They were slooooow coming, this season’s perennials. Despite the cold snap that froze the about half the buds slap off the Camellia, nearly all the buds off the Star Magnolia, most of the perennials stayed low and held off pushing out–which was a good thing. I don’t think I ever had as fine a stand of Bluebells and Woodland Phlox. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I consider perennials to be to the garden what paint is for an artist; they are like brush strokes. Painterly, I sometimes say.  A well-designed garden can stand, it is true, on the woody shrub and tree material alone, but it’s not as rich, not as interesting, without the herbaceous plants. I will also say, that there is a direct correlation between the amount of maintenance in a garden and the amount of perennials in it. Therefore, my Top 10 Lists for this week are for easy-care perennials that perform beautifully and need little from us. Let’s dive in.

First, the Sun Perennials.
1. Sedum. I don’t thing there are any I don’t like except for maybe ‘Angeline’ which is extremely prolific. I edit out a whole bunch every year. They hold up to the hottest of summers and really turn it on late in the season;
2. Autumn blooming Anemone. I like ‘Honorine Jobert.’ The foliage is low to the ground, spreads nicely, and the tall flowers look like butterflies in the late summer garden;
3. Penstemon. The dark, green-red foliage is great even when the plant isn’t blooming. Pretty pink flowers on slender stems;
4. Pigsqueak. Yes, you did read that correctly. Bergenia cordifolia. I’m sure there is a story in here somewhere with a name like this. Another great plant for foliage with paddle-like leaves, also with a bit of red coloration;
5. Peony. Sigh….need I say more? The beauty queen of the perennial garden. Who cares that they flowers last about thirty-five seconds? What a grand thirty-five seconds it is. The foliage is decent after the bloom. It is a good ideas to put some rings around the plants for support. Some old farmers I know say that they have peony plants on their properties that are over seventy years old. Now that is saying something;
6. Clematis, a perennial vine, create wonderful vertical interest in the garden. So many colors to choose from, too. ‘Niobe’ is one of my favorites. I don’t remember the name of the one pictured below;
7. Phlox. The summer-blooming ones are wonderfully fragrant and make an excellent cut flower. Some new varieties are on the market so watch for them at the garden centers. I like the deep coral pink ones and the old-fashioned white ones;
8. Perennial Geranium. Many to pick from here as well, with colors that range from pale pink to vibrant purple. One of the easiest garden plants to grow. “Biokova” is one I really like; it has delicate pink flowers and pretty foliage. Low to the ground;
9. Amsonia. This is the perennial that acts like a shrub. A gorgeous stand of this line a walkway at Scott Arboretum on the Swarthmore College campus. Golden in the fall with soft, leaves that move so gracefully in the wind. For sure a plant with lots of texture and interest;
10. Stachys, ‘Helene von Stein’ is a great one for sure. No flower; it is the foliage you want, which is silver-green and large. Looks great alongside nearly any other plant in the garden and needs only a trim at the beginning of the season.

Now for the Shade Perennials:
1. Hosta. There are hundreds of varieties to chose from. I’d say go for the drama and get one of the newer ones that can spread to more than four feet across, if you have room. Last year I planted one called ‘Blue Mammoth’ which is supposed to get sixty-six inches wide. We’ll see about that–I will report back;
2. Heuchera. Some of these have nice flowers, others? Not so much. Consider this a ground cover plant and use in sweeps. I like ‘Palace Purple’ and ‘Autumn Bride.’ They do re-seed, which has been great as they are helping me fill in some bare areas;
3. Tiarella–Foamflower. Another ground cover. Some are trailing in form. The flower is small and uber-charming, slightly pink at first and turning white. Colorful folige;
4. Heucherella. You guessed it– a cross between Heuchera and Tiarella with great features from both; very long-blooming. I tried this last year for the first time and really like the plant;
5. Astilbe. From white to pink to red and even lavender, with many heights to choose from, this is a summer bloomer that adds color and texture to the shade garden. The foliage is lacy and delicate-looking. Great companion to ferns;
6. Jacob’s Ladder. I was surprised at what a great cut flower this plant is when I made a spring bouquet from it last week. They were beautiful with the mini daffies and they both lasted a week in the vase. The flower is small and blue-purple over mounding dark, green foliage;
7. Solomon’s Seal. Yes, this does seem like the Old Testament plant group! Solomon’s Seal is one of my very favorite shade perennials; they have a strong, slightly arching habit to the stems, small flowers that hang below the strap-like foliage. Nicely variegated and critter-resistant;
8. Woodland Phlox.  Mine are blooming now and the fragrance is heavenly. Pale purple, foliage is not so exciting, but the plant is easy to care for and worth the drama and fragrance;
9. Lenten Rose. Every shade garden should have this plant. Dry-shade tolerant. Some of my favorites are ‘Honey Hill Joy,’ ‘Cinnamon Snow,’ and ‘Ivory Prince.’ They do look like little roses and the foliage is surprisingly thick and course with a serrated edge;
10. Blue Bells. One of our most beloved native flowers, the striking blue and pink flowers were show-stoppers this year. There are not many truly blue flowers, so these are even more a treat. The foliage will sort of disappear by summer, making them so easy.

We now have only a few weeks left to the Top 10 Series and with the plant nurseries reaching full capacity, you will be ready for some shopping. I hope to see you there!

In the Dark Garden....
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