08 April 2012

Top Ten Easy Perennials

I know I haven't posted in a while, and for that I apologize. Grieving is hard work, as is the business of coping with life without my beloved. Some days are easier than others. What really works best is for me to work, talking about plants, writing about plants, working on bloominganswers.com, and so on. The hints of spring in the air are helpful also, although the surprise snowstorm we got as an Easter resent was neither helpful nor appreciated. However, we're not going to talk about that any further. We're going to talk about plants.

We all love Top Ten Lists, although I find they work best when there is some explanation to go along with the selections. Thinking about beginners who are nervous about planting, but who want lovely blooms and colourful foliage and tough plants, I looked through a big pile of photos from my gardens, and picked out ten plants I recommend quite regularly. Now, for me to pick ten plants is a challenge--I could do my top ten favourite day lilies, top ten sedums, top ten echinaceas, and so on. But for now, I've selected cultivars in some cases, or simply genus and species in other cases.

Here in no particular order other than they uploaded this way, are my Top Ten Easy Perennials

1. Veronica gentianoides: Gentian speedwell (top photo). Sun to partial shade, ordinary garden soil. Why I like this plant: blooms early, around time of primula and forget me not. Reseeds itself but not rudely. Drawbacks: Only blooms once a season, but if you have a mass of plants in a drift, the show will go on for weeks.
2. Sedum 'Angelina': One of the sedums that shows off all season long. Best in well drained soil, full sun. Why I like this plant: What's not to like? Gold-green summer colour, spectacular shades of copper, pink, red in cold months. Creeping ground cover type of sedum. Spreads quickly but easy to control. Drawbacks: May be a bit too vigourous for a trough garden, doesn't flower.
 3. Astilbes: Though I was slow to embrace astilbes, I made up for that slowness by collecting many of them, dividing them, sharing them with others. Shade gardens or sun with moist soil--tolerant of clay where other plants falter. Why I like this plant: long bloom period, excellent foliage, deer resistant, good for shade, tolerant of sun if in moist soil, excellent pollinator plant. Drawbacks: MUST have moist soil especially in sunlit garden, or will go dormant or die.
 4. Dicentra spectabilis: Old Fashioned bleeding heart. No garden is complete without bleeding hearts, in my opinion; the tall old-fashioned variety makes a statement through to early-midsummer, the fern leafed types are more ground-covering. Shade to some sun, moist, humus rich soil. Why I like this plant: graceful sweeps of white or pink hearth shaped flowers, beloved by hummingbirds; long bloom period, some seedlings. Drawbacks: Goes dormant in hot summer weather, can be tricky to divide.
 5. Echinacea, the coneflowers: I have been happily besotted with these plants since I first started growing them, and they reward every year with a huge show of bloom, now in a rainbow of colours. Sun to light shade, dry to moist but well drained soil. Why I like this plant: good for drier soil, excellent pollinator plant, later season of bloom, reblooms if deadheaded. Drawbacks: MUST have good drainage, especially in winter. Some of the new cultivars can be a bit spleeny to establish, but the old standards are always excellent choices.
 6. Geranium species, cranesbills. The hardy cranesbills are a different genus from zonal pelargoniums, or those annual plants also referred to as geraniums. Why I like this plant: Many different forms, flower and foliage colours, heights and growth habits (this one is Okey Dokey, which has wine-purple foliage and blue-violet flowers). They're also deer and slug resistant, easy to divide and share with others. Drawbacks: Some varieties can be quite weedy, spreading seedlings everywhere, but these are easy to root out or plant in a tough spot.
 7. Helenium or Helen's Flower: It's been terrific seeing this plant take on more popularity in recent years. A later-blooming perennial that loves full sun to light shade, it complements echinacea, sea holly, and other pollinator-attracting perennials, and does well in bouquets. Sun to partial shade, well-drained but compost rich, moist soil. Why I like this plant: Bees and other pollinators relish it, very floriferous, great cut flower, wide range of colours and heights. Drawbacks: Divide every couple of years to keep crown from dying out in the centre, keep it vigourous.
 8. Hemerocallis, the daylily: These aren't your grandmother's 'ditch lilies', those long-stemmed orange flowered plants that spread like crazy. Today's garden day lilies come in a dizzying range of flower colours, some with unique markings, edgings, eyespots and other details in contrasting colours, such as with this variety, 'Destined to See'. Why I like this plant: with over 50,000 NAMED varieties, there is a daylily or two dozen or a hundred for every garden. Tolerant of moist all growing conditions, although you'll get the best bloom number and colour in full sun to light shade. Some are repeat bloomers, some are fragrant, and there are varieties from dwarf to towering giants. Drawbacks: Though the scarlet lily beetle doesn't bother daylilies, deer are quite fond of them.
 9. Miscanthus sinensis, Japanese silver grass. People are sometimes slow to take to perennial grasses because they've had a misadventure with the spreading variegated plant known as Gardeners Garters, (Phalaris arundinacea). These plants, best suited to sun and moist but well-draining soil, are clump formers and mind their manners beautifully, though the clumps can be tough to divide. Why I like these plants--excellent form, colour, and performance through late summer to well into winter, where the seed heads will withstand all but the worst of weather. Drawbacks: Sometimes can be hard to tell one named cultivar from another, as mislabelling can and does occur. Just know that the related Giant silver grass, Miscanthus giganteus is truly huge (easily reaching ten feet or more) and to divide this species can require brute strength, or a backhoe.
10. Pulmonaria, lungwort or Bethlehem sage. This is a fantastic genus of plants, most of which are noticeable for their silver or white spangled foliage, and pink, white or blue flowers. Why I like this plant: barely out of the ground in spring before it's flowering, excellent bee plant, looks great whether in bloom or not. Drawbacks: should have moist but well-draining soil, some older varieties may get powdery mildew and look ratty in hot weather. Cut the foliage back on such plants and they'll flush with fresh new foliage. 

Varieties and cultivars of all of these plants should be available at any good garden centre or nursery. I encourage people as always to support their local nurseries, and resist the urge to buy cheap plants from the asphalt 'garden centres' set up in store parking lots. The better and healthier the plant, the more apt you are to have success in your garden. 


  1. Bless your heart for keeping busy with plants, and for creating this handy list for us, as you deal with sorrow.
    You have reminded me that I MUST plant some bleeding hearts, they are lovely.
    Have a beautiful week full of gardens and comfort.

  2. Great list! I am reminded I must try astilbe!

  3. You have named a couple of my plant favs: bleeding heart and the coneflower. I love your photo; the colors are amazing very pretty. I like astilbes, too, but I have not been able to keep them growing probably because it is hard to keep moist soil. Your flowers are lovley.

  4. You have commented on the lovely bleeding hearts for your top ten list. I agree, one of the best for easy growing. I just acquired some for my new garden. Can't wait to see them in flower.

  5. Thanks for this great list. In my garden, bleeding heart has turned out to be a good self seeder, in both the soil and the nearby crushed-stone path. I don't know how well such seedlings transplant, but I'm going to try moving several this spring.

  6. Great to see you posting again. Of course so many of your top ten are plants that won't grow here ever, with the exception of the fabulous Hemerocallis! I have a few of those, and they are such reliable plants. Loved all the others, but will have to be content with seeing them in your photos.

  7. Hello Jodi girl !
    Yes ! .. these top ten are a must!
    They truly are easy to grow and look wonderful and addictive with some of the new cultivars for each pick.
    Grasses .. I totally have always loved them and I am too happy to see they are spreading every where!
    Xeriscaping is becoming a fact of life for a lot of us .. the less attention and water a plant needs .. the better in my books .. that doesn't mean you can't have a few favourite plants that need a little more TLC .. but not a massive garden full of them any more !

  8. Although I keep resisting daylilies your constant praise of them has me rethinking whether there is a place for them in my garden. Especially now that I see they don't a bit of wet too.

  9. Nice to see you here,, Jodi. It must be difficult to write about sunny happy things with what you are dealing with.

    As for your list - glad to see that some of my favorites hit your top 10. Must get some Helen's flower - if not for anything more than my best friend's name is Helen.

    Take care

  10. Ahhh Jodi, cannot imagine the grief you are dealing with. Forgot to mention that a while back I heard a song you requested on the CBC for your dear husband.

    As someone who gardens but doesn't really have a clue, your top ten list is wonderful. The helpful notes about soil, drainage, etc makes me see I should have all my astilbe in the wet back yard and my cone flowers in my desert dry, full sun, front yard.

    Can't wait to hit the garden centres with your list. ;-)

  11. Bless you dear Jodi!..as this continues to be a difficult part of your life journey, but you have great inner strength to get you through this rocky road, & know that so many care & wish you healing LOve & the very best of future experiences ! Thanks for this posting & a fine top 10 it is ! I myself am partial to the day lilies & echinacea, & a few others 'periwinkle, phlox, woodruff & of course my several varieties of clematis, but as you say we really have so many lovely garden beauties ! Don't let the recent storm deter you as today it's pretty much gone, & remember 'April showers bring May flowers'...we do need the rain to set the lush growth that will follow...Happy Spring to You..may it be your best ever !!~

  12. Jodi glad to see you posting...your top 10 are indeed favorites of mine as well...I think of you often...grieving is hard work and work I have not dealt well with myself...I continue to send you warm healing thoughts.

  13. Thank you for the list and thank you for your blogging

  14. Grear list. Some of my favourite too. But I have difficulty growing sedums?

  15. Glad to see you again, after the storm the sun rises again! They are beautiful choices, but of course we dont have them here in the tropics.

  16. I have some of these, and now you've convinced me to try some of the others. Great list and great post! Thank you.

  17. Love the collection, and I am thrilled to see some of my fav's on the list.

    It's a totally different climate for me this spring, going to be a challenge.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  18. Great list! Thanks a lot for this post.

  19. I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for this list! Is the pulmonaria good for sunny areas? We have dense nasty clay soil, which I am attempting to amend. Do you recommend vermiculite to increase drainage?

  20. A great list, Jodi! I'm happy to see some of my favorites like coneflowers and daylilies made the top 10. Helenium is one I don't have, but I hope to add some this summer. Glad to have you back; I hope that working and gardening continue to help you in the healing process.

  21. Many, many thanks for your list, Jodi. I often think of you and how you are managing. Grief is indeed hard work. It has been a lovely spring thus far in our part of the world, hasn't it, so I hope being out and about is helping even in small ways. I am always looking for new perennials to try and extend the dreaded mid August- mid September stretch where nothing is blooming in my gardens, so I especially appreciate some of those selections. The Helen's flower is quite pretty and not one I know well, so maybe that shall be where I start.


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