Favorite Plants in the Main Display Garden

Thu., Aug. 26, 2021

By Sandi Cesarvo, Gardener

I started working as a gardener at Holden Arboretum in the Main Display Garden about 2 months ago.  I was a seasonal employee at Holden about 15 years ago, where I learned many perennial plants in the butterfly garden.  In those fifteen years, I had a few kids, had a few different careers, but I kept gardening and dreaming in color in my own garden at home.   I don’t care for subtlety in the garden.  I want the colors bright, and I want them all together: the gaudier, the better. 

When I came back to Holden, I was so excited to learn new plants and cultivars. 

A plant I have never seen before is pinkroot, Spigelia marilandica.  It is bright red and bright yellow on the same flower!  Hubba Hubba.  It blooms the end of June to July and will bloom again in the fall if you deadhead it!  I just can’t get enough; it makes me smile every time I pass. 

Spigelia marilandica, pinkroot
Spigelia marilandica, pinkroot

I have been in love with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ for a long time.  It is about 4 ft tall and can get floppy without supports.  It has elegant swordlike leaves, and it is Red Hot!  I still love it, but I have discovered 2 new smaller, yet possibly more lovely cultivars.

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, montbretia
Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, montbretia

Crocosmia ‘George Davidson’ blooms in August and is neon orange.  Orange is the most obnoxious color, and is therefore hands down my favorite. This plant is even more obnoxious because it is neon!  It is like a mini ‘Lucifer’, about 2 ft in height.

Crocosmia ‘George Davidson’, montbretia
Crocosmia ‘George Davidson’, montbretia

The last Crocosmia that I love, is a dainty little thing.  Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’ is about 2 ft tall; it is orange with a red outline, and long yellow stamens.  It is like a sweet round face and the stamens are like long, gorgeous eyelashes.  Swoon.

Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’, montbretia
Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’, montbretia

It seems like I only like hot colors, but I love a blue flower – there just are not that many of them.  Amsonia has been one of my favorites for a long time, but I found a diminutive version, and the flower is very star shaped.  Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’, blue star. Celestial, indeed.  Planted en masse, it is out of this world!  This one bloomed in June, so you will have to come see it next year. 

Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’, blue star

I was walking past this next plant and thought, “that looks like an orchid?”  It was an orchid!  Bletilla striata is a Chinese ground orchid.  It blooms in mid-June.  It is a real head turner and I was mesmerized.

Bletilla striata, Chinese ground orchid
Bletilla striata, Chinese ground orchid

I love the bright orange and yellow in the rocket-shaped flowers of red hot poker, Kniphofia uvaria ‘Phitzer Hybrid Mix’.  It is 3 to 4 feet tall and blooms the end of June into July.

Kniphofia uvaria ‘Phitzer Hybrid Mix’, red hot poker

I found the cutest little yellow Kniphofia ‘Banana Popsicle’.  It is about 2 foot tall, and the perfect yellow color.  I must find this at a nursery for my own garden at home.  It blooms a little later than the larger Kniphofia, from the middle of July for almost a month!  This sweet little specimen is surrounded by young bluestem and is in the southern portion of the Main Display Garden near the entrance to the tree Allee.

Kniphofia ‘Banana Popsicle’, red hot poker

I hope I have piqued your interest in some of these gorgeous plants.  If you have noticed, these are my personal favorites from the whole growing season this year.  They won’t all be blooming at the same time.  Come and visit Holden often and search for your own favorite beauties.  If you see me out working, I’d be happy to show you where my favorites are located. 

Sandi Cesarvo

Sandi Cesarvo


Hired this year by Holden Forests & Gardens as a gardener in the Main Display Garden of Holden Arboretum, Sandi Cesarov has been an avid gardener for over 20 years. She attended Miami University and earned a degree in botany. She still gets excited every time she learns a new plant.


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