You’ve probably been told that if you want your flower garden to grow with the least amount of effort, you should switch from annuals, those 1-year wonders that need to be replaced every spring, to perennials, which can live for decades. And it’s generally true. At least, you don’t have to replant each spring. But there are literally thousands of varieties of perennials, some of which are indeed as easy as pie to grow; others, though, require at least as much attention as annuals.
The following perennials are among the easiest of all because they …
* don’t need fussy care, such as pinching, staking, and deadheading
* are fairly resistant to insects and diseases and may even be unappealing to deer (although a starving deer will eat anything)
* have a long life span (more than 10 years)
* adapt to a wide range of conditions
* don’t spread all over the garden via invasive rhizomes
* grow and bloom well even if you don’t divide them
* are tough enough to hold their own against invasive neighbors
* will grow almost anywhere in North America (Zones 2 to 9)
Rudbeckia fulgide var. Sullivan tie ‘Early Bird Gold’
‘Goldsturm’ black-eyed Susan has been a staple for so long that just about everyone grows it, but it is late-starting (at the end of summer). ‘Early Bird Gold‘ is a selection of ‘Goldsturm’ that is physically identical to it but “day-length neutral”: It starts blooming early and doesn’t know when to stop, so it can bloom from late May until Christmas in some climates (late June through October in the north). Sturdy stems bear beautiful golden daisies with a black, conelike center. Average height: 2 feet. Spread: 18 to 24 inches. Full sun to partial shade. Average, well-drained soil. Zones 4 to 9.
CONEFLOWER Echinacea purpura and hybrids
Kissing cousin to the black-eyed Susan, the coneflower produces big pink, purple, or white daisylike blooms on robust stems with a prickly, green to orange center. There are now hybrid coneflowers in a wider range of colors, including yellow, orange, tomato red, and even green, some with double flowers. Bloom: midsummer to early fall. Height: 2 to 5 feet. Spread: 18 to 24 inches. Full sun to partial shade. Average, well-drained soil. Zones 3 to 9.
DAYLILY Hemerocallis cultivars
Lots of choices here, from big flowers to small, dwarf plants to giants, early bloomers to fall bloomers, all trumpet-shaped and borne over attractive, arching, grasslike foliage. Some varieties, such as the ever popular ‘Stella de Oro’ (yellow flowers), bloom all summer! Colors include yellow (shown at left is ‘Techny Peace’), orange, pink, purplish-red, and “white” (well, more like cream), often with a contrasting eye. Each flower lasts but a day (which is why they’re called “daylilies”), but stems can produce dozens of flowers … and there can be dozens of stems! Avoid the tawny daylily (H. full), as it is aggressively invasive, but all of the others stay where you put them. Height: 10 to 72 inches. Spread: 1 to 5 feet. Full sun to partial shade. Humus-rich, well-drained soil. Zones variable, but usually 2 to 9.
GOATSBEARD Aruncus dioicus
This is a big, tough perennial with stems so sturdy that they have survived tornados unharmed. The giant leaves are fernlike, and the frothy white flowers are rather like astilbe blooms. A bit slow to develop, it may not reach its full size for 4 or 5 years, but it can live for 100 years or more in the same spot. Bloom: early summer. Height: 4 to 6 feet. Spread: 4 to 6 feet. Full sun to shade. Rich, moist soil. Zones 3 to 7.
HOSTA Hosta spp.
Ever popular, hostas are tough as nails as long as you remember two things: You must buy slug-resistant varieties (usually ones with thick leaves), and they have no resistance to deer. They come in all sizes and are grown mostly for their foliage, which is usually large leaves with attractive veining in shades from dark green to chartreuse and blue, often with beautiful yellow or white variegation. The trumpet-shaped flowers are white to purple and usually fairly insignificant, although there are some large flower, highly scented varieties (shown above is ‘Elegans’). Usually thought of as shade perennials, many hostas will do fine with some sun, especially in cool-summer areas. Bloom: variable, early summer to fall. Height: 10 to 40 inches. Spread: 7 to 72 inches. Partial sun to full shade. Rich, moist, well-drained soil. Zones 3 to 9.
PEONY Paeonia lactic flora and others
Your great-grandmother’s mother probably grew peonies … and they’re likely still exactly where she planted them, as peonies are usually about the longest-lived perennials around. The deeply cut leaves are a glossy dark green that reddens in the fall, but their main attraction is the huge, beautifully scented flower in pink (shown at opposite page, bottom, is ‘Pink Hawaiian Coral’), white, or red (more recently, yellow or peach). Flowers can be single, semidouble or double. Note: Many of the double varieties need staking. Bloom: mid- to late spring. Height: 20 to 48 inches. Spread: 30 to 36 inches. Full sun to partial shade. Rich, moist, well-drained soil. Zones 2 to 9.
THE PLANT LIST
1 Black-eyed Susan, 2 plants
2 Pink coneflower, 2 plants
3 White coneflower, 1 plant
4 Daylily ‘Stella de Oro’, 5 plants
9 Daylily, assorted, medium height, 5 plants
6 Goatsbeard, 1 plant
7 Hosta, ‘Little Sunspot’, 4 plants
8 Hosta, ‘Gold Standard’, 2 plants
9 Peony, 1 white, 1 pink, 2 plants
OTHERS TO TRY
Not enough choices for you? Here are more winners!
CUSHION SPURGE (Euphorbia polychrome): Chartreuse flowers on mounds of green foliage turning red in fall. Bloom: early spring. Height: 12 to 18 inches. Spread: 18 inches. Full sun to partial shade. Average, well-drained soil. Zones 4 to 9.
HENS AND CHICKS (Sempervivum sector and others): Low rosettes of succulent leaves in green to silvery to red. Upright stalks of purplish red flower. Bloom: midsummer. Height: 12 to 18 inches. Spread: 18 inches. Full sun to partial shade. Average, well-drained soil. Zones 4 to 8.
RUSSIAN SAGE (Perovskia x hybrids): the Shrubby plant with sturdy white stems; silvery, highly aromatic leaves; and a haze of lavender-blue flowers. Bloom: summer to fall. Height: 3 to 5 feet. Spread: 2 to 4 feet. Full sun. Average to poor, well-drained to dry soil. Zones 3 to 9.
SHOWY STONECROP (Sedum respectable): White to pink cauliflower blooms over the succulent, blue-green leaves. Bloom: fall. Height: 18 to 24 inches. Spread: 18 to 24 inches. Full sun. Average, well-drained soil. Zones 4 to 9.
SIBERIAN IRIS (Iris Siberia): The easy iris. Abundant blooms in purple, lavender, pink, white, or yellow. Attractive, grasslike leaves. Bloom: late spring to early summer. Height: 20 to 48 inches. Spread: 2 feet. Full sun to partial shade. Rich, moist to wet, loamy soil. Zones 3 to 9.