Top Performing Perennials

Sedum 'Lemon Ball'

Athens is known as The Classic City of the South. Many of you have visited this lovely college town. The Classic City awards are based on garden performance over the entire season in the Gardens at The University of Georgia (UGA), where spring is glorious, and summers are hot, often dry and rather miserable.

Every year we discuss, we debate, and we fight over the best plants in the garden. Well, not really, because the best plants, like cream, seem to rise to the top. When I ask my team (Meg, BJ or the student workers) what plants they think have performed the best over the entire year, we tend to agree.

Choosing perennials is a little different than choosing annuals. Few perennials flower all season long, but we do not select one-week wonders; and if they are not flowering, the foliage should not detract from the plant. We try to choose mainstream bedding plants as well as a few off-the-wall plants that should be grown more. However, this year for the first time, we have included landscape roses in our bag of perennials. They seem to be neglected by everyone other than rose growers, so let’s get off the pot — they are perennial and they are being grown alongside other herbaceous perennials.

You will agree with some our choices and disagree with others. Regardless, get them on the shelf so the consumer can have a fair chance of success. These are presented in no particular order.

Rosa ‘First Impression’ (Greenheart Roses): I cannot tell you how impressed everyone is with this rose. We received it last year and knew nothing about it. The foliage is glossy green, absolutely bulletproof for disease, and it flowered and flowered and flowered. The vibrant yellow blossoms caught the eye of all who passed by and simply would not be ignored. Some people do not like the “quilling” of the flowers as they mature, but that’s like not liking an ice cream cone because it melts. It’s a great plant.

Rosa ‘SunRosa Red’ (Suntory): I was very pleased to see a rose program develop from one of best flower breeders. Suntory unveiled two colors (yellow and red) in this dwarf rose series at the California Spring Trials in April. I was taken with their retail-friendly size and wanted to evaluate leaf health and flower power in the very challenging heat and humidity of Athens. ‘SunRosa Red’ was glorious, and even though it was considerably smaller than all other roses we were grading, the plants more than held their own. And, here it is — on our most prestigious award list. Need I say more? This rose has healthy foliage, a short stature (12 to 15 inches tall) and flowers all season. It’s a real winner.

Helleborus ‘Pink Frost’ (Heuger Trading Co.): Without doubt, the breeding of hellebores has changed dramatically in the last five years. With dozens of flowers standing erect above the leaves, handsome foliage and heat and cold tolerance, the new breed of hellebores will make major inroads to the hellebore market that is already established in this country. We have trialed more than 50 new hellebores in the Trial Gardens, and ‘Pink Frost’ is outstanding. There are many others behind it, but I expect this cultivar to be important for many years to come.

Lavandula ‘Silver Anouk’ (Darwin Perennials): Lavender seems to fit in everywhere, as an herbal favorite and an outstanding companion plant in the landscape, to its use in perfumes and oils. We have trialed many fine lavenders at UGA, looking for one that will flower well and, more importantly, maintain its habit and clean foliage throughout the season. In hot, humid climates, that is not an easy find. ‘Silver Anouk’ does all those things brilliantly and provides the added bonus of silvery foliage, a characteristic that sets it apart on the retail shelf and the garden bed.

Echinacea Sombrero series (‘Hot Coral,’ ‘Solero’) (Darwin Perennials): A lot of press has been generated extolling the virtues of these plants. I have been one of the extollers and do so again, with pleasure. So many echinaceas are so much better now than even five years ago, and it is increasingly difficult to find any that stand out. These two do. Their compact habit, reasonably healthy foliage and ability to initiate vibrant flowers for a long period of time puts them on this list.

Sedum ‘Lemon Ball’: What a wonderful surprise this turned out to be. As a potted plant in the spring, these absolutely flew off our shelves during our plant sales. The chartreuse foliage and the vigorous habit simply attracted eyes and wallets — all plants were gone in an hour. In the garden, they simply grew bigger and produced a round, shimmering ball of leaves. Flowers formed but are definitely secondary. I am not sure of the breeder; we obtained plants from James Greenhouses in Bogart, Ga., and they are part of the Treadwell Program from Perennial Farm, Md.

Dianthus ‘Garden Spice Fuchsia’ (Fides Oro): Over the years, we have trialed more than 50 different dianthus, all touted as being better than the one before. Some were, most were not. The Garden Spice series has always been one of our highest-rated groups of plants, year in and year out. The silver-gray foliage and the handsome double flowers in many colors should be the number-one choice for growers, retailers and landscapers who include dianthus in their plant selection. ’Garden Spice Pink’ has earned this award before; ‘Garden Spice Fuchsia’ is just as good.

Hibiscus ‘Royal Gems’ (Fleming’s Flower Fields): The perennial hibiscus are slowly going through a transition, from large-flowered big plants to large-flowered compact forms. Big flowers are selling points, but while many of the hibiscus we have trialed are stunning, they simply are too big to ensure repeat sales. I believe there is a tsunami of more compact material in breeder pipelines, but right now, ‘Royal Gems’ is quite exceptional. The dark-green foliage enhances the beautiful rose-pink blooms, and while the flowers are indeed large, they appear even bigger because of the compact size of the plant. People stopped, asked about it and admired. Without doubt, all perennial hibiscus have problems — still a little too large, not sufficient breaking, insect problems — but heck, what would breeders do without problems to solve? ‘Royal Gems’ will soften the criticism of this fine plant; give it a try.

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ (Terra Nova): Having trialed way too many coralbells in the last 10 years, we were a wee bit leery of another onslaught, which we knew was just around the corner. However, we have been in love with ‘Caramel’ and a few others for a number of years, and then ‘Georgia Peach’ came along. We have evaluated this cultivar for nearly three years, and it has risen to the top of the heuchera basket. Everyone comments on it in the spring; it is reasonably handsome in the summer, and if temperatures don’t get too cold and there isn’t too much snow, it can look very good in winter. Regardless, in the pot, there is a shopper-stopper. Congratulations to Terra Nova.

Gaura ‘Belleza Dark Pink’ (Darwin Plants): Gauras are always a tough sale — plants often grow too leggy, don’t flower when needed and get lost in the landscape. There are some fine gauras; however, nothing eye-popping has come forward lately. We are pleased to sing the praises of ‘Belleza Dark Pink.’ We noticed how the plant kept flowering all season, with a gentle haircut to help it along. Plants are not dwarf, but nor are they out of control. The flower color is rich and foliage is healthy. If a new gaura is on your list, take a close look at this one.

Coreopsis ‘Solanna Golden Crown’ (Danziger): The common tickseed (C. grandiflora) is hard to get excited about. Not that growers don’t appreciate the rapid growth and first-year flowering, and not that gardeners and landscapers don’t appreciate the bright colors, but they usually disappoint by the end of the season, and are seldom “perennial.” We have looked at the Solanna series for a couple of years, and ‘Golden Crown’ has been impressive. It made this list because it’s early flowering, tough, has bright, big, double flowers and reasonable foliage. For a common tickseed, that is a feat to be proud of.  If it looks good next year (year three), I will shout its name to the heavens. GG

Leave a Reply

More From Varieties...
Suntory Blue Rose Applause

October 21, 2017

Suntory’s Blue Rose ‘Applause’ Now Available to U.S. Florists

‘Applause’ was originally introduced to the U.S. in 2011, and since then it was been successfully tested and selected to meet new market conditions.

Read More

October 17, 2017

14 New Shrubs With Fringe Benefits

What’s popular with shrubs? Consumers want varieties that will give them more return on their investment, in terms of long-lasting blooms and multi-season appeal that lasts from spring until fall and at times stretches into the winter months. Here are 14 new varieties of shrubs and sub-shrubs to consider for your product mix in 2018.

Read More

October 14, 2017

PlantPeddler Hosting Poinsettia Variety Day in December

The event will feature side-by-side comparisons of more than 100 commercial and pre-released varieties from seven breeders.

Read More
Latest Stories
Suntory Blue Rose Applause

October 21, 2017

Suntory’s Blue Rose ‘Applause’ Now Available to U.S. Fl…

‘Applause’ was originally introduced to the U.S. in 2011, and since then it was been successfully tested and selected to meet new market conditions.

Read More

October 17, 2017

14 New Shrubs With Fringe Benefits

What’s popular with shrubs? Consumers want varieties that will give them more return on their investment, in terms of long-lasting blooms and multi-season appeal that lasts from spring until fall and at times stretches into the winter months. Here are 14 new varieties of shrubs and sub-shrubs to consider for your product mix in 2018.

Read More

October 14, 2017

PlantPeddler Hosting Poinsettia Variety Day in December

The event will feature side-by-side comparisons of more than 100 commercial and pre-released varieties from seven breeders.

Read More

October 10, 2017

Coastal Callas Is a Dream Fulfilled for Founder Adrian …

Adrian Espinoza and his family founded Rancho Espinoza Inc. and Coastal Callas in California seven years ago with a mission and purpose to provide consistent quality and reliable supply of calla lilies to the marketplace.

Read More
Azalea Encore Autumn Bonfire

October 4, 2017

Big Changes on the Horizon for Woody Ornamentals

The future looks bright for the woody ornamentals market, with exciting new varieties in the pipeline that will offer greater disease resistance, cold hardiness, bloom capacity, and more.

Read More

October 3, 2017

25 New Blooming Potted Plants for Luxury Sales

Consider these new blooming potted plant varieties that offer full blooms, unique foliage, and a touch of extravagance and easy maintenance for time-strapped customers who want to pamper themselves.

Read More
Hydrangea 'Berry White' (Bailey Nurseries)

October 2, 2017

Woody Ornamentals Market Set for Growth

The woody ornamentals market is looking up. Now, out-of-the box thinking about product offerings and consumer education will keep things moving in the right direction.

Read More

September 27, 2017

New Mum Intros From California Spring Trials 2017

For fall gardening product selection, you can't go wrong with offering mums. Here are a few of the new introductions that we saw at California Spring Trials 2017 that will be making their retail debut in 2018.

Read More
Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer BloomStruck’ (Bailey Nurseries)

September 26, 2017

Bailey Nurseries Enhances Product Development Program, …

Plant Introductions, which Bailey purchased almost three years ago, is being rebranded as Bailey Innovations, an entity that will breed and trial new varieties in Georgia.

Read More
Green Fuse Lupine Staircase Pink

September 24, 2017

How to Effectively Grow Staircase Lupine

The Staircase Lupine series, part of Green Fuse Botanicals’ First Light Perennials collection, has the potential to put on a great display with solid and bicolor hues.

Read More
Terra Nova 2018 Catalog

September 23, 2017

Terra Nova Nurseries’ Latest Plant Catalog is Now Avail…

The new 2017-2018 plant catalog, which features hundreds of varieties, series, and collections from Terra Nova Nurseries, pays homage to the company’s 25th anniversary.

Read More
Armitage GWA Buffalo Tour 5

September 21, 2017

Tour of Buffalo Gardens Reveals Hidden Gems And Communi…

This past August, Allan Armitage joined the Association for Garden Communicators on a tour of Buffalo. It was a reminder that that we can make a difference in neighborhoods, in cities, and in people’s lives.

Read More
Suntory Grandessa argyranthemum - feature

September 18, 2017

Breeders Open Availability for Unrooted Cuttings; Here&…

With new avenues for buying young plants for vegetative production, growers should have an easier time finding availability and receiving shipments of unrooted cuttings for the coming seasons.

Read More
Ball, Tagawa Succulents Partnership

September 14, 2017

Ball Seed to Partner With Tagawa Greenhouses on New Suc…

The new program includes in-demand retail products that are popular with younger shoppers, allowing growers to easily build a comprehensive succulent program and stay on-trend in the marketplace.

Read More
Strait-Laced Elderberry

September 10, 2017

Check Out the Top Varieties On Display at Farwest 2017

A panel of plant experts, along with show attendees, selected their favorite offerings during the Farwest 2017 New Varieties Showcase.

Read More

September 5, 2017

Hort Couture Announces New Propagation and Broker Partn…

The new grower-propagator partners are deeply vested in the independent garden center channel with propagation expertise, as well as finished production focused on the independent grower.

Read More
Helianthus Sunfinity (Syngenta Flowers)

September 3, 2017

Growing Tips for Helianthus Sunflower ‘Sunfinity…

This annual sunflower is a profuse bloomer with strong branching that produces multiple flowers per plant from spring to fall.

Read More
Ball Seed Field Day 2017

September 2, 2017

Highlights from Ball Seed’s Annual Field Day and Landsc…

Attendees of the one-day event had the opportunity to see new plants in up-close-and-personal trials, and engage with speakers and product experts.

Read More