Each year the Perennial Plant Association, a trade group representing perennial grower and designers, polls its members on their favorite plants. The following are some of the most recent choices, as well as some new ones featured at their annual meeting.
Walker’s Low is a catmint (Nepeta x fassenii) listed as hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9, but which has lived fine for me in zone 4 (northern New England) unbothered by my cats! From Britain originally, it is a good, low maintenance perennial for full to part sun. It has mounds of soft, gray-green and fragrant leaves. Above these in early summer appear lavender-blue flower spikes. These remain in bloom for a long period, attracting butterflies. This plant tolerates drought and poor soil, as long as the soil is well-drained. It appears resistant to feeding from deer and rabbits.
Blue Fortune (Agastache) is often called Licorice Plant, from its licorice scented leaves. It may also be seen as Mexican hyssop, since many species of this genus are native to the U.S. This particular cultivar (cultivated variety) is quite cosmopolitan, being a cross between a native U.S. species (foeniculum) and Korean one (rugosa), and was bred in Rotterdam! The genus name comes from the Greek, meaning “many flower spikes”.
Blue Fortune does have many flower stems much of the summer, each stem to three feet high with hundreds of blue-lavender flowers. It prefers full sun, average to dry soil, and tolerates heat and drought. It too resists feeding by deer and rabbits, but provides food for hummingbirds and butterflies. Marginal in zone 4, it is listed by most as only hardy to zone 5 (mid New England or Chicago for instance).
Firewitch is a German hybrid of Pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus), so should correctly go by it’s original German name of Feuerhexe. Whatever you call it, this is one of the longest flowering of the perennial Dianthus, with very blue leaves, a good tolerance for heat, yet quite hardy (zone 3). It forms a groundcover only about six inches high, with heavy spring bloom above the leaves. The bright magenta, clove-scented flowers may rebloom some in summer. Being evergreen, it can provide some winter interest if no heavy snow cover.
Doubledecker is a coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) for those who want something really different. This genus of plants is currently quite popular, with many new selections, including this one from a German grower that looks like something out of Dr. Seuss! Its deep rose pink flowers resemble other coneflowers in late summer, but it is fragrant, and has another set of petals coming out the top of the cone! It is easy to grow as the other purple coneflowers, in full sun and well-drained soil.
Looking Glass is a Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) that
arose as a sport at a Michigan nursery of Jack Frost. The latter
is a wonderful recent plant, with much silver in the leaves, more so than
other cultivars. Leaves of Looking Glass are almost entirely silver,
making a bright spot in shade gardens or woodlands. Mine look stunning
in spring against a sea of forget-me-nots (its flowers resemble those of
the forget-me-not as well). The contrast against dark foliage, such
as from Obsidian coralbells or Hillside Black Beauty bugbane, is equally
These are but a few of the hundreds of new perennial introductions. Your professionals at local perennial nurseries are a good place to start your quest, and to make sure such new plants will grow under your conditions.
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