Popular Perennials At Retail

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The perennials that retail customers love are often older cultivars.

When discussing perennials, the topic that always comes up is, “What’s new?” There is no doubt that the newest of the new is a talking point and, certainly, having the newest variety provides distance between companies vying for the same dollar. I don’t think anyone would dispute that new is necessary. After all, nobody asks, “What’s old?” But what they should be asking is, “What would you recommend?”

One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, and what is new to one person may not be new to others. New to the consumer is approximately three years old, and new to the grower is two years old — compared to people who track the new plants.

In fact, for all the hollering and touting of new plants (and I am as guilty as anyone), you may be surprised by which perennials are popular at the retail level. At the OFA Perennial Symposium in Grand Rapids, Mich., last September, I surveyed approximately 30 retailers before my presentation and then those present in the room. I asked, “What five cultivars of perennial X do you sell the most of?” I did not expect the newest plants to be on the list, because of production time and availability, but I thought that a lot of “newish” plants would be there. Not always the case! I also did not expect to see so many plants at least 10 years old on the list.

I asked about 14 different genera. The lists below show the results.
* These are informal data only, based on a very small sample size.

Achillea

Seduction Series

‘Moonshine’

‘Pomegranate’

‘Coronation Gold’

‘Paprika’

Anemone

‘Honorine Jobert’

‘Pamina’

‘Robustissima’

‘September Charm’

‘Pretty Lady’

Campanula

Clips Series

‘Samantha’

‘Birch Hybrid’

‘Joan Elliot’

‘Blue Waterfall’

Coreopsis

‘Moonbeam’

‘Zagreb’

‘Rt. 66′

‘Early Sunshine’

Big Bang Series

Dianthus

‘Firewitch’

‘Sweet Williams’

Bouquet Series

Star Series

‘Frosty Fire’

Echinacea

‘Pow Wow Wild Berry’

‘Magnus’

‘Ruby Star’

‘Hot Papaya’

‘Tomato Soup’

Gaura

‘Siskiyou Pink’

Ballerina Series

Geyser Series

Geranium

‘Rozanne’

‘Ballerina’

‘Max Frei’

G. maculatum

‘Johnson’s Blue’

Heuchera

‘Caramel’

‘Palace Purple’

‘Citronelle’

‘Midnight Rose’

‘Plum Pudding’

Phlox (tall)

Volcano Series

‘David’

‘Grape Lollipop’

‘Laura’

Phlox (short)

‘Drummond’s Pink’

‘Candy Stripes’

‘Scarlet Flame’

Woodland Phlox

Rudbeckia

‘Goldstrum’

‘Viette’s Little Suzy’

‘Henry Eilers’

‘Herbstonne’

‘Little Goldstar’

Salvia

‘May Night’

‘East Friesland’

‘Caradonna’

‘Blue Hill’

‘Marcus’

Veronica

‘Royal Candles’

‘Purpleicious’

‘Fairytale’

‘Giles van Hees’

‘Red Fox’

Many more cultivars were listed, but these are the ones that came up most often.

These are all fine cultivars, but I must say I was struck with the continued popularity of cultivars like ‘Moonshine,’ ‘September Charm,’ the Clip series, ‘Early Sunrise,’ ‘Siskiyou Pink,’ and ‘Palace Purple.’

This attests to the longevity of good cultivars, as well as the fact that many of the older ones are well into production, cost is less and growers know what they are dealing with. Someone once said, “New cultivars are the lifeblood of the industry,” and I don’t doubt that one bit, but I might amend it to, “Good cultivars are the lifeblood of the industry.”

Allan Armitage was a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia for 30 years. He recently retired and remains an active consultant, author and lecturer.

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5 comments on “Popular Perennials At Retail

  1. Nico Rijnbeek

    if people me asked what is new is my answer mostly the question how many different perennials do you know or grow as Allan mention there are so many good old items that you need to have we do more then 2500 different perennials and still our list is never complete if we print them new one but we are always looking what is good and what will bring something to de marked Allan great promotion for perennials and let continue the discussion what do retailers need ???

  2. Steve Palmer

    I was indeed surprised to see astilbe and hosta absent from the list. 14 genera were mentioned but neither of these were included in the list.

  3. Jo-Ann Littlefield

    THANK YOU for putting in print my thoughts and findings! Also, thanks for promoting our industry as you do!

  4. Ed Henry

    Allen, We are in our 17th year of growing and retailing of flowers,baskets, veg plants etc. and with the new changes never ending in the industry we feel we almost know nothing . I appreciate your article. Thanks Ed Henry Indiana

  5. Jeff Merritt

    The list of popular perennials contains many we usually stock. I am surprised to not see any Hosta or Daylilies though. One more point with all the new varieties coming out year after year is people are sometimes hesitant to try them because they are not familiar with them. Customers still buy the old ones like May Night Salvia. Palace Purple Coralbells, and Stella de Oro Daylilies because they see them in everyone else's flower beds. It is frustrating for the retailer to choose from all the new exciting cultivars and wonder if customers will buy them. Plus the amount of customer's that are very knowledgeable about different plants seems to be dwindling and choose the more familiar plants because that is what they might have seen elsewhere.