Now, don’t be annoyed if your favourite plant is not listed. It’s REALLY difficult to choose only 10 especially when you consider the number of outstanding perennials available in past years and today; not to mention the ones that will be introduced in the future. Still, we think you would be very hard pressed to find fault with any of the plants we’ve listed here. They all are excellent performers that will add years of pleasure to your perennial gardens. We have added a few other perennials for your consideration in the lists below just in case you’ve already discovered the ones we chose for this category.
1. Black Bugbane (Cimicifuga simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’) – Zone 5
It is a tough choice between C. ‘Brunette’ and C. ‘Hillside Black Beauty’. Both are outstanding perennials but ‘Black Beauty’ wins due to slightly blacker foliage. Giving great foliage interest all season followed by the sweetest smelling spikes of flowers in late summer, this exquisite plant delivers joy for years and only asks for moist soil and part sun.
2. Serbian Bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana Blue Waterfall) – Zone 2
This is without a doubt a fantastic perennial that is reliable, versatile and easy to grow. It does a bang up job as a groundcover, when asked to make a beautiful display spilling over a rock or retaining wall and in hanging baskets and mixed containers. Beautiful, five-petaled, star-shaped flowers in cool blue smother the trailing stems of attractive green foliage for several weeks. It’s pictured here threading its way through the base of Leatherleaf Sedge (Carex buchananii). Another Serbian Bellflower worth mentioning is C. ‘Blue Rivulet’.
3. Itoh Peony ‘Bartzella’ (Paeonia ‘Bartzella’) – Zone 2
If you don’t know of or haven’t seen Itoh Peonies, add them to your Gardening To Do List for 2012. Itoh Peonies are a cross between tree and herbaceous peonies and are worthy of all the “oooohs” and “aaaahs” they’ve received since their arrival in North America. ‘Bartzella’ is considered one of the best and produces huge (8″ dinner plate size), semi-double to double, soft yellow flowers with a small purple-rose flare in the centre. Blooms have a slightly spicy fragrance. Very vigorous growers with strong stems that do not require staking. The lush green foliage remains attractive all season. Now that they’re more readily available, they’re also more affordable! Other Itoh varieties available include P. ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ (creamy flushed lilac), ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ (rose-pink) and ‘Lollipop’ (see it in the Top 10 New for 2012) bright yellow petals with dark purple stripes).
4. Yarrow (Achillea ‘Moonshine’) – Zone 3
There are a number of new varieties of Yarrow available today (see some mentioned below) and although this variety has been around for awhile, it’s considered one of the best perennials of all time. A classic, it offers great looks, outstanding performance and combines well with its neighbours making it a natural for this list. Huge canary-yellow clusters last all summer long while the feathery, silver-grey foliage remains attractive all season. Exceptional drought tolerance once established. Other reliable Yarrow selections include the Seduction™ Series of Yarrow with varieties such as: ‘Saucy Seduction’ (rose-pink), ‘Strawberry Seduction’ (bright strawberry red) and ‘Sunny Seduction’ (soft yellow) or the Tutti Frutti™ Series with varieties like ‘Pink Grapefruit’ (dusty rose) and ‘Pomegranate’ (deep pomegranate red).
5. Silver-variegated Sweet Iris (Iris pallida ‘Argentea Variegata’) – Zone 3
A striking addition to the sunny perennial garden, this perennial deserves its top billing for its beautiful striped cream and green sword-like leaves but also the lightly-scented, soft lavender-blue flowers that last all summer. Foliage is an important component in garden design and can be more than a background for flowers. The leaves of the Sweet Iris, in particular, provide texture and interest before the blooms emerge and long after they fade from memory. An added bonus is the fact that these Irises are among the most reliable and disease-resistant of all Tall Bearded Irises. There is also a ‘gold’ variegated version of this Sweet Iris called ‘Aureo Variegata’.
6. Variegated Japanese Sedge (Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’) – Zone 5
If you’re looking for a beautiful sedge for around a pond, to add interest to mixed containers or for a special spot in the shade garden, this variety is hard to beat! Its star appeal is due to its weeping habit producing graceful and arching, narrow, creamy-yellow leaves edged in green. It has tremendous adaptability growing well in dry shade to full sun and it can handle sites with more moisture. It can be grown almost anywhere. Let’s not forget that its foliage looks great all year. Stunning! A Variegated Japanese Sedge called C. ‘Ice Dance’, Gold Fountains Sedge (‘Kaga-nishiki’) and Leatherleaf Sedge (C. buchananii) are others to consider.
7. Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum) – Zone 4
By far the most popular and showy of Hardy Ferns and undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful with soft grey-green, arching fronds held on deep burgundy stems. It is a former Perennial Plant of the Year and is perhaps one of the most attractive plants grown in the shade. This fern makes a strong statement in a shady garden with its metallic look adding wonderful contrast to other shade-loving perennials. Stands out perfectly near a pond or stream. Other Japanese Painted Ferns worth your consideration: A. ‘Apple Court’, ‘Red Beauty’ and ‘Regal Red’.
8. Single Peony (Paeonia lactiflora ‘Bowl of Beauty’) – Zone 2
Peonies conjure up memories of Grandma’s garden and are timeless additions to the sunny garden. ‘Bowl of Beauty’ is one of the most popular and most beautiful. If you have room for only one Peony, trust me, it should be this one! Rose-pink petals surround frilly creamy-yellow centres held on good sturdy stems. This Peony was bred specifically for use as a cut flower so the flowers will last longer than most other varieties. Looks fabulous floating in a large rose bowl. Peony ‘Inspecteur Lavergne’ (double deep-red), ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ (appleblossom pink) and ‘Shirley Temple’ (double white blushed pink) are worthy of your consideration.
9. Stella de Oro Daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Stella de Oro’) – Zone 2
The all-time best selling Daylily! There are Daylilies that have larger blooms, bloom longer, maybe even produce better flowers but this may outlast them all. In fact, she created an entire category for Daylilies. Some would say she is over-used but based on the fact she can thrive in a multitude of soils and conditions, is drought tolerant, loves the sun but can tolerate some shade and is a repeat bloomer that provides a long season of bloom (June to September), fragrant golden-yellow flowers and attractive compact foliage than can act as a groundcover, we’d suggest she has definitely earned her stripes! Other great performers include ‘Catherine Woodbery’ (orchid pink), ‘Hyperion’ (lemon yellow) and ‘Pardon Me’ (cranberry red with yellow throat).
10. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’) – Zone 3
With the plethora of Coneflowers available today, this was a difficult decision to make but ‘Magnus’ won out for many reasons. It forms a nice bushy plant that produces reddish-purple petals that sit straight out off of the button centre instead of drooping. It provides a long season of colour, looks fabulous in a bouquet (fresh or dried), is long-lived unlike some newer varieties, is environmentally friendly providing food for birds in winter and is just hands down, a great perennial! You guessed it – another former Perennial Plant of the Year (1998)! Where do we start with other Purple Coneflower choices? Some reliable varieties to look for would be E. ‘PowWow White’ and ‘PowWow Wild Berry’.