11 Top-Notch Perennials

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Achillea 'Peachy Seduction'

We take great pride in the trials at the University of Georgia (UGA). We don’t trial for the sake of trialing, to make us look good or to give us something to do. We trial in the steadfast belief that what we do makes a difference.

When we provide real data under real-world conditions, we do so in the belief that someone – breeders, growers, retailers and consumers – will pay attention.

Quality is not limited to fertility standards and spacing; quality is also what consumers, from landscapers to buyers, see when they have a little money to spend.

So, in the belief that what we do does make a difference, here are the Classic City perennial award winners for 2011. These are the very best perennials in the trial gardens, based on year-round performance and/or eye-clutching beauty.

The Perennials

All are winter hardy to at least Zone 5, unless otherwise noted. The companies associated with each plant either bred the plant or supplied it to UGA. However, your broker should be able to obtain all of these winners.

Achillea ‘Peachy Seduction’ (Blooms of Bressingham)

We have been evaluating yarrows for some time and they seem to improve every year, but this one really stood out. One of our students said it reminds them of their grandmother’s antique lace, which we felt was a lovely description of this yarrow. Plants were consistently full of flowers throughout the spring season. A great plant in the garden and one that also works well as a cut flower.

Baptisia ‘Prairie Twilight Blues’ (North Creek Nurseries)

Another plant we seem to talk about too much, waiting for the market to catch up. With the fabulous breeding going on in the genus, there are at least a half dozen that could go on this list. This was one of the best and caught the eyes of commercial and private visitors for its vigor and handsome flowers.

Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’ (Walters Gardens)

A truly green flower! We have loved this coneflower bred by Future Plants for a couple of years. The entire plant is covered in medium-sized single flowers all season long. This year it was about 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide. We had dozens of different coneflowers, but people invariably chose this one.

Echinacea PowWow (Ball Horticultural Co.)

With so many coneflowers, it is not surprising that there was more than one for this popular list. We loved the compact size, the ease of production and the handsome flowers. Commercial people eyed it greedily, and gardeners loved the habit.

Helleborus ‘Pink Frost’ (Skagit Gardens)

The new hellebores are nothing short of spectacular. Bred by Heuger Trading Co. of Germany, plants provide upright early pinkish flowers that are truly handsome. Their earliness may be a bit of a problem in the landscape but a boon for retailers wanting pot plants for early sales in the store. A number of fine selections are available, including ‘Ruby Glow.’

Hibiscus ‘Cranberry Crush’ (Walters Gardens)

I have mentioned that I believe hardy hibiscus are underused. Now I see a plethora of new cultivars available. This one is moderate in size and could be used in smaller landscapes (but certainly not dwarf). Large, bright deep-red flowers cover the plant. It is a hibiscus and certainly not immune to Japanese beetles. Other great hibiscus include ‘Royal Gems’ (Fleming) and ‘Peppermint Schnapps’ (Blooms).

Nierembergia ‘Summer Splash White’ (Suntory Flowers)

I have already written about this plant, and its cousin ‘Summer Splash Blue.’ They are likely only perennial to Zone 7, but that is sufficient territory for good sales. Easy to grow, early to flower, persistent in flower and eye catching, it was one of our Plants of Distinction for four weeks running.

Phlox ‘Cosmopolitan’ (Darwin Perennials/Ball)

This phlox was stunning all season long. It has an amazing deep-pink color that stands out from across the garden. The blooms come on strong, and they last throughout the balmy summer days here in Athens. Last year, we chose ‘Peacock White,’ and we think this one is just as wonderful. A great standout in the garden!

Rosa ‘Mother of Pearl’ (Conard Pyle) and Rosa ‘Golden Celebration’ (David Austin)

We are trialing dozens of roses in the trial gardens, and oh what joy to see so many performing so well without being overrun by leaf spotting and other diseases. These two were favorites all summer (and last year as well).

Sedum ‘Maestro’ (Walters Gardens/Proven Winners)

Greenish purple foliage frocked with pink flowers throughout the season, this sedum sure was a show stopper. Plants performed without a hitch considering they are located in one of the hottest and driest spots in the garden. Growing to about 1½ feet with a spread of 2 to 3 feet, the beauty was a prize winner at all of our seasonal events.

Allan Armitage (allan@greenhouse grower.com) is a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

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