By Peg Keenleyside
This month’s garden column is all about having fun shopping for plants to brighten up your borders and decorating your outdoor rooms by adding color, scent and visual “wow.”
I recently heard Gary Lewis of Phoenix Perennials – he’s one of Canada’s best known perennial experts who gets around the world a bit – talk about some great new plants. He reminded us that spring is the time when you just have to say to yourself, “I deserve it,” and get out there and enjoy the pleasure of buying.
If you’re new to the whole gardening thing, the deal with perennials is that their foliage dies back in winter, but then regrows from underground roots the following spring. Annuals have just the one season of bloom before they die out completely. When you’re cruising the aisles of the nursery this month remember that a lot of the bright and shiny color you see will be annuals.
Like a cheap summer dress that you know you’ll only wear once, it may be worthwhile to pass up the eye-candy of annuals and look for plants with a little more staying power to bring home.
Here’s a brief roundup of new and interesting perennials to be on the lookout for this month:
Alstroemeria Inca Series: Alstroemeria are those lily-family plants that are a mainstay of cut flower bouquets because their trumpet-shaped blooms last for weeks in a vase. Largely avoided by gardeners in the past because of their invasive habit, this new hybrid series behaves well. Look for ‘Inca Ice’ that has a gorgeous apricot-colored flower.
Astilbe: These plants are pretty common in the big box nurseries, and are great in part-shade situations. They tend to be a bit of a yawn color-wise though, so I was interested to hear about a new astilbe variety called ‘Chocolate Shogun.’ With its dark flowers, you want to be sure to pair it with something nice and bright to show it off. One suggestion might be the range of new heucheras – with mounding foliage in yellows, corals and bronzes (also perennial plants).
Baptisia: This perennial is mostly known for its tall stalks of blue flowers that last a long time, but this year there are a pink and a white and blue version that you may want to look for. The variety names are ‘Pink Lemonade’ and ‘Lunar Eclipse”.
Geranium: I’ll take perennial geraniums over annuals any day, although the complaint can be that perennial geranium blooms don’t keep coming all summer the way that their annual cousins do. There’s a new variety called ‘Rozanne’ to look out for now, with a purple-blue flower that’s apparently non-stop all summer.
Heucherella Fall Series and Cascade Series: These are hybrids of the very popular heuchera perennial that is all about foliage color. They now come as trailing plants; look for ‘Sunrise Falls’ and ‘Copper Cascade’ among others.
Hostas: These must-have perennials like a nice part-shade aspect in the garden and offer just a whole lot of selection in the green foliage color range. New in hybrids are hosts with red or reddish leaves and stripes or mottling.
Lupins: Lupins have fabulous upright button blooms on tall stalks that look great in the back of a border. Keep an eye out for some attractive ulti-colored new varieties including ‘Manhattan Lights’ and ‘Persian Slipper.’
Sedums: Just about every nursery has some new varieties of sedums to consider. You can have a lot of fun making up wide shallow bowls or pots of sedums. Look for new varieties like ‘Firecracker’ with its burgundy foliage and small pink flowers.
Perennials, especially bigger sized ones, can be expensive, but they will last you years instead of the brief few months that annuals do. So like a good wardrobe, this is the month to get out there and get some new classics for your garden.