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The Top 25 Perennial Picks for Peak Performance and Low Effort

Okay, so maybe this month’s blog post title is a mouthful, but it’s an important one as we head toward peak growing season. Why? Because it’s all about the role of perennials in adding color and vibrancy to a garden without adding a lot of extra work.

Let’s face it – it’s hard to know what plants are good choices for hardiness and the ability to provide color and visual interest all season long. This is especially true for the non-gardener who at least recognizes the value of having perennials in the garden, but doesn’t want to get bogged down tending to them or end up having to hire a professional gardening service every week.

Pulmonaria-Raspberry-Splash
Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash' just starting to emerge in early May.

So let’s talk a little bit about perennials. To crib a famous line from poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How do I love thee (perennials)? Let me count the ways”:

Wow factor Properly selected perennials are a sure-fire way to increase the eye-catching beauty and texture of your garden. Yes, they can be a little work, but they pay you back in spades. The key is to choose plants that will be workhorses and need only a little effort from you a couple times a year.

They keep coming back When planted well, perennials keep coming back year after year, reducing the amount of annual planting needed. An added bonus: they squeeze out weeds by covering the ground with vegetation.

They’re hardy Choosing the right perennials will provide some relief from pests and diseases. That means less work and intervention on your part and more time to enjoy your garden.

purple-spires-atop-Ajuga-Chocolate-Chip
Mid-May brings the riot of purple spires atop Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip'

So, you’re asking by now, what are the right perennials? Well, keep in mind that I live and work in Massachusetts - USDA Hardiness Zone range 4-6 (central NH to southern CT) - so the plants that I prefer work well in this area. Some of the ones I recommend may fair as well in areas as high as Zone 3 (northern New England) and as low as Zone 8 (southern Mid-Atlantic). Each plant in the list is linked to a botanical resource page so you can do your own research and decide which will work best for your garden project.

usda hardiness zone map for Massachusetts

Please note that I left the common perennials off the list, so there are no iris, daylilies, hostas, or grasses here because they’re already well-known hardy choices. Of course, these and several other common perennials would be good compliments to this list – my goal here is to introduce you to some with which you might not be familiar:

1 - Alchemilla ‘Moonshine’ - the clear yellow flowers and bright gray foliage give a wonderful pop in the garden.

2 - Actea simplex ‘Brunette’ - the bold tall flowers stand straight up over burgundy foliage and are a stunning white with an inner pink glow. Amazing for pollinators.

3 - Ajuga reptans ‘Chocolate Chip’ - this little workhorse covers the ground like a low mat and sports bright purple/blue flowers in spring.

4 - Allium senescens ‘Glauca’ - love this one for a late pop of pink in the summer garden and it has and interesting gray circular foliage.

5 - Anemone tomentosa ‘Robustissima’ - this one can really take off when happy - sporting tall stems that are covered in pink flowers with yellow centers.

6 - Asclepias tuberosa - what’s not to love with its bright orange flowers atop strong green stems.

7 - Astilbe chinensis ‘Pumila’ - a workhorse groundcover for part shade beds that becomes covered in pink bottlebrush blooms that the bees love in late summer.

8 - Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ - a bright foliage addition with little blue flowers for your shade garden especially if you have deer issues because they don’t eat these big leave.

9 - Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ - the glossy green foliage, rigid stems that don’t need staking and bright pink flowers work great in part shade and damp conditions

10 - Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’ - this one can get huge, but the late flowering is welcoming right at the moment when you think the season is over - coral blossoms with yellow centers - great to divide and spread around.

11 - Echinops ritro - perfect blue globe flowers that sit atop rigid stems that don’t need staking - pollinators love this one.

12 - Eupatorium dubium ‘Baby Joe’ - a smaller version of Joe-Pye-Weed but still sizable it fits better in the border - its pink flowers hopes tons of pollinators.

13 - Euphorbia polychroma ‘Bonfire’ - need some texture and color that stands up through the entire season, this is it - bright multi-colored foliage

14 - Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliant’ - if you think ferns are boring, think again - this one has several hues of green to burnt orange over the season as it ages - gorgeous

15 - Galium odoratum - this lacy, delicate ground cover will spread over big areas and sport sweet white fragrant flowers.

16 - Geranium sanguineum ‘Max Frei’ - a workhorse perennial/ground cover - this one not only takes up room, it’s rugged and pretty too

17 - Omphalodes verna - got a low, damp site that needs covering - try Blue-Eyed-Mary on for size - she’s a beauty with her clear blue flowers and will spread and cover area.

18 - Phlox subulata ‘Emerald Cushion Blue’ - a standard for hot dry edges and walls - blue is my favorite but it comes in pinks and whites too.

19 - Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’ - one of my most recent favorites - the leave is spotted and strongly mounded and the flowers burst on top - pink and purple - and last for a long time.

20 - Salvia nemorosa ‘Eveline’ - a more delicate salvia but so worth it - clear pink flower stalks over wide graceful leaves that are pretty even once the flowers pass.

21 - Sedum sieboldii - hot garden edge beauty - this one blooms late so it’s a fun add to the garden to extend bloom - the foliage is succulent gray with pink tinged rims - so lovely even when there are no flowers. Late food for pollinators

22 - Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’ - this one will make a big mound and send out babies - likes to seed so keep an eye on her - the flowers are strong pink that last and last - divides and transplants like a dream. Great for a hard hot space.

23 - Tricyrtis hirta ‘Myazaki’ - this is a gem - flowers like orchids in late summer pepper the gracefully arching stems of this oddly hardy plant - you’d think it’s tropical - but it can stand up to my zone perfectly.

24 - Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’ - great part-shade/part-sun border plant - spreads like a fluffy rug and sports awesome little blue flowers prolifically - even has an interesting fall coloration.

25 - Waldsteinia fragariodes - this native barren strawberry is a great shade ground cover - works under trees too. If you want more blossoms you can go for W. ternata, but truthfully they interchange well and going for native is always a good effort.

To find these perennials - start HERE.

TWEETABLE TIP

Perennials keep coming back year after year, reducing the amount of annual planting needed. An added bonus: they squeeze out weeds by covering the ground with vegetation.

VIA @GardenContinuum

 

Perennials -- they’re a great addition to virtually any landscape. They provide critical pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies as well as seeds and nesting materials for birds and other little creatures. Have fun mixing and matching them as the foundation for a garden or as added interest and softness along pathways and other landscape features. Need more tips? Consider downloading the eBook titled "Demystify Your Landscape: Picking Plants."

Demystify Your Landscape by Learning to Pick Plants

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