Reliable perennials are best choice for beginning gardeners
Spring has finally sprung and gardeners, beginning and experienced alike, are getting ready to head to local garden centers. Rows upon rows of perennials await, filling veterans with giddy excitement, but novice gardeners with trepidation. With so many plants, how does one choose?
Choose reliable perennials that are very hardy, resistant to disease, require minimal maintenance and offer beautiful flowers or foliage. To get them established in the garden, amend the soil with organic matter before planting and then provide an inch of water each week (if Mother Nature doesn't provide it) the first season.
For sunny gardens
Baptisia australis, commonly called blue false indigo, boasts indigo blue, pea-like flowers in May and June. Its blue-green foliage on 3- to 4-foot stems remains attractive all season long and adds structure to the garden. Blue false indigo puts down deep roots and is very drought resistant.
Coreopsis Zagreb displays small, bright yellow, daisylike flowers all summer. Fine-textured plants reach 18 inches tall. If two more profuse periods of blooms are desired, shear plants to the ground after their first bloom for a second, impressive fall flush.
Magnus coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea Magnus) are virtually indestructible. They offer large, daisylike flowers with dome-shaped, dark copper-colored cones surrounded by rosy purple petals on 3-foot stems. Leave the seed heads standing, instead of cutting them back, for the birds to enjoy.
Eupatorium Little Joe, commonly referred to as Joe-Pye weed, grows 3 to 4 feet tall and up to 3 feet wide. Its very stiff, upright stems rise from the ground in spring showing off appealing foliage all season. Dark mauve flowers appear in August and September, giving the garden a late-summer punch of color. Butterflies are drawn to them like magnets.
Nepeta Walker's Low, or catmint, sports an abundance of small, lavender-blue flowers from mid-May through late September on plants presenting silvery-green foliage that smells of mint. They grow to 30 inches tall and wide. Catmint is a valuable nectar source for bees.
Sedum Autumn Joy blooms from August to October with flower heads that begin pink and then turn russet in late fall. The plant forms an attractive mound of fleshy leaves and stems 18 to 24 inches tall and wide. Butterflies and bees love this one.
For shady sites
Alchemilla mollis, commonly called lady's mantle, has sprays of small, chartreuse flowers in early to midsummer. The flowers are held above velvety gray-green foliage that holds glistening raindrops after a soft rain. Lady's mantle is an excellent choice for edging the front of a shady border.
Athyrium Branford Beauty proves not all ferns are fussy. It forms a 3-foot, upright clump of fronds colored in shades of silver, gray, green and purple. This fern is perfect for massing or planting as a specimen.
Hot Lips turtlehead (Chelone glabra Hot Lips) boasts dark pink, snapdragon-like flowers in August and September on sturdy, upright stems. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall and adds a vertical element to the shade garden. It is a butterfly favorite.
Obsidian coral bells (Heuchera Obsidian) adds drama to the shade garden. Its sultry, deep purple, scalloped leaves grow on plants reaching a foot tall. Small, creamy white flowers bloom on slender, wiry, 24-inch stems in early summer, but grow this one for the foliage.
Pick a hosta, just about any hosta. Most are carefree. Their foliage may be green, blue, gray or variegated. A variety called June is one of my favorites with striking variegation. This hosta has thick, slug-resistant gold leaves with blue margins. It grows about 12 inches tall and 36 inches wide.
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist, garden writer and speaker. She blogs at gardenwithdiana.com.