This past spring there were a handful of perennials that were, please pardon the idiom, “flying off the shelves.” Plants that seemed to have wings attached to them, for as soon as they arrived, they appeared to be gone. Perennials that our garden center continually had to add to our “call back” list once they arrived again. And despite the increased numbers we brought in, the demand was simply too great. A list as diverse as the multitude of characteristics they possess.
A Cimicifuga hybrid (Black Snakeroot/Bugbane), Actaea ‘Chocoholic’ is an herbaceous perennial that blooms from August to September. Gorgeous mauve-pink blooms suspended over bronze-purple foliage was apparently enough to have shade gardeners “giddy”. Resistant to deer and rabbits and attracting bees and butterflies this native to North America appreciates being planted and then left alone.
No surprise with this plant, Allium ‘Millenium’ topped our list of most sold largely because of its deer resistance. An ornamental onion type, ‘Millenium’ blooms in July and August with large globes of rose-pink/purple flowers held above shiny deep-green grassy foliage. The Perennial Plant Association 2018 Plant of The Year, “‘Millenium’ is a true bulb on a stout rhizome, it forms a clump which can be lifted and divided in either spring or fall.” With over 700 species of bulbous or rhizomatous plants in the genus Allium, ‘Millenium’ appears at the top of the list as an ornamental type.
Another brightly colored shade plant with lots of character and texture is Brunnera. Quickly becoming a perennial favorite amongst gardeners, Heartleaf Brunnera or Siberian Bugloss, Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack of Diamonds’, has been embraced by serious gardeners and novices alike. A giant version of ‘Jack Frost’, ‘Jack of Diamonds’ has huge 10-inch leaves that overlap. Its heart-shaped leaves have a heavy silver and dark green veining pattern and a sort of “scratchiness” texture, again not favored by deer. From mid to late spring, baby blue, forget-me-not type flowers are high above the foliage. Brunnera make a great groundcover, in time, and the variegated types brighten up dark spaces in the garden.
A vine that I’m sure American guitarist, singer and songwriter Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead would have admired is Clematis ‘Tie Dye’. Discovered outside Rochester, NY as a sport of the popular “tried and true” Clematis ‘Jackmanii’, ‘Tie Dye’ has large violet-blue flowers marbled with white. A vigorous vine that flowers heavily, ‘Tie Dye’ will work wonders climbing your lamppost or obelisk in your planters. Remember, Clematis appreciate their tops being in full sun and their roots shaded and protected by companion plants.
A perennial one of our larger landscape accounts loves to use is Geranium ‘Dragon Heart’. Convinced of its deer resistance and ability to attract butterflies, Dominick also loves how long this plant will bloom. Perennial geraniums have a wonderful mounding habit with unique foliage. ‘Dragon Heart’s’ flower is described as “near black centers extending symmetrical dark rays of each petal of these long blooming, 2” magenta flowers.” Its larger-leafed foliage forms wide clumps and looks stunning in rock gardens or enhancing stone features. Beneficial for pollinators, remember to prune back spent flowers and many Cranesbill will thank you by reblooming.
Part of the American Beauties Native Plant Program is Iris versicolor ‘Purple Flame’. An outstanding selection from Mt. Cuba Center, this perennial always holds my attention as it emerges out of the ground every spring. Blade-like foliage “aflame in shocking purple.” A native showstopper, dark blue flowers in the spring is a strong secondary attribute to its earlier purple foliage in my opinion. An aquatic perennial, its markings are strongest when planted in moist areas, making it a great addition to stream and pond edges.
Finally, Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis ‘Black Truffle’, rounds out the perennials that flew off our shelves this past spring. Deep purple-black foliage and bold red flowers, on this native, is a combination not often seen in gardens. Flower stalks that rise above and through “glossy black rosettes of foliage, late season and warmer temps bring iridescent maroon foliage.” Suitable for rain gardens, this showy perennial type prefers full sun-part shade and reminds some of the annual Coleus. Tolerant of very moist soil, this dark chocolatey-purple selection was introduced by Peter Heus and brought to market by Plants Nouveau.
Perennials are defined as a plant that lives more than three years with little or no woody growth. They typically bloom one season, although many can rebloom. “While not a true perennial, Lobelia cardinalis propagates itself by offsets from axils at the basal foliage which form their own roots”, able to self-sow from seed. But hey, close enough and the hummingbirds and butterflies certainly have no complaints.