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Today's Life Solutions / Gardening / Helpful Gardener  
Yearly Beauty

July 19, 2004

New Perennials for the Garden (and some old favorites…)

While each new year brings the return of many plants to the garden, none seem quite as miraculous as the perennials. Where seemingly nothing remains, they burst forth in spring, or quietly sneak up on June to provide bursts of colors that enliven the garden without the expense (or labor) of planting annuals year after year. Couple that with the low cost and increasing availability of these flowers, and it is no surprise that they have become the mainstays of many American gardens.

The first question from the perennial aficionado as they stroll down the aisle in the local garden center is “What’s new?” While they have developed strong feelings for quite a few old favorites, it is that foray into the unknown that elicits the quickened heartbeat and shortened breath. Here are a few of the new perennials for this year that everyone ought to have in their yard.

My A-1 favorite new plant is Dicentra x ‘King of Hearts’. While listed in some quarters as D. formosana, it is more accurately a cross between that species and D. eximia and D. peregrine, a rare Japanese treasure. But what this means for you is that it is sterile as a mule, so it continues to attempt to set seed from May to frost. That’s all season flowering, and that’s a rarity of great value. Full sun to part shade, Zone 5 to Zone 8, 18”tall by 2’ wide with a red flower over bluish foliage, the perfect complement to hostas; what more could one ask from a perennial flower? Our cup overfloweth…

The next hot new thing in the perennial world comes to us from the Fleming Brothers of Nebraska. I have always been fond of pinks for hot, dry areas; that wonderful clove scent as they bake in the hot sun is wonderful and the reds and pinks are a great complement to the grass like blue foliage. The only downfall was that May to June flowering time. That is now a thing of the past, as Dianthus x ‘Pixie’ is available and like our previous offering, blooms for most of the season. There’s the fragrance we’ve come to expect, a bicolor red and pink flower, Zone 5 hardiness and drought tolerance on a small tight plant for the edge of the border. Good stuff from the old bachelor farmers…

Another new variation on an old theme is Rudebeckia fulgida ‘Takao’. Many of you already have that old favorite ‘Goldsturm’ in the garden and with good reason. It’s a problem free plant with a long bloom time and wide range of soil and light conditions it will tolerate. So what needs replacing? ‘Goldsturm’ flowers July through September and the chunky stems aren’t so great for cutting. ‘Takao’ has wiry stems that are great for cutting, and it blooms a whole month earlier. Talk about a good thing getting better…

Another good example of that sort of improvement affects another old favorite (that looks great planted with those black-eyed susans we just discussed). Sedum spectablis ‘Autumn Joy’ is another one of those plants that most of us have in the garden somewhere. The only downfall to this otherwise wonderful plant is its tendency to split and flop in humid weather. I don’t have that problem often in the Northeast, but it must be a pain in the South. Along comes Sedum spec. ‘Autumn Fire’; those crashes when the humidity gets over 80% are through; this one stands tall and delivers all the great flower power of it’s weaker relative. Sounds like a new favorite…

Blanket flower, or Gaillardia has always been a favorite of mine for this summer season; the yellows and reds add vibrancy to a time of less abundance in the perennial border. But it was just another daisy-like flower in a time of year loaded with them. Until now. Gaillardia ‘Fanfare’ has funnel shaped petals that look like a row of little trumpets around the reddish center of the flower. This one was striking enough to start a run on them here at the nursery; when wholesale plant producers start getting excited about a plant, you know it’s different. Try this one and make the neighbors envious. And if the vibrant red and yellow are a little too loud for the color scheme in you border, try Gaillardia ‘Summer’s Kiss’, a pastel version of our old favorite. Two new blanket flowers to add to the garden…

So try out some of the new additions, or even some of the old favorites, and see if you too get bit by the perennial bug. Soon you will be haunting the perennial section of your local garden center asking that same question, “What’s new?”
 Helpful Gardener
The Helpful Gardener is written by garden designer, lecturer, and Master Gardener instructor, Scott Reil. The Helpful Gardener is a collection of his articles and lectures brought together on the web to provide helpful tips and advice on all your gardening needs. Topics cover everything from hydrangeas, lilacs, landscape planning and design, bonsai, Japanese garden principles, and more.

The Helpful Gardener also features a gardening forum where you can visit and ask questions and have them answered by Scott himself or by other gardening enthusiasts. Visit The Helpful Gardener, and be sure to tell a friend.

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