Perennials are often touted as “easy-care,” but not all perennials are equal. Like many gardeners, I want ones that don’t need frequent dividing or deadheading. I need plants that are not fussy as to soil or weather conditions—and come back year after year.
That’s a lot to ask for, I know, so this month I’m turning to Melinda Myers, garden educator and author of many publications, including Small Space Gardening, and the DVDs for the Great Courses’ How to Grow Anything series. She suggests five choices that will meet my high standards. While the far-flung clans of hostas and daylilies should be included, she says, “I omitted them, because I felt you might want some other interesting plants for a low-maintenance garden.”
Amsonia hubrechtii – Melinda says willow amsonia (aka threadleaf bluestar) is a standout in any kind of garden—formal, informal or natural. This easy-to-grow multi-season perennial has ice-blue flowers that appear early. Throughout the summer it’s a three-foot tall mound of finely textured leaves. “And the grand finale,” Melinda notes, “is the glowing golden fall foliage.” (Zone 4-9)
Bergenia cordifolia – Heartleaf bergenia is drought tolerant, Melinda says, “and the animals tend to leave it alone – so that’s a great combination.” In early spring, the bold three-foot tall leaves unfold and mask last year’s declining foliage, followed by sturdy flower stalks in shades of pink. It’s evergreen and the autumn foliage turns a bronzy-red, she says, “that usually persists throughout the winter for dramatic year-round impact.” (Zone 3-8)
Heuchera spp.& cvs. – Coral bells show off a great variety of colorful foliage in interesting shapes. “Plus,” Melinda says, “they have flowers that you and the hummingbirds will enjoy.” Even small-space gardeners can start a collection. Overwinter your favorites in the greenhouse. If you live where it’s hot and humid, Melinda advises selecting cultivars of Heuchera villosa that can tolerate those conditions. (Zone 3-8)
Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’ – Catmints provide attractive foliage and flowers all season long. Melinda says, “One mid-season haircut to halfway back will correct any floppiness.” Though not so low at three feet, she likes to grow this water-wise sun lover with shrub roses and other unthirsty perennials. (Zone 3-9)
Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ – At four inches tall with a twelve-inch spread, the spiky golden leaves of Angelina sedum are topped in summer with yellow flowers. The succulent foliage turns amber in the fall and continues throughout the winter. It’s a tough drought-tolerant plant, says Melinda. “It makes a great edger, container plant, or member of any garden border.” (Zone 3-11)