29 December 2007

top ten plants--perennials

To go along with my column in Sunday's edition of the Chronicle Herald (which you can read here for one week), I'm expanding on that discussion with a top ten roundup of each of my favourite annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs. I'll ask for your patience in getting the remaining posts up, as I'm down with another nasty bout of my recurring illness, and am having a hard time getting things done. That said, I've managed to create a post of top ten perennials; as I see them right now.

Yes, that's right. Our tastes change, and we might be very fond of a plant for years on end, then see something new and different (or something old and different) that changes our opinions. Take astilbes, for example. Until a couple of years ago, I wasn't impressed by them particularly, although I liked their foliage well enough. Then I saw them grown really well, saw the many variants in flower colour AND foliage colour, and realized they'd do well in my damp, shady areas. Now I just love them, although I don't have them listed in this top-ten list.

In fact, making a top ten list of perennials is really hard, because in order to be accurate, it would have to be the top twenty three or so. I did one top-ten list (which was thirteen) back in March, which focused only on genera (Euphorbia, Eryngium, etc). This time, I'm going to mention specific cultivars where possible.

But just one thing before we start: please don't ask me where to get them! I often get email from readers wondering where to get X plant; and while I do try to note where I bought such and such a plant, it doesn't always happen. I sometimes forget, or lose the label or note. Plus nurseries do run out of stock. And I don't have a Rolodex in my head of every nursery's inventory. The advice I give to gardeners is to make requests of your local nursery, if there's a specific plant you have your heart set on growing and you need to see brought in.

Now, without further ado...this year's top ten perennials are:

Of course, those of you who read bloomingwriter regularly EXPECTED this, didn't you? Echinacea 'Green Envy' incited envy in most of us this past year, and hopefully it will be much more available next year. I never met a coneflower (be it Echinacea, Rudbeckia, or Ratibida) that I didn't love, but this one just knocked my socks off. It flowered until late October, too.

Daylilies are workhorses in the garden, able to take just about any sort of growing conditions. This beauty is Hemerocallis 'Destined to See', and I like it so much I bought three plants of it!

There are a number of wonderful sea hollies that grow well in Nova Scotia, but one of the most elegant is Erygium alpinum. Where some of its relatives are quite prickly, the bracts of this one are soft, and a lovely true-blue rather than purple.

Foliage is as important in our garden as are flowers, and a star performer this year was 'Frosted Violet' heuchera. It's not the newest or the fanciest, but it grew to an impressive size in our "chocolate and wine" garden, and was still looking handsome in late October, when this closeup photo was taken.

Yes, I admit it. I have a fixation for blue flowers, from hepatica and scilla in spring until the last flower of the autumn flowering gentians. I was inspired to try growing these by an extremely talented alpine gardener who lives on the South mountain, across the Valley. This is Gentiana septemfida.

Are you sensing a blue theme here? (and I avoided including Meconopsis in this list because it's such a challenge for many gardeners). This is Aconitum 'Stainless Steel' monkshood, a handsome perennial for the back of a border. It grows to nearly 5 feet tall in our garden, and covers itself in these cool blue flowers. One caveat; monkshood IS toxic in all its parts, so don't let children or dogs get at it. Cats seem to know better.

Masterworts, or Astrantia, are another of those plants I came to adore only a couple of years ago. Once they settle in, they are consistant performers, flowering well into autumn, and there's something about these complex yet dainty flowers that just exudes peacefulness. There are numerous colour variants available, with flowers in shades of white through rose to wine, as well as at least one cultivar with variegated foliage. Ours are all planted in shade to part shade, but they'll take a sunny spot too (and probably have even more flowers. )

Another foliage star! This is 'Bonfire' euphorbia, a new polychroma type spurge. It's well named, because its golden flowers and bracts light up especially well against the deep burgundy foliage. Readers know I'm a bit of a spurge nut (or euphoric about euphorbia, as this past post indicates) so it's my happy duty to test out new spurges whenever possible.

This is a must-have perennial for anyone who loves blue; it's Corydalis elata, rather than the more finicky Corydalis flexuosa. The electric blue flowers last for weeks on end, and while it doesn't bloom forever like C. lutea, its a great plant for the front or mid area of the border. And it's fragrant, bringing butterflies, hummingbirds and bees to it like crazy.

Lastly, (and number 11, if we count the Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' at the beginning of this post) is Asclepias incarnata, or rosy butterfly weed. And no explanation as to why I love it is necessary, is it?


  1. I admire you coming up with a top ten list of perennials. If I did it, I'd probably want to change it everyday as I thought of new plants I wish I had included.

    Get well soon!
    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  2. Gorgeous flowers! Nice to see this time of year!

    I also noticed your furballs, and was wondering if you'd be interested in showcasing them on one of my blogs "Love is a Four-Legged Word"? I got here thru Drwosey Monkey's and I'd love to have you tell us why love is a four-legged word for you.

    Check it out, if you wish, at http://fourleggedlove.wordpress.com

    Thanks and Happy New Year!

  3. Great list, Jodi! I'm another gardener who's never met a coneflower I didn't like..and I am absolutely in love with 'Green Envy.' I must get my hands on one next year!

    I hope you feel better soon. Take care.

  4. I've got a few on your list and now I want a few more! I love the blues, too.

  5. I have none of these in my garden but I'd be prepared to take them all if they were gift-wrapped!!

    Fantastic list jodi and I agree with Carol that writing myp Top 10 perennials would change on 'far-too-often- basis.

    Hope you're getting some rest of this silly season and able to feel better soon.

  6. Great photos! You have included some of my favorites as well, but I have so many :).

  7. I like your top ten and my list also changes every few years. I think that is a sign of evolving tastes or maybe just more availability and marketing of certain perennials. 'Green Envy' is on my list this year just because of your praise!

  8. Quite the list, Jodi. I adore monkshood and gentia and fully support your blue theme. Don't know how you managed to settle on a top ten list. I'd be hemming and hawing forever if asked to decide on my perennial favourites.

  9. very nice, I'll have one or two of each and squeeze them in.
    many blessing for the coming year.

  10. I don't think I could narrow down to 10 a list of my fav perennial cultivars. It must have been difficult to choose. Do you think that Erygium would grow in the Midwest? I've stayed away from them because I like to touch my plants, so I try not to plant anything prickly. I'd like to try this 1. I might have to try Aconitum 'Stainless Steel.' My unknown Aconitum gets diseased every year. I also have recently become enamored of Astrantia. I have 3 varieties already. I'm trying to recreate a pairing of a wine-colored Astrantia with a dark-leaved Bugbane that I saw at the Lurie Garden in Chicago. Unfortunately, Astrantias don't bloom all summer here. I guess it's too hot & dry. I hope you're on the mend soon.

  11. Jodi, I sure hope you'll be feeling chipper again very soon -- this has really been hanging on.

    That daylily is a dazzler! I'm not familiar with the Masterwort you showed but I love the look, especially with that tiny fuschia throat. I've had a yellow corydalis but that blue one of yours is dandy.

    I know what you mean about top 10's changing ... we're always evolving and so too are our choices of plants, foods, clothes, and many other things.

    May 2008 bring you much better health, the right amount of rain and sunshine, and continued creativity!

    Diane, Sand to Glass

  12. Hi all and welcome.Thanks for your get well wishes...I'm still fighting this blasted infection and getting a bit tired of it. No, more than a bit tired!
    Errrrr, Carol, you're right...I just took ten perennials I really really couldn't live without. Really.
    Nancy, sea holly is such a pleasing plant; I love the colour, of course, but also the structure.
    Hi Stinkypaw, and welcome; I'll visit your blog for sure but I'm sort of written out when it comes to doing extra posts. Happy New year!
    Colleen, can you imagine that some people find coneflowers boring? I can't figure it, but each to their own...
    Kylee, let's hope neither of us run out of room in our yards...but you can plant quite a lot in an acre, and I can always take back some of the pasture.
    Stuart, I'm waiting for things to settle down for you a bit so we can see what you do have in your garden this year! And yes, my list changes too, but there are some staples I just can't be without.
    Hi Iowa garden woman! I'll wander over to see what favourites you have in your garden that we share in common.
    Charmian, don't ask me tomorrow what my favourites might be...other than 'Green Envy' and anything blue, of course.
    Tyra, Happy New Year to you as well!
    Claire, blessings for the new year to you too, and your garden will always have room for a few more....
    MMD, I THINK that Eryngium will grow in the midwest...try E. planum, the so called flat sea holly, first, as it's easy peasy and comes back year after year where some of them are a bit more cantankerous. Eryngium are great if you're xeriscaping, too. And yes, it might be that it's too hot and dry for the astrantia to bloom all summer; or that my summers are just that much cooler and damper (foggier) so that bloom season is extended!
    Diane, feel sorry especially for my longsuffering spouse! I've been rather reclusive and irritable--not AT him but just in general--and he's very patient, gawd love him! Corydalis are great, though the blue might find it a bit too cold for you. Happy New year to you from all of us, especially Mungus, who loves having a fan!

  13. I am having acute plant lust over that 'Bonfire' euphorbia! (And I already knew that I must get some of that eryngium alpinum this year.)

  14. Only 10, well 11, I don't know how you are able to limit yourself to just this little list. ;-) We have many favorites in common (no surprise there), counting the Monarda, we have number 1 till 6 in common. I'm not too keen on the Monkshood because it's so toxic, the same goes for euphorbia.

    Astrantia has been a long time favorite of mine, don't you just love those delicate flowers?

    Must give that gorgeous Corydalis flexuosa a try, such a wonderful colour and it's fragrant too!

    Love that Asclepia incarnata too, does it come with gorgeous butterflies attached? ;-)

  15. I love seeing Astrantia and Eryngium on your list - I can't live without those either. And I'm with everyone else - I want that 'green envy' like a junkie wants a fix (it's more like a need) and I have to have that Euphorbia too - thanks for the reminder!

  16. Hm, I cannot make a list of my favourite 10 perennials as already seven of yours also belong to my favourites. It IS difficult to stick only to 10 plants...there are so many others too...and the number is increasing!! But I think it is a very good idea to reflect on a specific perennial...
    Hope you are getting well soon. I always like to read your interesting posts.

  17. Yes, it is difficult to make top 10 list, so I am great that you made it.
    It is great indication what to take closer look at in coming season :)
    Thank you Jodi for making this effort and sharing it with us :)

    As you love cats - something about feline world communicating with human - If you take a sec and have look at my blog - I was astonished yesterday seeing Atomic 'framing' himself just inside of Christmas decoration box, just next Merry Christmas written on another box :)

  18. I agree with some of these! Nice to see that you have so many same perennials! Of course cultivars vary..
    That Echinacea cultivar looks interesting.


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