A perennial flower garden is rewarding, less expensive and less work than having to replant annual flowers every year. With proper planning, you can have flowers blooming in your perennial garden all summer long. But what are the best perennials for our area that can anchor your perennial garden? I asked seven of our employees, experienced gardeners: “What is your favorite perennial flower?” Here are their choices:
Bonnie Hickey, our bedding plant buyer, named bergenia, common name “Pigsqueak”, as her favorite perennial. It got the name Pigsqueak from the sound the leaf makes when rubbed between 2 fingers. Foot tall bergenia grows easily in shade or partial shade and is evergreen through the winter so is interesting in all four seasons. In May bergenia has perky pink blossoms, in summer leathery, slug-resistant leaves. Some varieties, like Bressingham Ruby, have bronzy-colored leaves all spring and summer. But in the fall, the leaves of all bergenia turn a beautiful burgundy color and stay that way throughout the winter.
Annie Woodward, who lives north of Main Street in the old part of town where temperatures are a little milder and the soil is rich, has chosen echinacea or purple coneflower as her favorite. She likes its tall stems (up to 3’) with showy purplish-pink-ray petals. This long-blooming, native perennial is easy to grow in any sunny garden as long as it doesn’t get too much water. Purple coneflower attracts butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects. In the winter finches feed on its seed. Many stunning new coneflower flower shapes, colors and heights have been bred in the last few years.
Iris is an old fashioned favorite of many of us, including our Lisa MacFarlane. Reliably hardy and long-lived, fragrant, with few pests, you can’t beat iris. After they bloom their tall, thick, grass-like leaves form a nice backdrop for shorter flowers.
Denise Montgomery, Cashman Nursery’s expert on native plants, likes native penstemon. Her favorite penstemons are the brilliant blues of ‘Alberta’, ‘Shining’, and ‘Little-Flower’. Penstemon needs well-drained soil and will do well on dry, rocky sites. It is long-blooming, from late spring to mid-summer here in the valley, but will bloom later in higher elevations.
Of course, someone on our staff had to name the classic peony as their favorite and Rebecca did. Many of us remember peonies blooming in June in our grandmother’s or mother’s garden, whether we grew up in Montana or in the Mid-West. Peonies can’t be beat for their long life and huge, wonderfully fragrant blooms in pinks, reds, or shades of white.
Michelle Ratliff likes black eyed susan (Rudbeckia) because they are drought tolerant, reliable and in mid- summer, produce daisy-like flowers the color of sunshine. Goldsturm rudbeckia (30” tall) is one of the best selections for us. There is a new dwarf version called Little Goldstar that is only 16” tall. Black eyed susan makes a great cutting flower!
Sun-loving Autumn Joy Sedum and the newer improved Autumn Fire, are Ann Wilbert’s favorite perennials. Hardy and healthy, this 18-24” sedum has few pests; it is a plant with four seasons of interest. In the spring, the young sedum plants look like little cabbages as they emerge with light-green leaves; then in summer and fall the tops slowly turn rosy-pink. Leave sedum standing in the garden all winter for its interesting shape or cut and dry it.
Our staff chose these plants not only for their beauty, but for winter-hardiness, pest and deer resistance, length of bloom time, and drought resistance. Also, they considered the flowers’ usefulness as pollinators and if the plant attracts butterflies and birds. There are others that could have made the list: Jerry’s favorite is bleeding heart, mine is hardy geranium. But, you can’t go wrong by adding one or more of these garden staples to your perennial garden!