By Jane Milliman
Perennials: We love them. Of course woody plants, tender annuals, and edibles are wonderful too. But there is something about perennials that piques gardeners’ passion. Get the right one in the right place, and you’ve got satisfaction.
There are thousands to choose from, of course. I took a stroll through my local Lowe’s garden center recently and spied a few of my favorites.
Hydrangea (Hydrangea spp). If you’re lucky enough to live near the coast, they probably grow like weeds in your garden. Here in upstate New York we’re not as fortunate. Even if the plants make it through the winter, the flower buds often don’t. But new varieties are changing all that. Look for those that bloom on old and new wood such as the Forever and Ever line. Or stick with Annabelle types; they even come in pink now.
Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Coneflowers are among the easiest plants you can grow, but in my last garden I could never get even one to live over the winter. I suspect they don’t do as well as advertised in rich soil, but they seem to thrive in parched, poor sites. At Lowe’s the garden center manager displayed them with dwarf goldenrod and buddleia as a mini butterfly garden.
Astilbe (Astilbe spp.). One of my favorite garden vignette memories is a little patch of Astilbe chinensis var. pumila. This dwarf form grows at the bottom of a stone wall in a public garden in Maine. But you can find many heights and variations, all quite beautiful. Astilbes tend to want coddling and plenty of water during their first years, but then become tough as nails. Plus they tolerate growing near black walnut trees.
Salvia (Salvia spp.). Famous plantsman Allan Armitage, who runs the University of Georgia’s Horticulture Gardens, calls salvia “a collector’s dream,” as over 700 species exist in this genus! ‘Caradonna’ is my current go-to for massing -- it’s the perfect purple. From culinary sage to dramatic border staple, there’s a salvia for every sunny situation. Cut back the spent flowers to keep them coming all summer long.