FOUR GREAT PERENNIALS TO GROW
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
Although another gardening season is ending, it's not too early to start making notes on perennials for next year's garden. In a recent survey conducted by the Perennial Plant Association, an organization for professional landscape designers, commercial perennial growers, and others in the industry, association members from across the country were asked to nominate herbaceous perennials that they felt are most garden worthy and deserving of an award. The four top choices, all ones that just happen to perform well in our cold region, include a fall anemone, a New England aster, a fern, and a catmint.
The fall-flowering anemone (Anemone genus) actually includes a group of several hybrids and cultivars. These range from about two to four feet tall, including the flowers that stand high above the leaves in late summer and early fall. Leaves are often large, giving the plants a bold texture in gardens.
For white blooms try the older but good cultivar 'Honorine Jobert,' with large single to semi-double blooms, or the double pure white 'Whirlwind.' For soft pink flowers consider 'Queen Charlotte,' for single pink 'September Charm,' and for double rose, 'Prince Henry.' Some of these may be less hardy in colder zones. One that has been quite hardy for me for several years, and does well in wet or dry seasons, is the robust 'Robustissima' with its pink flowers and grape-like leaves. If I had to pick 10 top perennials from the hundreds I trial, this one would be on that list.
One of the top New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) to come along in recent years is 'Purple Dome.' It originally was selected at the Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware and is a compact bush about two feet tall, compared to most cultivars of this species, which are about four feet tall. With purple flowers, it also is fairly resistant to mildew and rust diseases. It is generally hardy in zone 4 although in some very cold winters it may have hardiness problems.
The Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum') has been popular for years and is great in moist shade with its fine-textured, silver-green foliage. The light foliage color really brightens a dark, shady area especially when a mass of several plants is used. It is generally hardy to USDA zone 4, and reaches one to one and one-half feet high.
Catmints (Nepeta) have proven quite durable and tough in our recent droughts and are generally hardy throughout our northern region, making them a great low maintenance perennial. This group includes the professionals' cultivar choice, 'Walker's Low.' Originally from Great Britain, it blooms longer and grows to shorter heights than many other catmint cultivars. It is just over a foot high and forms mounds of soft, gray-green, fragrant leaves. Flowers appear in mid to late summer in the north country and are lavender-blue spikes that attract butterflies. Another plus, this cultivar is resistant to browsing by deer and rabbits.
Keep your eye on these choices, perhaps even plan for some in next year's garden if you don't already have them. Who knows, one may just become a Perennial Plant of the Year!