The Classic City Awards for Perennials — The Best of 2006
More of the varieties that wowed 'em at the University of Georgia trial gardens.
June 16, 2008
Our yearly accounting of the great stuff, not merely the very good, takes us to perennials this month. Plants that held the attention of passers-by and caught our eyes throughout the season, or when they were truly spectacular, made this list. We are in Zone 7 (7b) with lots of sun, heat and humidity. Go buy, grow and sell these fine plants. All are available through your plant distributor or propagator.
Our little doll of the columbines! Another compact version of our native Canadian columbine, 'Corbett' can and will stand proudly next to our other proven variety, 'Little Lanterns,' but with pale yellow flowers instead of the typical red/yellow bicolor. It is named for the town in Maryland where it was originally found.
Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies'
A healthy, green circular mound gives way to a purple beauty in the early fall. Dubbed 'October Skies' and introduced by North Creek Nursery in Pennsylvania, the slightly fragrant purple flowers envelop the plant bringing a vibrant color to the garden with the promise of cool weather.
The foliage is a remarkable color purple, almost black, that remains so even during the heat of the summer. Sent to us by Skagit Garden in Washington, we have only seen it for one year. Even though we did not see the flowers, if the foliage is as good as this next year, who needs flowers?
Gaillardia 'Oranges and Lemons'
This first-year blanket flower has been most impressive and has remained in bloom from the time we received it through Plant Haven in the spring and all the way through the summer in the garden. When others have pooped out for the summer, this remained healthy and vibrant. A bright color combination, an unusually long bloom time and healthy foliage make this plant a winner!
Lavendula 'Violet Intrigue'
Lavenders come and go and usually do poorly in heat and humidity. However, 'Violet Intrigue' has been exceptional all year and better than all others. It bloomed well into fall with healthy grey-green foliage that did not show a bit of wear and tear after a long, hot summer. And you can't bypass the fragrance, which can charm even the weakest nostrils.
Pulmonaria Gaelic Series
Each year we get a new lungwort and ask why? Lungworts are reasonable enough plants but most are mediocre in this area. The Gaelic series from Proven Winners provides large, colorful flowers and large, spotted foliage that remains healthy throughout the summer, 'Gaelic Magic,' 'Gaelic Sunset,' and 'Gaelic Spring' bring the old-world charm into new-age gardening.
Salvia 'Hot Lips'
We have watched this vigorous hybrid grow 3 feet tall and equally wide in a few years, and everyone has fallen in love with it. The bicolored red and white flowers almost cover the plant in the spring and early summer and bloom well again in the fall. The plant will sell by its name alone, but the plant is an exceptional sage.
Salvia 'Mystic Spires'
Two salvias have caught our eye for as long as we have had them. 'Mystic Spires' from Ball FloraPlant has been so impressive as to win this award. Upright to 2 feet tall with dull green leaves and many purple flowers all summer have made this a winner. It should be a winner in many programs. Find it, sell it and make others happy.
Tradescantia 'White Velvet'
So, you think you've seen all that the hairy spiderwort has to offer? With adorable little fall-blooming tri-petaled flowers atop the eerily spider web-like foliage, what more do you need? Throw in some gorgeous purple hues to the foliage and you've got this new variety of spiderwort! Healthy, hairy foliage all summer with the same promise of mauve flowers in the fall, this plant just feels right to us. This should be grown far more than it is.
Tricyrtis 'Taipei Silk'
Toad lilies are still struggling in mainstream commercial horticulture, but are well respected and sought after by gardeners. This is a spectacular flowering plant that blooms in June, the earliest of all toad lilies in the garden, and continue into October. Exceptional plant, why can't we get others excited?
Allan Armitage is a professor, Department of Horticulture, University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.