Michael Dirr maintains that he is, most importantly, a "dedicated and humble gardener" who tends 3 1/2 acres outside Atlanta with his wife, Bonnie.
"Sometimes you question in the middle of summer, when it's a hundred degrees and the humidity is 99 percent, and you think, 'Why are we doing this?' Well, we're doing it because we love it," he said.
Among the tall shade trees in his garden are: white oak (Quercus alba), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), various magnolias and sweet birch (Betula lenta).
Shrubs with multi-season interest include: witch hazel (Hamamelis intermedia), various types of hydrangea, crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia), more than 50 viburnums and chaste-tree (Vitex), one of his favorites.
"It's a hummingbird plant. It's a bee plant, It's salt-tolerant. Unbelievable. Flowers on new growth. It's another one of those multi-season interest plants. I just think they're great."
Foolproof perennials include coneflower (Echinacea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) and aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius).
-- Martha Swiss