Attending a presentation on great perennials is like going to one of those restaurants where the menu runs 10 pages. What to choose? What to choose? I felt that way last Friday at Richard Hawke’s talk on winning perennials from the Chicago Botanic Garden’s flower trials. Each year, the Chicago Botanic grows every available cultivar of 30 plant types (genera, for you scientific folks). At the Minnesota Green Expo last week, Hawke, who manages the trials, reviewed his favorite perennials.
Fortunately, many of the perennials are only hardy to Zone 5b, or my shopping list would be even longer. A few of the perennials he suggested already have homes in my garden. The catmint, Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’, was perennial plant of the year in 2007. I’ve grown it for two summers and love it. It’s vigorous, even in the part of my yard where shrub and tree roots fight with perennials, and its spiky, bluish purple flowers come after many of the spring bloomers fade. Hawke also recommended the beebalm, Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’, which I planted last summer. I bought mine on sale in mid-June or early July. Then, the drought hit. So, Jacob didn’t do much, except survive. I’ll see how it looks next summer.
Here are a few perennials that Hawke mentioned that I will be looking for in nurseries this spring.
Joe-pye weed, Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’. At 4-feet-high-by-3 feet-wide, it’s smaller than other Joe-pye weed varieties. I think the reddish-purple blooms would blend in well with many of the other purple flowers I have. I nabbed this photo off the American Beauties web site, which sells a variety of native plants.
Beebalm, Monarda ‘Marshall’s Delight’. This monarda has an honest pink flower and is said to be mildew resistant, which is a common problem with beebalm. These plants like a moist soil generally, and Hawke mentioned that with ‘Marshall’s Delight’ adequate moisture made a big difference in bloom.
I am also tempted to plant a brunnera, either ‘Jack Frost’ or ‘Looking Glass’, both of which Hawke recommends. Brunnera don’t handle dry shade well, so I’ll have to be careful where I place it. However, the heart-shaped, silvery foliage would brighten up a lot of garden situations.
This summer, I’m going to try to give the bed near our front door more of a cottage feel, so naturally, I’ve been thinking about phlox. I planted some at the end of the summer of 2006, and it did remarkably well last year (no signs of mildew!), so I am was interested in Hawke’s recommendation of Phlox paniculata ‘Shortwood’. I like the long bloom you get from phlox and that it attracts hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden. This photo is from the Missouri Botanical Garden’s web site, which includes a great library of perennials to consider.
Finally, I need height in my perennial border, and so Hawke’s recommendation of this meadow rue, Thalictrum ‘Elin’, got me thinking. This plant grows 8 feet tall–and can get to 12 in perfect conditions. Wow! I also like the combination of cream and purple in its flower and that it has a purplish stem. I have to think more about where I would place it–and if it would overwhelm everything else–but it’s definitely a plant worth contemplating. The photo came from the White Flower Farm web site.
Luckily for my bank account, it’s too early to do much ordering. In addition, I’m committed this spring to buying most of my plants from local or regional nurseries. That’s probably the best way to assure that new plants will be survivors. Still, on a cold January day, it’s nice to dream and plan.