Perennial plants are basics that are essential to landscapes of all kinds. These perennials should be as reliable as they are beautiful. Reliability should come in the form of disease resistance, ability to "play nice" and not become a spreading pest and ecological threat, and add to the natural beauty that exists around and outside of the area the landscape is in. There are so many wonderful perennials today that suit needs just right and make great staples, but there is of course always the cream-of-the-crop that works in every garden, under most conditions, and look great doing it. Here are ten no fail perennial plants for any garden (in no particular order!).
Coreopsis: There are many types of coreopsis. The native Coreopsis lanceolata L. is a prairie native that grows quite large and sports beautiful sunny yellow flowers over silvery and textural foliage. In the wild, this coreopsis grows among tall grasses in windy plains where it's much loved by bees and butterflies when it blooms. Then in the fall when it sets seed, songbirds depend on flowers like coreopsis for meals as they bulk up for winter or make their way down the heart of the continent on migration escaping the cold. The types of coreopsis that one sees in nurseries are developed hybrids from lanceolata and others, with neat growth habits and long blooming periods of sporting many colors that include yellow, orange, red, and multicolored themes.
Favorite cultivars include:
- Moonbeam is an extremely popular cultivar of coreopsis that has very light, almost white blooms over neat mounds that stay nice and short and unobtrusive. The bloom time on moonbeam is almost all season long, with constant repeat blooming, especially if you deadhead, encouraging a new flush of growth mid-season. Ideal for areas that are dry and hot, such as in front of borders that line driveways or walkways along pavement or patios.
- Cranberry Ice is a beautiful and bold red petaled variety with white outer edges. The centers are orange ringed with yellow. The foliage is very fine on Cranberry Ice and the growth height is usually less than a foot. Spreading nicely in neat clumps, it won't take over your garden either. Use Cranberry Ice as a mass bed planting or as an accent point in the garden as its color is so punchy, it would certainly add a lot in small numbers to the design of any landscape. Perfect for the front of a border or in a rock garden.
- Rising Sun is a double bloomed type (meaning there are more than one set of petals giving the flower a fluffier look) that is yellow with some hints of red radiating out of the middle on each petal- beautiful! This Variety grows larger, true to its wild ancestor's size (height topping around 3-4 feet in height and spread) and is a serious butterfly attractor. Plant in the middle of borders or in naturalistic areas. Works well in native plant gardening, in prairie restoration, in rain gardens, and anywhere that a not-so formal setting is desired. Pair with beautiful Buddleia Black Night for dramatic contrast and more butterfly magnet power.
Daylily is a common sight in gardens around the country. Even if you don't know what a daylily is specifically, it's guaranteed you've seen them before and remember what they are without knowing their name. They are everywhere and of course, for excellent reasons. It's so well suited to landscape use with its neat growth habit, interesting strappy foliage, and beautiful (and long lasting) blooms of many colors that it makes its happy home everywhere. Here are some wonderful varieties that fill many needs and design requirements.
- Stella De Oro has been a hit ever since it came onto the garden market scene decades ago and continues to be one of the most sold plants for landscapes in America. Super hardy to frigid cold zone 3 and into warm zones 8 and 9, this daylily never complains about the weather. It grows in neat clumps of a foot wide and sends flower spikes up to about 2 feet in height over a neat mound of strappy graceful foliage. Stella D'Oro blooms in a neat and cheery solid yellow and blooms for a long time through middle of summer until fall. You can eat the blooms! They taste like mild cucumber and are beautiful on salads. Many landscapers plant Stellas in masses in home and commercial landscapes- but this limits the possibility of variation and interest thorough the entire growing season. Use Stellas as PART of a border, or as accents here and there and you'll be able to enjoy them as well as take advantage of other plant's attributes. The foliage is a good contrast to many other types of foliage and of course, it will last a long time in the garden without much care and attention.
- While Stella gets most of the attention, wonderful varieties like the Pumpkin Festival sometimes get overlooked- which is unfortunate! Pumpkin Festival is just as hardy as Stella and has the same growth habit, but the flower on Pumpkin Festival is so lovely! Centers are yellow, with a run of beautiful purple followed by cream where the three inner petals are then scalloped and edged in more lavender. What a perfect contrast to Stella! Try interplanting several Pumpkin Festivals in your landscape with yellow bloomers like Stella De Oro or Coreopsis Moonbeam in front for a beautifully designed look without much fuss.
Echinacea is another North American native like Coreopsis, often hailing from the same habitats. Wild Echinacea is also known as purple coneflower, or just coneflower as it's petals sometimes are held facing down below the center of the flower, giving it a cone shape when open fully. Echinacea is also the basis for many natural medicines- usually given as tinctures or teas and is used to combat colds or prevent sickness. In the wild, Echinacea is a highly valuable plant for pollinators and is essential for bees and butterflies alike. In the landscape trade, Echinacea has taken on beautiful new colors of not only purple, but reds and oranges and yellows and whites. They are wonderful in the landscape and a certain necessity. Here are some favorite varieties of Echinacea.
- PowWow White is an older, tried and true cultivar of Echinacea that blooms in clean and beautiful white. Its small height of around a foot and same spread makes it neat and tidy. It does naturalize well when seed is allowed to fall on the ground and overwinter, which in some areas is a wonderful habit.
- Double Scoop Bubble Gum is a double blooming pink and purple lovely variety that grows larger than the PowWow's, and is much loved by butterflies. It does reach heights of 2-3 feet, so using it as middle of the border filler or in naturalistic areas is recommended. Enjoy its punch of color as the deer avoid eating it and it handles drought well.
- Salsa Red is a super bright red blooming and short growing Echinacea that will certainly make a big impact in the landscape over a long period of bloom time. Try planting Salsa Red among Elijah Blue Fescue grass for a perfect bold pairing.
Nepeta is catmint- and where ever you need some problem solving, spreading and hardy, fragrant plant to fill in gaps among the landscape, nepeta will do the trick. If you have a kitty, even better! You probably know that catmint is kitty heaven, and if you let your cat outside, watch kitty enjoy themselves among the catmint. The blooms of all catmints are very attractive to bees, especially native bumble bees that depend on it for nourishment.
- A favorite cultivar of catmint is Walker's Low, because of its small and spreading habit. It makes a decent ground cover that's well behaved in hot and dry conditions and still sends up spikes of beautiful purple blooms that the bees love.
Perennial Geranium: Also known as cranesbill or bloody cranesbill. It's not like the geranium that's sold in American garden centers as a spring annual. This geranium is perennial. It grows well in sunny forest conditions and is of course, a long lived perennial. The flowers are lovely, and the foliage is an interesting shape and texture. Perfect for growing as a groundcover in areas where morning sun and afternoon shade is prevalent.
- Geranium x Cantabrigiense 'Biokovo' is the 2015 Perennial Plant of the Year. It's an absolutely lovely cranesbill, sporting white or slightly tinged with pink blooms over neatly mounded low foliage ideal for the front of a woody border. Very hardy, deer resistant, and long lived.
Sedum is a very hardy succulent plants group that come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors. They are wonderful in borders, in foundation plantings, in large pots, and just about anywhere. They all tolerate drought well and love full hot sun. Their late season blooming is beautifully scented and highly attractive to bees and butterflies. There are lots of wonderful cultivars. Here are some favorites:
- Autumn Fire: A tighter and brighter version of Autumn Joy, Autumn Fire holds its heavy bright red heads of flowers up high and proud without flopping like Autumn Joy. In the fall, the red color is a lovely scene with falling leaves and smells lovely on warm breezes. Growing up to 3 feet tall, Autumn Fire sticks to neat clumps and is a perfect plant in the perennial border. Try planting among fall blooming perennial or annual mums of yellow and orange, and enjoy the blazing color when nothing much else is blooming.
- Japanese Ogon Sedum is hardy in a narrow range, from zones 7-9 (where most residents of the country live!). It's a creeping sedum and does prefer some shade in the very hot afternoons. Spreading and spilling over edges and walls, try planting Ogon over rock walls or terraces.
- Blue Spruce: This sedum does look a little like little branches of Blue Spruce with it's blue-grey cast of its foliage and stems. This sedum is evergreen in warmer areas, but is extremely hardy with a wide range of hardiness (zones 3-9). Blue Spruce grows low and wide and is an excellent groundcover for dry areas and rock gardens, and grows beautifully in landscape stone gaps. Try planting in front of yellow blooming coreopsis like 'Moonbeam' for a lovely combo of disease resistance, deer resistance, and vigor in the landscape.
Russian Sage is a standard in most gardens and landscapes where the gardener enjoys the benefits of long lived, slightly unkempt and wild perennials that live a very long time. Cottage gardens, naturalistic gardens, and borders that come between a yard and a greenbelt or natural scenery are all areas where Russian Sage fits well. 'Little Spire' is a smaller and neatly clumping variety of Russian Sage that tops out at 2 feet in height and spread, and is easily added into the landscape where larger cultivars have to be settled in more specific areas. Topped in purple blooming branched spikes of flowers with foliage of finely-cut silvery grey, this lovely plant resembles an airy version of lavender, and in colder climates can even take its place! Hardy from zones 4-9, there's not much area in the country that 'Little Spire' can't be enjoyed.
Ornamental Grass is often overlooked as a residential landscape plant candidate, but it shouldn't be so! More gardens could use the stately vertical lines and graceful seed heads of large ornamental grasses, and the neat clumping nature of smaller varieties. There are many types of ornamental grass, which are healthy and very well behaved. Consider these lovely cultivars:
- Karl Foerster is a tall, clumping grass that reaches about 5 feet high and holds vertical seed heads from summer through winter. Karl Forester can be planted in modernistic landscapes as well as naturalistic ones.
- Pink Muhly Grass is a medium height grass that has the most lovely pink and wispy seed heads of all the grasses, making them stunning and interesting indeed. Undemanding, easy to love, they offer great color and form in the fall when everything else is just beginning to fade away for the winter.
- Adagio is a very full, medium height (3-4 feet) miscanthus grass with white feathery fall seed heads and a neat strappy and slightly graceful arching habit. Adagio is a wonderful grass for all landscapes, doing well in the heat of summer and retains winter interest with its seeds.
Rudbeckia is another North American native flowering perennial that's tough and lovely. As with Echinacea and coreopsis, Rudbeckia is native to prairies, but also has some varieties in other parts of the country- from the east to the west, to the south. Rudbeckias are adaptable and there's definitely a variety or two perfect for your landscape. Here are some favorites:
- Autumn Colors is a mix of lovely bloom colors in yellow, orange, and red in varying combinations. They are a shorter plant, topping out at around 2 feet in height and enjoy full sun. They are topped from summer to fall with loads of these brightly colored blooms that are large- sometimes 4 inches across!
- Denver Daisy is a yellow with a red brick center rudbeckia with a short height- developed for the 150th anniversary of the city of Denver!
And finally... the Leucanthemum, or Shasta Daisy. Children love the classic white Shasta daisies, as they have long tall stems that are easy to pick, and make wonderful daisy crowns and necklaces. The classics are quite popular and commonly seen in landscapes, but there are some cultivars that are not only just as hardy, but have blooms that are show-stoppers.
- A true show stopper, Victorian Secret is a white to cream colored Shasta with full, marigold-like blooms that are beyond triplicate and quite lovely. A medium sized perennial, they are a perfect size for many applications in the garden such as in the front of middle of borders, perfect for "hell strips" along streets and sidewalks, and wonderful foundation planting additions.
- Crazy Daisy is another Shasta daisy cultivar that's also beyond triplicate in petal form, but the petals are curly! What a different textural sensation these are! Same height and form as Shasta daisies, they look fantastic in drifts and in masses. Their shaggy blooms are a lot of fun, and will have neighbors begging you to know what they are.