When I pursued my degree in Horticulture, it was in a zone 5. I will say that there is a lot that is the same in a zone 7 and a lot that is different!
Still, in the two years that I have been here, I wish to list a few of my favorite plants from the area.
Kaleidoscope Abelia - Abelias in general are beautiful and do well in South Carolina, but Kaleidoscope has such an amazing color and keeps a very nice form too. Low and mounded, it can also be trimmed and kept tidy. The color is very useful to spruce up a boring bed, and seems to hold it's color even in the heat of summer. Flowers are unimpressive, but flowers are here today and gone tomorrow. The power of this plant is in it's leaves, which are there for the whole growing season. A truly great plant.
Cedar Trees - another favorite and something I did learn about in my Horticulture classes. We were made to appreciate the elegant beauty of these trees, even though they do not grow well in a zone 5. They do however grow well in zone 7 and I have seen many gorgeous examples in the area. As an evergreen they make a great backdrop for any garden. They have a very graceful form, especially as they get older. I like that they are a bit more open looking than the dense upright False Cypress that I see almost everywhere in Charlotte, NC. Looking for a big tree to invest in. This is a wonderful choice, just make sure to give it some space and plenty of sun.
Camellia - these were such a surprise to me. Not only for their striking resemblance to roses, but because they started blooming in December. When almost nothing else is looking well in the garden, that is when these make their debut! Want some winter interest in the garden. Plant some Camelia in amongst your other plants. They will not look like much all year, and then when you are bored of looking out at your pathetic greenery, these beauties will open up their blossoms and make the most beautiful display of color. A true winter gift!
Crepe Myrtle - So common around Charlotte, NC, that the locals probably don't think a thing of it any longer, but I can tell you, it is spectacular! The colors, the form, the long lasting blooms, the easy care, the winter interest of the bark and branches! An all around good choice for any garden. I have thoroughly enjoyed it's presence in so many locations. When I first came here I was shocked by how colorful it was, and I would see it growing in medians and parking lots. Tough and beautiful, what a combination! In the gardening world, that is truly remarkable. Need a medium size tree? Take a look and appreciate the versatility of these.
Holly - sure, we have holly in zone 5, but not like these! The first I have listed is Ilex aquafolium variegata (English Holly with a variegated leaf)! So beautiful and I have seen it growing in some situations that prove that it is truly hardy here, and that the variegated quality is mostly stable. I like the form, I like that is is a broadleaf evergreen, and it isn't the normal green of evergreens. :-) From a distance it looks almost minty, or even like a lime tinted green. Very nice color and can add a bit of interest in the garden where there is sometimes an overabundance of dark greens.
The second Holly I wish to point out is the Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon Holly) which when I first saw it, I thought it was a kind of dense boxwood. It is a holly though, and dense, easily trimmed, and tough! Although there are no amazing color or flower qualities to discuss, it is a great choice for hedges, or background/foundation plantings. For any garden, you can't have all your plants be chiefs, you need some well behaved indians to uphold the chiefs. For every specialty plant (a chief), like the Kaleidoscope Abelia, it would be nice to have anywhere from 2-3 background, complimentary plants (indians). Make sense? Yaupon Holly is a great little indian plant. :-)
Canna - we had these in zone 5, but you had to dig them up every year and store their bulbs in your basement over the winter. Then replant in the spring and they would take forever to grow up and bloom. Here, they stay in the ground, grow bigger and bloom longer. These are a great thing to tuck in among other new plantings, because they are a bulb and easily moved when the area grows to crowded (as your new plantings fill out). They come in a variety of flower colors and some either come with colored or striped leaves. I like these for color in the heat of summer. When most other things are taking a bit of a break in the heat, these are still doing well. The do need a lot of sun to do well, but are a great choice, especially if you don't want to water a ton!
For now, I think that is all of the plants I will discuss, but just know that there are a lot of other great plants available, these are just a few of my favorites. Things unique to North Carolina, that I didn't get to appreciate in a zone 5! Looking to do something interesting in your garden and need a few ideas. These are all great choices if you are looking for something larger to add in. Although some of the Canna come in dwarf sizes and the Yaupon Holly can be trimmed quite small, I would consider all of these plants medium to large in size. When planting, plan accordingly so that you don't need to move them later. :-)
Talking plants always leaves me dreaming of my next garden. You too? Well then, happy dreaming.