It’s that time again where I get to make my choices for the current year’s Top 10 perennial list. While the occasion lacks the glitz and hoopla of the Oscars or Grammy Award Ceremony, (or the audience for that matter), it’s a good opportunity to recognize the horticultural equivalents of talent or popularity.
My selections are made using various criteria, such as the wisdom of industry leaders (Hosta of the Year, Perennial of the Year), my personal favourites (Itoh Peonies) and industry or gardening trends (surging popularity of succulents). Plant breeding success in improving classic perennial consistency and performance is a good source of candidates for recognition as well.
So, without further ado, the envelope please….
1. Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) Chosen as the 2017 Perennial of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association, this one checks off a lot of boxes. It is on-trend as a North American native plant, especially because of its wonderful ability to support birds and insects, including its role as the primary food of the Monarch butterfly. It’s also on-trend for being drought tolerant. It even has the benefit of being unpopular with marauding deer and is not subject to any serious pest or disease problems. Orange is the typical flower colour but a yellow variety named ‘Hello Yellow’ is sometimes available as well. Late to emerge in spring. Zone 4.
2. Clematis ‘Charmaine’ “Ok”, I hear some of you say “that’s a clematis, not a perennial”. Well, by botanical criteria, it most certainly is a perennial. It’s also true that this is sold as part of the Raymond Evison Clematis® product line, not as a Heritage Perennial®. Now that’s out of the way, let’s focus on the incredible performance of this compact, vigorous grower with lovely dark red flowers. Flowers bloom profusely and then bloom again, providing colour through the summer. The compact growth habit of this selection means it fits in smaller gardens or patio containers. A winner. Zone 4.
3. Coreopsis Uptick® ‘Gold & Bronze’ (Tickseed) This variety is one of the selections in the new Uptick® series. The series is a significant improvement on the category. With impressively large flowers blooming from May through September, the plant itself also impresses with a tidy, mounded growth habit. Mildew resistant as well, this plant has won numerous awards in the UK and in the USA. Zone 5.
4. Hosta ‘Brother Stefan’ The American Hosta Growers Association certainly hit their 2017 selection out of the park. A truly spectacular specimen, the heavily corrugated golden-yellow leaves have contrasting edges of dark green. The overall effect is very impressive, and ‘Brother Stefan’ only grows more impressive each year as it slowly reaches its maximum size. White flowers appear just above the slug resistant foliage in early summer. A real stunner. Zone 3.
5. Phlox ‘Violet Pinwheels’ (Hybrid Groundcover Phlox) The great folks at Chicagoland Grows® Plant Introduction Program continue to deliver outstanding new plants to the gardening world. We’ve been particularly smitten by this wonderful hybrid of P. bifida and P. kelseyii. A well behaved spreader, this produces masses of fragrant, rich violet-purple upturned flower petals over dark foliage. An outstanding, robust plant which introduces a new colour to the creeping phlox line. We predict it will become exceptionally popular. Zone 4.
6. Sedum Sunsparkler® ‘Lime Twister’ (Stonecrop) We have seen some outstanding new varieties of groundcover stonecrop introduced by Chris Hansen in the last few years. The entire range of Sunsparkler® varieties is fabulous, and this one is no exception. Leaves are strongly variegated with cream-coloured edges. Very drought tolerant, this easy-care plant is great in containers, rock gardens, troughs, or the front of the perennial border. Zone 4.
7. Paeonia ‘Duchesse de Lorraine’ The Itoh (or Intersectional hybrid) peonies are so spectacular, one of them is bound to hit the Top 10 list each and every year. This year’s winner is walking down the red carpet dressed in shimmering, silky, gorgeous yellow petals, with the highest petal count yet. An enticing fragrance is an added bonus. As peonies are very long lived, this winner should only get better with age. Worth every penny. Zone 3.
8. Helleborus Frostkiss™ Anna’s Red & Penny’s Pink (Lenten rose hybrids) The last decade or so has seen a lot of hellebore breeding and new introductions. Seed strains have introduced a range of colours, but often with a high degree of variability in vigour, number of flowers or flower colour. The Frostkiss™ series however is filled with robust, reliable and predictable growers with outstanding flower power. We love both Penny’s Pink and Anna’s Red, so we decided to feature them both. Anna showcases a red-toned flower, while Penny is a deep pink. Both are spectacular, and will brighten up an early spring garden or container for years to come. Zone 5.
9. Echibeckia® Summerina® Butterscotch Biscuit This is one of the newest introductions to the Echibeckia® lineup of hybrids. This crossing of Rudbeckia and Echinacea results in progeny with the appearance of Rudbeckia and the strength of Echinacea. Although winter hardiness is limited, the flowering show is so long and full that it’s worth growing as an annual in colder climates. Not only does the bloom season last from late summer through fall, the individual flowers last for many weeks as well. While there are a number of varieties in this series, we love the bold and bright tones of Butterscotch Biscuit and its robust growth and size, and predict it will be the best seller of the bunch. Excellent in large containers. Zone 7.
10. Dianthus Scent First® Passion As growers of perennials, we are sometimes so tuned into focusing on the latest new variety, that we start thinking a plant that’s been around for 3 or 4 years is old news. However, it’s only after 3 or 4 years of experience that we begin to recognize which plants truly are winners. The Scent First™ series in general, and Passion in particular, combine outstanding garden performance with profuse blooming and fragrance. In many cases, that classic, clove-like dianthus scent has been lost as breeders have sacrificed scent for unique flowers. We should all be grateful that the breeders at Whetman Pinks Ltd. in the UK brought back that classic scent. Better late than never, it is time this great plant gets recognized. Zone 5.