Operating two of the largest perennial nurseries in Canada gives owner John Schroeder a unique perspective on trends in gardening, and perennials in particular. Ten plants are chosen for Top 10 honours each year as his personal recommendations for your garden! As always, the list includes mostly new varieties, ‘hand picked’ for performance, landscape impact or even novelty.
With so many new varieties coming onto the market each year, choosing the winners can be challenging for even the most experienced gardener. John helps you weed through the many options to find the most exceptional varieties. In addition to the best of the new, some of the best of the best as selected by key authorities, such as the international Perennial Plant Association, are also featured this year.
John says: “New plants are just so exciting, especially when they are great improvements over older selections. At the same time, it is wonderful to see outstanding classics, such as this year’s Perennial of the Year Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’, enjoy their time in the spotlight. After all, if a plant is still being grown 158 years after its introduction, it’s got to be worth a Top 10 pick!” Please enjoy what John has to say about this year’s crop of winners.
As you would expect, if a variety first introduced 158 years ago (1858), still manages to collect recognition as the 2016 Perennial Plant of the Year, it must be one outstanding perennial. This reliable and showy Japanese (Autumn) Anemone brightens up any semi-shaded garden from September to October with large white flowers on a 120 cm (4 foot) plant. Good, rich heavy loam soil is preferred, although such ideal conditions can encourage the plant to spread. It is easy however to keep in check with judicious trimming of any wandering roots. Good cut flowers for home use.
Clustered Bellflowers are popular, easy to grow perennials. This new selection has a mid-sized habit. Bicolour flowers of blue and white bloom up the stems at each leaf axil, which results in a long blooming period. Worth trying in containers; its relatively compact height makes it suitable for almost any garden. If desired, trim plants back to 10 cm (4”) after flowering to rejuvenate the foliage and tidy it up for the remainder of the season. You might even experience some rebloom. The RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) has recognized this with an AGM (Award of Garden Merit) so we know it’s good!
I still clearly remember the day I first laid eyes on this plant, growing in a walled garden at Green Plant Farm in the UK. It drew me all the way across the garden with its dense eruption of smoky-purple foliage as I wondered: ‘What is THAT!’ Not a typical vining Clematis, it instead has a sprawling, bushy habit. The early purple foliage matures to a deep olive green, and it then produces a good display of fragrant little ivory flower clusters in late spring to early summer. Will require staking or an obelisk to grow into, otherwise this can be allowed to sprawl through an adjacent shrub. Prune to the ground in fall or early spring. May be divided in spring, but plants take a season to recover. Makes an interesting cut flower.
Literally hundreds of varieties of tickseed exist, from old standard perennials to brand new annuals. The big emphasis on breeding in this genus is a testament to its garden merit. This movie-star named addition to the Leading Lady series brings long blooming performance to a Zone 4 hardy perennial. The good sized double flowers are more of a true yellow than many similar varieties. The variety is day-neutral, a technical term which means the plant begins blooming early, but flowers continue through the summer. Foliage is mildew resistant as well, making this variety a true ‘Best of Show’.
This latest introduction to the popular Butterfly series from AB-Cultivars in the Netherlands. There are lots of Echinacea to chose from, but this particular breeder is
known for producing good, solid, reliable varieties that combine performance with beauty. ‘Rainbow Marcella’ prolifically produces sherbet-orange single flowers, which age to soft, raspberry pink. Long blooming, this will complement any garden setting in which it can enjoy full sun.
Probably no other genus has come to define the prolific plant breeding at Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon like Heuchera. It is easy to see why coral bells have so beguiled many breeders and millions of gardeners. Foliage that endures the entire growing season, available in a rainbow of colours, perfect for mixed containers, great in gardens. What we look for at Heritage Perennials are new colours on reliable, disease free plants. ‘Champagne’ delivers a stunningly beautiful progression of foliage in colours from peach, to gold, to champagne-gold.
The 2016 Hosta of the Year as chosen by the AHGA (American Hosta Growers Association). Hosta are well known as some of the best performing perennials for shady gardens. However, not everyone has room for the big leafed monsters, hence the growing popularity of smaller (miniature) varieties. Perhaps that is why ‘Curly Fries’ was awarded the 2016 honour. Or perhaps it was because it is one of the most unique varieties around. Stiff, long narrow leaves with heavily ruffled edges emerge chartreuse and brighten to yellow, especially if provided with sun for half the day. Lavender flowers in midsummer add extra colour, as do the red speckles on mature leaf petioles. Fantastic in smaller containers, or perhaps in front of that bright blue hosta in your border. Remember when you shop at your favourite garden center this spring that whatever else you order, you’ll want some ‘Curly Fries’ with that!
Blooms of Bressingham introduced the popular ‘Jenny’ a few years ago, and now she has a little sister, ‘Petite Jenny’. Since this compact, bushy just 35cm (14”) tall variety was found in a garden patch of Jenny, she might best be described as a daughter instead. Sterile flowers ensure the plant blooms for a longer season. Soft, lavender pink double flowers bloom May and June, with some later flowering in summer. This variety of the commonly named Ragged Robin is hardy to zone 5, and is useful in formal and informal gardens, borders, meadows or containers.
Ground cover sedums, such as the commonly grown Dragon’s Blood forms, have been popular for years. Easy to grow and spreading quickly, they tolerate drought, full sun and poor soils better than most perennials while still putting on a foliage and flower show. Here at Heritage Perennials, we’re very excited about the new Sunsparkler series of Sedum, which takes this perennial to a new level of performance. ‘Firecracker’ features shiny cherry-red foliage from April through November on 15cm (6”) tall plants with a 45cm (18”) spread. In mid to late August, large medium-pink flower heads provide extra colour. These zone 4 plants are excellent in mixed container plantings, garden edging, green roofs and a multitude of other sunny locations.
While technically an Intersectional hybrid peony, this is more commonly known as an Itoh Peony, named after Mr. Toichi Itoh, the first successful hybridizer of woody and garden peony species. The Intersectional (a cross between two species) hybrids combine the best qualities of both parents. ‘Joanna Marlene’ is a new variety introduced by American breeder Roger Anderson, who considers it one of his favourites. This variety produces very large semi-double soft yellow blossoms. As the flowers mature, they take on a peachy tone with pink highlights. As with other Itoh peonies, ‘Joanna Marlene’ is a strong performer with flowers that hold up well even in wind and rain. This is a plant that can be considered a garden legacy plant, providing flowers and joy for many years, even decades.