University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Each year, members of the
Perennial Plant Association-- the industry group representing
professional garden designers nationwide—vote on their top
perennials. From the final group of new cultivars (cultivated
varieties), or those deserving wider use, the Perennial Plant of the
chosen (www.perennialplant.org). These
choice perennials of the professionals is a good place to start when
your own garden from the thousands available.
This year the list includes an upright ornamental grass, a perennial
moist sites and one for dry, and one for shade.
is a cultivar of ornamental switchgrass (Panicum
virgatum, said as PAN-eh-cum vir-GA-tum), with olive-green to
through the season. It is one of the
more upright cultivars, staying vertical in winds without staking as
similar switchgrasses require. Reaching
4 to 5 feet tall and up to 2 feet across, it is topped with
flower panicles above the leaves in late summer. ‘Northwind’ also
was a top choice last year
of perennial professionals, so if you like the effect of ornamental
look for this one.
As with all switchgrasses, it
prefers full sun and a moist and fertile soil.
It will tolerate sandy or clay soils, and drought once established.
It is hardy to much of the north (USDA zone 4
or -20 to -30 degrees F average low in winter). This perennial looks
masses, in the middle to back of borders, on slopes, and combined
‘Hot Lips’ is a catchy name for
this choice cultivar of our native turtlehead (Chelone lyonii,
said as key-LO-knee
li-ON-ee-ii). This perennial too was a
top choice last year by the perennial professionals. This
long-blooming perennial is named for its
rosy-pink flowers that resemble a turtle’s head (with its mouth
open). Flowers in mid to late summer are on reddish
stems, between 2 to 3 feet high, in spikes toward the tips. Both
the stem color and the dark green leaves
make this cultivar different from the species.
It is attractive paired with golden-leaved sedges (Carex),
astilbe, or ligularia.
This plant is hardy to at least
USDA zone 4, and prefers full sun (over 6 hours a day) to part shade
(4 to 6
hours of direct sun). Unlike many perennials
it thrives in moist soils, but tolerates average ones, so would be a
candidate for a rain garden. It also
tolerates somewhat alkaline soils better than many perennials.
Turtlehead is a long-lived and low
maintenance perennial. It can be propagated
by division in spring, or rooting stem cuttings in water in early
‘Angelina’ is a sedum (Sedum rupestre, said as SEE-dum
good for dry soils but growing in most as long as well-drained.
Easy to grow, this ground cover under 6
inches high spreads quickly. The
needle-like leaves start out a pretty chartreuse in spring, then
yellow in the full sun it really needs.
In fall, the leaves turn to shades of orange and red.
This sedum is quite hardy,
growing to USDA zone 3 (-30 to -40 degrees F).
Use it in rock gardens, along walks, massed as a ground cover in
and even in containers and hanging baskets as an annual. Try it
with the blue ornamental fescue
grasses, the taller sedum such as ‘Matrona’ or ‘Purple Emperor’, or
some of the
blue to purple perennial salvias and speedwells.
Variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum, said as
pol-eh-go-NA-tum o-door-A-tum) is the final choice plant of the
for this year, and one I have grown for many years. The arching
stems reach 2 feet tall,
sometimes more, and the plant slowly spreads to create an informal
stems. One attraction is the white,
bell-shaped flowers in spring that hang from the stems where leaves
leaf axils). Another attraction is the oval
soft-green leaves with white tips and margins, turning a soft yellow
fall. A final attraction in some years
and sites is the blue-black berries in fall.
As with other Solomon’s Seals,
grow this one in a moist site in part shade.
Once established though it will tolerate full sun in the north (if
sufficient moisture), and even dry soils.
It is quite hardy to USDA zone 3, similar to the sedum. This
perennial combines well with other
shade-loving plants such as ferns, hostas, European ginger,
perennial vinca (in
areas where this is not invasive), barrenworts (Epimedium),
and lungworts (Pulmonaria).
Other choice and hardy perennials
of the professionals from recent years include ‘Caramel’ coralbells,
Frost’ Siberian bugloss, and the thread-leaf or Arkansas bluestar.
More good and proven choices of perennials
for the north, and all their details, can be found on Perry’s
under Plants of the Month (perrysperennials.info).