Gardens are never static. Whether you started out with an excellent design and installation, or made smaller changes to an existing landscape over time, how do you know when you are “done”?
The answer of course, is never. As we all know, in every garden some plants will thrive while others languish. Trees may grow and shade out a previously sunny spot, or decline so that a shady spot becomes sunny.
So in thinking about how our gardens looked last year, let’s consider some of our favorite perennials to fill in any bare spots that you may have in the upcoming season. And keep in mind, you often get better information and reduce confusion if you use botanical names when shopping for plants.
Native Perennials for Sun
|Botanical Name||Common Name||Size||Notes (D = deer resistant)|
|Amsonia tabernaemontana||Eastern Bluestar||2-3’||D; Easy to care for and long-lived, this perennial has blue flowers in spring on long, thin foliage and turns golden in fall.|
|Asclepias sp.||Milkweed||3-5’ or 18-24”||D; Because it is a host plant for endangered Monarch butterflies, we try to include Milkweeds in all of our projects. Luckily, the larger Swamp Milkweed ( A. incarnata) takes wet soils and Butterfly milkweed ( A. tuberosa) likes it dry. See if you can include some on your property!|
|Aster oblongifolius||Aromatic Aster||18” or 3’||D; Two cultivars are commonly available, ‘October Skies’ and ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, both with blue flowers. ‘October Skies’ is the smaller of the two at 18”. It’s one of the last perennials to bloom and therefore important for pollinators.|
|Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'*||Whorled Tickseed||18-24”||D; With yellow flowers, small stature, and a very long bloom time, Coreopsis is great in front of a border. ‘Moonbeam’ has rated very highly in Mt. Cuba coreopsis trials, and is very popular with both people and butterflies.|
|Echinacea purpurea*||Purple Coneflower||2-3’||D; Orange, green, and purple sounds like a garish color combination, but Purple Coneflowers somehow pull it off with aplomb. If chosen carefully, it is a standby in the garden: just beware of overbred cultivars and go with a tried-and-true favorite like ‘Magnus’. Also, the seed heads are a favorite food for birds so leave Purple Coneflower standing after the bloom.|
|Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’||Joe Pye Weed||4-5’||All of the Joe Pye Weeds make a statement in the garden, even ‘Little Joe’ who at 4-5’ tall is the smallest of those commercially available. 6-8” clusters of pink flowers are absolute magnets for butterflies, and although not listed as deer resistant in the literature, it is left alone in my garden. For a bigger statement, try E. purpureum ‘Gateway’.|
|Iris versicolor||Blue Flag Iris||2-3’||D; A beautiful blue flower in bloom and neat vertical foliage the rest of the season makes Blue Flag Iris a great addition to any garden. It loves damp soils, but will grow in average garden conditions also.|
|Penstemon digitalis*||Beardtongue||3-4’||D; White, tubular flowers appear in late spring or early summer on upright stalks. ‘Husker Red’ is a variety with red foliage for added interest. A very reliable performer.|
|Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida||Black-eyed Susan||24-30”||D; An absolute workhorse in the garden, this Black-eyed Susan blooms for weeks from July until October. Great in combination with Goldfinches, who are sure to visit!|
|Solidago odora||Anisescented Goldenrod||2-4’||D; Some Goldenrods behave better than others and since Anisescented Goldenrod does not spread aggressively it is a nice addition to the fall garden. Combined with Asters, you can add life to your garden when others’ are starting to fade. Goldenrod does not cause hayfever.|
Native Perennials for Shade
|Botanical Name||Common Name||Size||Notes (D = deer resistant)|
|Dicentra eximia||Wild Bleeding Heart||8-12”||D; Although not as showy as it’s Japanese cousin, our Wild Bleeding Heart has its own set of charms. Finely cut foliage and blooms that last from April to September make our native Bleeding Heart a better choice in my book.|
|Heuchera sp.||Alumroot or Coral Bells||8-24”||D; There are many different cultivars in a variety of colors of this versatile foliage plant. To make sure you choose a variety that will thrive, check out the plant trials at Mt. Cuba Center. Heucheras play well with ferns, and other foliage plants in the shade garden.|
|Iris cristata||Dwarf Crested Iris||6-8”||This diminutive groundcover is a real charmer in the spring, with flowers in blue or white. Beautiful, neat foliage adds appeal the rest of the summer. Prefers moist, well-drained soil.|
|Pachysandra procumbens||Allegheny Pachysandra||3-4”||If you need a shade groundcover, but find Japanese Pachysandra commonplace, try our native Allegheny Pachysandra. Although it is much slower to grow, it is also much more beautiful with matte, dark blue-green, mottled leaves.|
|Phlox stolonifera||Creeping Phlox||6-10”||A beautiful, springtime, woodland groundcover, Creeping Phlox comes in a variety of colors, from white, to pink, to blue. For a classic combination, combine P. stolonifera and Foamflower ( Tiarella cordifolia ).|
|Solidago caesia||Wreath Goldenrod||2-3’||D; Sometimes you want to brighten up a shady spot in the garden. With golden flowers in September Wreath Goldenrod may do the trick. Combine with Wood Asters for a shady, fall, color combination.|
|Tiarella cordifolia||Foamflower||8-12”||D; As the name implies, foamy white flowers appear atop green foliage, giving this wildflower a foamy appearance. A neat groundcover for shade.|
|Carex sp.||Sedges||6” +||D; There are a variety of native Sedges that are fabulous additions to the shade garden. All are grass-like plants with leaves that range from very narrow to over 1” wide with colors ranging from light or dark greens to powdery blue and even some variegated combinations. Some Carex species spread, while others are clump forming. There is certainly a Carex that will perform for you!|
|Ferns||Ferns||12” +||D; Like Carex, there are many species of Ferns for the shade garden. Some are evergreen, while others go dormant. Some like dry soils and other prefer moist conditions. All are deer resistant. Combine Ferns with broadleaved perennials like Heucheras.|
Notable Non-native Perennials
|Botanical Name||Common Name||Size||Notes|
|Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Firewitch’*||Clove Pink||6-8”||D; Fragrant pink flowers bloom for long periods over blue green foliage. A quick snip of the spent flowers will produce another round of blooms. Great performer for a dry, sunny spot.|
|Geranium ‘Rozanne’*||Perennial Geranium||10-20”||A very long bloomer with blue flowers, ‘Rozanne’ plays nicely with Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ in the front of a border. ‘Max Frei’ is also very dependable with magenta blooms.|
|Helleborus sp.*||Lenten Rose||18-24”||D; Evergreen and deer resistant, this shade tolerant perennial is a real performer, blooming from March through May. Hellebores are slow growers, which makes them expensive, but also ensures they will not become invasive.|
|Polygonum odoratum ‘Variegatum’*||Variegated Solomon’s Seal||2-3’||A very graceful shade plant with creamy-white and green leaves on arching stems, Solomon’s Seal also produces fragrant blooms in May-June. Tubular flowers gracefully hang below branches. Plants slowly forms colonies where happy.|
One last note: Many of the above plants, both native and non-native, have been named in the past by the Perennial Plant Association as the Perennial Plant of the Year (PPOY). These plants have been nominated and voted on by members of the association and generally need to satisfy the following criteria:
- Suitability for a wide range of climatic conditions
- Low-maintenance requirements
- Relative pest- and disease-resistance
- Readily availability in the year of promotion
- Multiple seasons of ornamental interest
For more information about the PPOY see www.perennialplant.org.
*The highlighted plants link to a garden website, Viette Nurseries in Virginia. GreenWeaver is in no way affiliated with Viette’s, however their website does a much better job laying out Perennial Plant of the Year than the Perennial Plant Association’s website.