Though many new perennials are introduced every year, only a few become instant classics that will stand the test of time. In our thirty plus years of growing plants, we’ve seen our share of new plants come and go. Since the beginning of this century, the flow of new plants has turned into an avalanche. It’s hard even for professional growers like us to keep up. However, a good plant quickly establishes itself in the garden and in the industry, and the very best become classics. Here are a few of the very best introductions of the century so far!
1. Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’) – Zone 2
Chosen as the 2012 Perennial Plant of the Year for a multitude of reasons besides the fact it is pure magic in the shade garden. In spring, baby-blue, forget-me-not flower clusters are held above the beautifully frosted, crackled, deep green leaves which brighten up any woodland setting. As the season progresses, the leaves become more silver and more heart-shaped. The dark green vein pattern also becomes more distinct. ‘Jack Frost’ also withstands summer heat better than most older varieties. Stunning when paired with other shade-lovers like Hosta and Hardy Ferns and excellent in containers destined for a shady spot.
2. Serbian Bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana Blue Waterfall) – Zone 2
From the first time you see this perennial, it will definitely catch your eye. It is exceptionally versatile with a lovely cascading habit doing a bang up job as a groundcover, when asked to make a beautiful display spilling over a rock or retaining wall, in hanging baskets, window boxes and mixed containers. Beautiful, five-petaled, star-shaped flowers in cool blue smother the trailing stems of attractive green foliage for several weeks. It is vigorous, quick to establish and yet has a compact and dense habit. It is easy to maintain and drought tolerant once it establishes itself. You could say, an almost perfect perennial. Grows in sun to partial shade.
3. Fern-leaf Bleedingheart (Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’)– Zone 2
There’s the playing card aka The Suicide King, several movies over the years, several songs including one from Roy Orbison back in 1992, books and stage plays but none so beautiful as this Fern-Leaved Bleedingheart by the same name. It has an excellent compact habit, healthy foliage which is powdery-green and handsome all season acting as a lacy backdrop to an abundance of rose-red flowers on arching stems that last for weeks. Truly an excellent choice and performer for the partially shaded garden!
4. Dwarf Spike Speedwell (Veronica spicata Royal Candles) – Zone 2
Why not invite nature into your garden? Butterflies will be constant visitors stopping by to sip nectar from the masses of bright-blue flower spikes that last all summer long. This is considered the best upright Speedwell because of its shorter habit as well as the fact the leaves on the bottom of the stems do not die out as in other varieties. ‘Royal Candles’ is a wonderful addition to any sunny border, as an edging along a path and in mixed containers. Very colourful when mass planted.
5. Cranesbill Geranium (Geranium ‘Rozanne’) – Zone 4
When she hit the stage a few years ago, she blew out the competition! Another former Perennial Plant of the Year (2008), ‘Rozanne’ makes an excellent groundcover or border perennial, remaining compact all season. The flowers are huge, long-lasting and cup-shaped in violet-blue. They feature a tiny white eye and reddish-purple veining. The foliage is finely cut and remains attractive all year turning a lovely reddish-bronze colour once cooler temperatures arrive. Considered one of the longest blooming perennials, there’s none better for today’s gardener.
6. Perennial Sage (Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’) – Zone 3
‘Caradonna’ earns big points in the show category featuring blue-black stems and open, graceful spikes of deep violet-blue flowers in summer. It’s a repeat bloomer that is attractive to both hummingbirds and butterflies and is cold, heat, humidity and drought tolerant. A sun -lover, it looks fabulous with Achillea Moonshine (see Best Perennials of All Time). It is tough and a great all-round performer!
7. Angelina Stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) – Zone 3
If you like succulents, you will love Angelina. A low growing stonecrop, it absolutely glows in the garden producing bright golden-yellow, needle-like leaves all summer long. It’s an excellent groundcover for sunny, dry areas. The tips of the leaves become reddish-orange when cooler temperatures arrive in fall and will last throughout the winter. Although it does produce flowers, they are yellow and insignificant compared to the foliage. ‘Angelina’ is very easy to grow and care for, providing colour all season – hard to beat!
8. Black-Leaved Ligularia (Ligularia dentata ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’) – Zone 3
If you are looking for something bold and beautiful near a pond or in a partly shaded, moist, woodland garden, this is it! The large, rounded leaves are deep purple-black with burgundy undersides, holding their colour all season. Clusters of deep golden-yellow flowers appear in summer and are held above the leaves on strong stems. Excellent performer and very impressive!
9. New Millennium Delphinium (Delphinium ‘Pagan Purples’)– Zone 3
There is new and improved and then there is the New Millennium Delphiniums, the best of both worlds. They are strong, reliable, healthy and impressive and offered in a wide range of colours. ‘Pagan Purples’ features large double flower spikes in dark blue, violet-purple and mauve. These are majestic and stunning perennials, especially when mass planted.
10. Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’) – Zone 4
What makes this perennial one of the Top 10 Best for the 21st Century? Long long bloom time and drought, heat and humidity tolerance. It starts flowering in early summer and doesn’t quit until early fall. The flowers are what you think of when you think of Shasta Daisies with white overlapping petals surrounding a large yellow centre. Classic beauty in an easy to grow perennial!