Plants do not decide that they are easy or hard to grow; people make this distinction. The cultural needs of a specific species may be narrow or broad, and in this we find the difference between plants that have a reputation for difficulty or ease.
Unfortunately, many landscapers have a limited plant palette that focuses almost exclusively on plants that will survive being ignored, leading to the same plants being used over and over; there are plenty of tough (many are native) plants if one explores deeper.
The predictable nature of these plantings renders suburban and corporate landscapes pathologically boring.
Rhododendrons: Narrow & Specific Cultural Needs
Some species or cultivars have a very specific set of growing conditions in order to thrive. If you can provide the following conditions in your landscape for rhododendrons, you will almost certainly succeed; if you cannot, you will almost certainly fail:
Rhododendrons need well-drained acidic soil that retains moisture, and prefer bright indirect light (but not direct sun). Most importantly, cool nights will help break the cycle of many of the diseases that confound rhododendron gardeners in hot climates.
Plants that are easy to grow do not have to be ubiquitous.
Plants that have a wide tolerance for environmental conditions are considered easy to grow. These plants form the bulk of plants found at your local Lowe’s or Home Depot (or a landscaper’s truck), because these plants have a good track record and represent an acceptable risk. Unfortunately, these plants have become ubiquitous in the landscape. Further, the people selling you these plants are often protecting their interests as opposed to providing you with a thoughtful, intelligent design that considers who you are.
Pitcher Plant: Narrow Cultural Needs + Wide Tolerance = Easier to Grow
Contrasted with the rhododendron, pitcher plants of various species, while having a seemingly narrow cultural band (acid-loving and consistently wet soils), are plants with fairly wide tolerance of environmental conditions. The tough thing about rhododendrons is that the gardener walks a seeming knife edge when it comes to too little or too much water, and the planting needs to be spot on.
So long as it’s relatively sunny, boggy and wet, pitcher plant will at the very least muddle along and most likely prosper…indeed pitcher plant can be grown in relatively normal garden soil in areas that have consistent and high rainfall amounts…which makes an important point: You should be aware of the climate in your area and select plants whose cultural needs most closely match your climate.
I would submit that for the bulk of homeowners and corporate locations (even passionate gardeners), the structure of the landscape should be composed of plants with wide environmental tolerance. However, do we need more yaupon hollies in our landscapes? Toss some little bluestem into the mix and see what happens.
There are many plants that are easy to grow. Many are native. Many are attractive to wildlife. Many have four season interest. Look around you, and look around this website for insight; maybe even give us a shout.