Perennials That Eat Up & Spit Out Stress

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Perennials That Eat Up & Spit Out Stress

In our constant battle to bring the best plants to the attention of growers, landscapers and buyers, we once again unveil the Classic City awardees. I presented Classic City annuals in January, and in this issue I present the Classic City Awards in the category of Best Perennials.

These recommendations are based on real data, not preference of color or plants remembered from grandmother’s garden. Real data. Real stinking weather at times. Real plants. Real opportunities.

These and other equally wonderful plants from previous years can be found on The Gardens at UGA website. Plants are generally available from most brokers and distributors of fine plant material.

Miscanthus ‘Gold Bar’

Miscanthus grasses have been around for many years, and provide value and beauty in the landscape. In general, they are tall, which can occasionally be a problem in smaller spaces. ‘Gold Bar’ has exceptional posture, providing a highly useful structure as a border plant. The half-inch creamy yellow bars that accent each bright green blade are striking and lure the viewer as they approach the plant.

In this, its second year in the garden, plants were 2 ½ feet tall at the peak of summer. No flowers were produced this season, making it the second year without blooms. We have never seen any signs of insects or insect damage on ‘Gold Bar,’ and the Georgia heat never parched the blades of this proud grass. Patented by Joy Creek Nursery, Sunny Border is the international marketing agent and patent administrator of the plant. Plants are available from Walters, Itsaul Plants, Kurt Bluemel, Creek Hill, Blooming, Hoffman, GET Group, Green Leaf (Oklahoma), Emerald Coast and Skagit, to name but a few of our friends.

Tricyrtis ‘Kohaku’

What an exquisite beauty! The lavender petals gradually fade into a blue center. From the center of the bloom, a light yellow pistil and stamens arise, speckled with burgundy. By the time many of our cultivars flower, the foliage has declined significantly due to heat and other stresses.

However, ‘Kohaku’ maintained fresh and healthy foliage throughout the season with very little dieback. It is also our earliest blooming toad lily, beginning in mid July and continuing over a span of four months.

Gaura ‘Snow Fountain’

Cascading petals of white resemble falling snow frozen in time without the bite of cold weather! The brightness of the snow-like petals vividly accentuates the surrounding blooms of nearby plants in the garden, creating an effective complementary effect. Even the dropping petals that formed a blanket on the ground were ornamental in the garden.

As with all gauras, we cut back plants after flowering, and this plant rewarded us with another magnificent show of blooms.
To add yet one more positive, we had a persistent problem with aphids on gauras. ‘Snow Fountain,’ however, was not nearly as affected. Plants are available through several different distributors.

Heuchera ‘Caramel’

The warm colors of this heuchera make it unique indeed–and persistently so, with the foliage remaining in excellent form throughout the entire season. Perhaps, it is showcased so well because one of its parents (H. villosa) is a native of the Southeastern United States, indicating an ability to happily tolerate our climate. This plant proved to us that it is indeed tough enough to withstand the hot and humid (not to mention, dry) Georgia summers!

The light pink blooms that hover about a foot and a half above the clump of apricot-hued leaves are light pink and have an ethereal presence. Springtime just wouldn’t be the same if ‘Caramel’ did not reside at the Gardens.

Salvia leucantha ‘Cislano’

We have trialed velvet sage for many years, and with some of the new selections, their future looks bright. This luscious velveteen-leaved sage, had everyone impatiently anticipating the moment this plant formed a bud. One of the very last of the salvias to bloom in late August, it was well worth the wait, forming alluring purple and soft panicles of flowers.

‘Cislano’ is flamboyant and a whole lot of fun. A full and robust shrub is well formed by bloom time, reaching an ultimate height of 5 ½ feet, so it may need staking in order to keep upright and from crowding out nearby smaller plants. The flower texture and color are irresistible to any hands or eyes meandering through our garden.

Aruncus ‘Misty Lace’

For more than five years now, this Goats Beard has proven to be a soft touch, as if Monet himself brushed them onto our backdrop. ‘Misty Lace’ produces an abundance of puffy cream-colored panicles in the spring, and the foliage not only remains intact but continues to look presentable for its guests long after the blooms have excused themselves. This is our best performing Aruncus, hands down. Plants resulted from the New Crop Program at the University of Georgia.

Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’

What a noble prince, he is! ‘Ivory Prince’ is not the typical Lenten rose we are accustomed to. Rather, this plant adds a deeper purity to the late winter through the early spring, flowering as early as March and into April in our gardens, much like a quiet prelude to the raucous chorus of color yet to come.

This hellebore is a real trooper, blooming for a significantly longer time than its mates. The ivory white petals blush with a light pink and face upright, a wonderful change from the normal pendulous flowers of other hellebores. The foliage also remained fresh all season.

Coreopsis ‘Big Bang Full Moon’

‘Big Bang Full Moon’ has been a very happy camper this year, its first at the Gardens. It has consistently bloomed throughout the year, even in mid November. With fresh lemony petals, one’s nose almost detects a citrus fragrance just from the look of it. The flower is larger in size compared to other coreopsis, giving it the “big bang” effect. We were very impressed with the dark green healthy foliage that remained healthy throughout the summer. We are very pleased to have it in the garden.

Bred by the fine breeder, Darrell Probst, this is the first in his Big Bang series. We look forward to many more.

Gaillardia ‘Commotion Tizzy’ and ‘Commotion Frenzy’

This dynamic duo has caused a whirlwind of enthusiasm at the Gardens this year. The pinwheel-designed flowers are whimsical and tease the eyes while the bright red and yellow shades cheer up even the cloudiest day. The plants have truly been in constant production this year, beginning in late spring and continuing throughout the fall. They do not seem to be at all bothered by the drought conditions affecting the garden as we have seen absolutely no lack of vigor.

These plants are excited to be here and don’t mind shouting about it. Plants resulted from the excellent breeders at Skagit Gardens.

Salvia ‘Sensation Blue’

We received a number of new salvias as experimentals from Jeff McGrew at Kieft and dutifully put them in with the dozen other seed salvias we routinely receive. However, it was apparent that vigor and compact habit had been bred into this series and as they grew, we could not say enough good things about them.

Because they were experimental, we did not share these findings with anyone other than the Kieft Company. We are, however, pleased to recommend ‘Sensation Blue,’ the first to be available in 2009. Compact, heavy flowering, deep blue to purple upright inflorescences and early flowering make this a great choice for spring programs. They had no problem with the heat and humidity of the summer, and we look forward to seeing them again next season.

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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