’t as concerned with long-term viability, and don’t have commercial landscapes to install and maintain. On the other hand, they can reflect choice limitations, especially if you don’t live where there are a lot of IGCs or locally run nurseries.

Most of the plants here are now ubiquitous and, in many cases, rightly so. It’s hard to argue with Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ or Heuchera ‘Palace Purple.’ I don’t have and wouldn’t have either of them (having failed with heuchera many times and not enjoying the yellow of ‘Goldsturm’), but I do use Wave petunias and Impomea ‘Margarita’—also on the list—some summers in pots.

Other choices seem unpleasantly enforced. Just like high fructose corn syrup in processed food, they tend to appear in almost every public planting—Knock Out roses, ‘Stella d’Oro’ daylilies, and Endless Summer hydrangeas. Also just like the syrup, they fill up their designated areas, but in an ultimately unsatisfying way. The Knock Outs have nothing I value in a rose, or even in a plant, except for their copious foliage. No scent, no form, bad color. I would say the same for the stubby SdO daylilies and the Endless Summers. True, one wouldn’t expect scent from either but in every other respect, they’re inferior to the older hybrids found in either of their species. Owners of Endless Summers always ask what I “do” to my macrophylla hydrangeas to get their deep colors and fleshy blooms—the answer is that I don’t buy Endless Summers.

So why not just ignore the silly list? Because it is an industry list and contains just three native plant (hybrids of ), amid a bunch of others whose main  attributes are that they are commonly used for public plantings. Lists are big in our culture; we like to narrow things down and rank things. It’s not a very fulfilling or interesting way to put together a garden. Which is why you’ll very seldom hear gardeners talk about how popular their plants are.  And it’s why I tend to put my bulb orders together based largely on the varieties I’ve never heard of or never planted before.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Well, when I saw the much-derided Stella D’Oro on the list, I wrote it off. Not that I’d use this list for, well, anything, really. I plant what I like. If it does well, without becoming a problem, I might plant more. And I tend to go for the interesting, the unusual, and preferably, the food-producing.

    What’s her criteria for “most influential” anyway. I’m big into data (it’s my day job), and one of the things you learn really quickly when talking about data is that you’d better cite your sources & they better be trustworthy. Without knowing what her source for this list (horticultural association? gov’t data? sales over a 20-year period? SOMEthing!), she might have just pulled the list from her head. It means nothing.

  2. I so very much agree. ‘Stella d’Oro’ Daylilies are such an ugly color to me and a weenie little plant. Every landscape plan I see always has Knock Out Roses on it. And, while I adore mophead Hydrangeas, Endless Summer just looks wimpy compared to a lot of older selections. Well said.

  3. Time to tuck away the cat claws. Millions of readers are inspired and entertained by lists of 10 best anythings. It appears elitist to mock these people and those who earn a living generating the lists. It’s called capitalism and entertainment. BYW, inept gardeners feel like heroes when they use these ubiquitous hardy plants in their gardens. Please ! Have some mercy on them.

  4. I’m new to this blog, and I love it. But the devil’s advocate in me has to say something in defense of corny Stella D’oros and knockout roses. In my neighborhood, we have multiple 70s stripmall developments. Some are finally being redeveloped, and I very much appreciate that the new standard includes plants at all! Yes – many great native options would be better, but isn’t it great that we get to complain about plant choices instead of complaining about the choice to include plants at all?

  5. I used to complain about stella d’oros. Partly due to a shouting match I had with my father-in-law in a mall parking lot. Bella what? No, Stella d’Oro. Bella Donna? No Stella d’Oro.

    But lately I find them rather charming–in the RIGHT SETTING. In wierd clumps around the gas station? Not so much. But in a small urban yard that needs a spot of color, sure thing.

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