Winter is for studying perennial choices

Pros discuss their new perennial picks

Right: We're currently studying the new
perennials offered by sources such as

  Plant Delights and Klehm's Songsparrow
perennial farm, as well as those listed by
wholesale growers such as Walter's Gardens.
We also welcome chances like this to
discuss our choices with expert growers... and you!

More help for choosing perennials in
our collection of perennial selection charts.

Are you deciding on new plants to try?

So are we! That's why here we discuss with a pro grower:
Choosing from what's new
Tickseed (Coreopsis)
Blanket flower (Gaillardia)
Hardy Hibiscus
Lenten rose (Helleborus)
Dropwort / Meadowsweet (Filipendula)
Coral bells (Heuchera)

Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum)
       (and about buying native plants)
More and more new plants


Hi guys,

I just got done reading the November 2012 Janet's Journal in the Michigan Gardener magazine, about plants on your wish list and how they move from wish list to regular garden usage. Great article! You and I are definitely on the same wavelength about "new." - Karen Bovio -

Below: Every catalog strives to have new items on every page, each year. Here, in Plant Delights' butterfly bush varieties (Buddleia), two of nine are new.NewInCatlgBuddlN0412s.jpg

What Janet wrote about "new", there in Michigan Gardener:

During one recent 7-year stretch, an average of 1,500 new plant patents were registered per year in the U.S. and Canada. Meanwhile, the average plant catalog included 30 to 100 "new" items each year. In that mix are species just captured from the wild, selected varieties and hybrids and also old items being rediscovered. Some are "new" to everyone, others are new only to the particular grower.

It's all too much for me to keep straight...

(So, to try new things) I do it this way: If a plant happens to …(have) enough distinctive character to jump out and hit me in the head, I might remark, "…I should try that…" Next, I grow it myself or work in a garden where I see it regularly so I can watch its staying power and pest resistance. After a year or three if it proves to have vigor and gumption…. I think about putting it on my "Wish list…" From that list… some graduate to my list of regulars…

(Read the complete article in Michigan Gardener.)

Bovio continues:KarenB9771.jpg

I think, too, that new things must prove themselves to be good! So many new faces do not pan out over the long haul.

I want to let you know that several of your new selections are items I am going to be growing for the first time in 2013, and why they made my list.

Karen Bovio is the owner of Specialty Growers, a Moderator on our Forum and a plant source for us for going on 30 years. Although she always says "Oh, go on!" when we say it, we know her to be one of the best perennial growers in the country. So what she says about plants on our wish list is gold.


Here are the rest of Bovio's comments, each accompanied by the clip from our article (in green) that prompted it. For instance, from Janet:

(There are) many reasons to love a Coreopsis (C. verticillata or C. lanceolata), from their long bloom time to vigor without aggression.

 (Read the complete article in Michigan Gardener.)

And Karen Bovio's comment:

…I am going to be growing some of your selections. I… ordered Coreopsis 'Sienna Sunset', after admiring it in catalogs for years. I tried 'Redshift' last year on a very limited basis, my customers LOVED it but I have no experience with it in the garden (yet). I do have and grow in my own garden, Coreopsis 'Route 66' -- flower color much the same, but 'Route 66' has foliage just like 'Moonbeam', whereas 'Redshift' has foliage of intermediate shape more like Full Moon (also a great plant, by the way!). 'Route 66' has been long lived in my sandy-soil ornamental grass garden. I have trouble with Coreopsis of most types here because my soil in most of my gardens is very rich. They seem to like it lean.

Below: Coreopsis 'Sienna Sunset'

CoreopSienna6620s.jpg CoreopSienna6618s.jpg









Blanket flower (Gaillardia)

Next, Janet observes:

Gaillardias are great for hot color blending and rock solid for providing flowers over a long, long season...
...if they're healthy. (Yet) they're moving back onto my wish list...GaillardFlwr1613s.jpg


Bovio responds:

Ditto for the Gaillardias. I …have trouble overwintering them as well…  I have given up on 'Baby Cole' because I've found it to be very susceptible to the pathogen Entyloma -- White Smut -- and Septoria leaf spot. 
(The Gaillardia variety) 'Oranges and Lemons' doesn't get fungus as badly but is much taller.

Great color though! I grow 'Burgundy', 'Dazzler', 'Mesa Yellow' and all of the 'Arizona' selections.


Right: We described Gaillardia's long bloom season and tactics for keeping it looking
great, in
New life by deadheads.





Hardy Hibiscus

Janet plans to try

(Hibiscus varieties bred for) longer bloom... compact form and ...pest resistance...

(Read the complete article in Michigan Gardener.) 

Bovio says:

I'm… trying Hibiscus 'Cranberry Crush' this year, (too.) Also 'Summer Storm', for a pink. There are SO many great new Hibiscus, I think it's hard to miss with these!

Below, left: Hibiscus 'Summer Storm.' Below, right: Hibiscus 'Cranberry Crush' with one of the new Coreopsis. These two photos ©2012 Perennial Resource, courtesy of, offering great information to home gardeners from one of the world's largest wholesale perennial growers.

HibiscCrnbrCrshOWltrsS.jpg HibiscSumrStrmOWltrsS.jpgLenten rose

Then, on the subject of lenten rose (Helleborus)

...remember selection so limited that we bought whatever lenten rose (Helleborus) was available, with flower color always in question… Now breeding breakthroughs allow (us to pick both flower color and form). HellebGoldenSunr8229s.jpg

…most of the new offerings (show) impressive hybrid vigor…'Golden Sunrise' (right) has proved itself for vigor, bloom count and leaf spot resistance for five years while 'Brandywine' types are not only very attractive but all seed grown. Seed grown plants tend to do much better in the garden even while small, compared to some tissue culture plants that have trouble adapting to outdoor conditions.


To which Bovio says:

Ditto on the Helleborus. I agree, the 'Brandywine' series have been very dependable… I hope to get some 'Golden Sunrise' again, but the way Helleborus selections come out so fast nowadays, it's now already considered "old" and I may not be able to get it. Doubles are all the rage, will have 'Golden Lotus' for sure...


Below: Not too long ago, lovers of lenten rose could only dream of choosing specific colors. Now, every color is available, many in double-flowered form, too.



















True blue gentian

Next, a discussion of Gentiana makinoi 'Marsha', an upright plant that produces true blue flowers in late summer or early fall.  Janet wrote:

We're three years into watching it in three different environments and think it's a keeper in well drained sandy soils where it will have some shade in the hot afternoon.

(Read the complete article in Michigan Gardener.)

Bovio continues:

I wish some of my regular suppliers carried the gentian 'Marsha'. (One) used to carry it… but I haven't seen it listed there in many years. I generally like to place multiple-item orders from my various suppliers, not just order a single item at a time, but your photo really made me take notice… it reminds me of a true blue Aconitum!

GentianFlwrH5694s.jpg GentianMarshaCN8047s.jpg



Next, an old plant new to many. Perhaps its name held it back?

(Filipendula vulgaris -- meadowsweet or dropwort-- has been one of our favorites for 30 years.) This lesser known relative of queen of the prairie has foliage like Boston fern that is nearly evergreen. In spring it produces 24" stems topped with flat clusters of white-pink flowers much like Queen Anne's lace. …pretty all summer and has a constitution tough as nails.FilipVuFlwr0879s.jpg

In that article Janet explains that this Filipendula  is hard to find. Bovio, who is like many perennial growers in starting most of her stock from seed, provides insight to its rarity:

I will have Filipendula vulgaris again... I had some germination troubles this year, for some reason. Normally it's simple to grow -- might have been a poor seed lot. NO ONE offers this as a bare-root or started plug (so if our seedlings fail, that's it for that year.)


Coral bells...

...continue big and more numerous each year!

My love of coral bells goes back 35 years, to the moment I saw a hummingbird at our seed-grown, green leaf, red flowered Heuchera sanguinea 'Firespray.' Since then… hundreds of new selections of Heuchera and Heucherella (coral bells crossed with foam flower) have appeared.

…Some of the new introductions have been pretty faces that didn't have the vigor to make it in the rough and tumble of a real garden. …(I'll keep using) the six-year old variety 'Caramel' (amber colored foliage). It joins 'Obsidian' (purple-black and almost ten years proven) and 'Stormy Seas' (maroon with pewter overtones dependable for over 15 years).HeuchCaraml9016s.jpg


Bovio, too, has old favorite coral bells:

Of course we always have Heuchera 'Caramel', 'Obsidian' and 'Stormy Seas.'  I totally agree about their worthiness.  Of note to me this year were 'Beaujolais' -- awesome vigor, plus rose pink flowers!  'Circus' had gorgeous foliage (mint/lemon/white/green) but we have not seen the flowers yet -- they all sold before they even bloomed!  Supposedly RED flowers! 

…'Miracle' has been a steady performer in my garden for 4 years now… it blooms incessantly -- light pink flowers which make a sort of quirky contrast with the chartreuse leaves. I've had a single plant of 'Snow Angel in my garden for a decade. It is very hardy and reliable. I've grown 'Hercules' in the past, but only in the pots, and it did not do that well, but I do have it on order again this year because I think it may have been one of the "bad" years for Heuchera - wet springs always give me fits with Heuchera!

Above: Close up of Heuchera 'Caramel,' and  'Obsidian' with a dwarf hemlock.


New and improved tall Sedum

Janet says:

I'm watching and pulling for Sedum 'Autumn Charm.' It's so beautiful, and upstanding... but I won't commit to it until it proves itself more stable than other variegated Sedums we've grown or watched. Those others all lost points for requiring division nearly every year to remove all-green reversions that would otherwise and quickly take over.SedumAutChrm6624s.jpg


Bovio agreed:

We DO love Sedum 'Autumn Charm'! I have had only ONE little stem revert to green over 3 years of growing this. That did bum me out -- this year was the first reversion I saw, and it was just one plant and only one weak stem. I am also trying 'Maestro' this year, because 'Black Jack', the once-popular dark sport of 'Matrona', proved to be very prone to reversion back to 'Matrona'.




Which mint?

In that Michigan Gardener article,
Janet wrapped up with:

Broad leaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)… green-white bloom reminiscent of bee balm brings nice form, silvery green foliage and sparkle during bloom time... Like other natives throughout my wish list, it's hardly "new" but has recently made new inroads into general garden acceptance.

 (Read the complete article in Michigan Gardener.)

In reply, Bovio exclaimed:PycnanthMutAP28_28s.jpg

I have been a fan of Pycnanthemum muticum for years! I always have plants here, but manage to sell only a couple per year. I am hoping that now that I have planted it in my Native Garden, people will take notice and start to use it. I first saw this in gardens in the St. Louis area in the 1980's. It does grow quickly, like Monarda, but is totally manageable in my opinion. I just love the sparkly silver effect of the bracts, and of course the fragrance!

Well, I'm sorry to have rambled on so long, but I couldn't help but comment, because you chose so many of my already-favorite plants! - Karen -

Worth the ramble? Continue on!

We didn't mind Bovio's "ramble" -- we'd listen to her advice all day! In fact, we went beyond what the printed page could accomodate when we submitted the list Bovio read in Michigan Gardener magazine, and some plants were cut! Read our additional choices here.

An aside: Good to be careful when buying natives.

Broad leaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is native to much of the eastern U.S., but classified as a threatened species in Kentucky, Michigan and New York and possibly extirpated in Maine.PycnanthMut01SunnyBs.jpg

However, respected voices in the wildflower field say, "Garden cultivation is probably essential in saving some species, just as zoos are critical to the continuation of some animal species."  So here's a case where you can enjoy a gorgeous, fragrant "new" plant in your garden while doing a little for the wider world at the same time.

You can check a species' status at
Search its name there to learn if it's native and has special protection. When shopping for threatened or endangered plants, ask at the nursery or check a catalog's fine print and buy only from growers who propagate from their own nursery stock. Don't buy from nurseries that sell wild-harvested plants.

Photo, above right: Courtesy of and © 2012 to Sunnny Border Nursery. Sunny Border is a wholesale grower that does not harvest wild plants. If your local garden center doesn't carry this lovely plant, steer them to this supplier.